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The Barr Mystery: Why Would Someone Seek Out a Chance to Disgrace Himself?

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Now that William Barr is acting — rather openly, if not admittedly — as Donald Trump’s accomplice in the obstruction of justice, I find myself baffled by the man.

For a while, around the time of Barr’s confirmation hearings, I entertained the idea that – once installed in the position of Attorney General – Barr would prove to be a man of integrity. Maybe he’d “snookered” Trump, fooling the President into thinking that he’d be his protector, while planning that, once appointed, he would play the national hero by protecting the rule of law. (Which he’d know could not be assumed the next Attorney General — picked by Donald Trump — would do.)

It’s now clear that was not the case. Instead what we see is a man performing the disgraceful function for which a disgraceful President selected him, and for which he will doubtless stand disgraced in the judgment of history.

The guy who signed on for this job was a man who had been Attorney General before, and therefore had no unfulfilled dreams of being near the center of power; who apparently enjoyed a considerable degree of respect in the legal world, and therefore had a reputation he could lose; and who at 68 years old is presumably playing the last major role in his career, and therefore likely knew his historical legacy was at stake.

What kind of person, in William Barr’s position, would go out of his way to obtain a position in order to play a role that would make him an ignominious figure in American history?

It has been notable how many people — even among those who have been critical of how Barr has handled the Mueller Report –have said something along the lines of, “I’m not questioning his integrity.”

But how can one not question the integrity of this Attorney General who – despite having just sworn his oath of office — has taken it upon himself to do whatever he can to protect the President from the rule of law?

What integrity is there in Barr’s distorting – as recent reports have strongly indicated – the contents of the Mueller Report, presenting falsely a less “troubling” picture of Trump?

What integrity is there in an Attorney General who inappropriately interposes himself  – by stalling, by assuming the authority to choose what even the fully authorized members of Congress will not be allowed to see – to keep the fruits of this vital investigation from reaching their constitutionally appropriate recipients?

And where’s the integrity in an AG — a political appointee of the President — arrogating to himself the right to pass judgment on the matter of obstruction of justice, thereby defeating the whole purpose of establishing a Special Prosecutor, independent of political influence?

(So Barr declares, No, the President is not guilty of obstruction.)

Some have suggested that Barr’s judgment represents his own actual legal opinion on the question of obstruction: not a lack of integrity there, they suggest, but just an extreme view of executive powers.

These people cite the unsolicited 19-page memorandum that Barr sent to the Trump administration. (This is a document universally interpreted as a job application for the Attorney Generalship — a position that was known would be opening up after the 2018 election, once AG Sessions was fired for the sin of recusing himself as required by the policies of the Justice Department, rather than sacrifice the law for the sake of the President.)

In that document, Barr argues that a President cannot be guilty of obstruction of justice, because all federal law enforcement falls under his constitutional authority as chief executive. So it’s no surprise, people say, that given Barr’s view of executive power he would absolve Trump of a crime he could not commit.

But that assumes that Barr believed his own argument– an assumption that seems untenable because the argument is so transparently bogus, and because Barr is not regarded as so stupid as to buy such a flimsy argument. Barr’s stated position requires ignoring the important concept of “abuse of power.”

Presidents have various undisputed powers, but they are not allowed to exercise them with “corrupt intent.”

Sure, the President can fire the Director of the FBI. But to fire him in order to protect himself from a legitimate (and vitally important) investigation is an abuse of power. And so one finds among the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon the offense of his abusing his presidential powers.

Far more likely than that an intelligent man like Barr would believe his own flimsy argument is that he was willing — in his memorandum — to speak falsely in order to get Trump to him to make him Attorney General.

So Barr wanted the job, was willing to make a bogus case to tell Trump he’d protect him, and has proceeded – upon receipt of the Mueller investigation – to do a whole series of things that amount to the latest phase of Trump’s obstruction of justice.

Why would anyone who was in Barr’s position just months ago – having already had the experience of holding that important position as America’s “top law enforcement official,” being widely held in at least a reasonable degree of esteem by the people in his professional world, nearing the end of his professional life – strive to get a job he would fill in a way that would cement for himself a place of disgrace in the eyes of history?

(It’s not like he was already AG and this odious obstructive task unexpectedly fell to him; he sought it out in full knowledge of what it likely would entail.)

Even if we suppose that Barr has the same indifference to how future generations of Americans will regard him as Rudy Giuliani expressed (“I don’t care about my legacy,” Giuliani told the New Yorker. “I’ll be dead.”), what kind of man would seek out the opportunity to place such a shameful role?