(Epstein Barr isn’t just a virus anymore.)
I’ve long been leary of the frequent practice of holding high officials responsible for things that go wrong many levels below them in the agency of which they are in charge. When, say, a President gets blamed for something distant from him in the organizational chart, I wonder: Would anybody else, with all his responsibilities, have known more and done differently than this President did?
It’s not reasonable to blame someone in charge of a huge operation for everything bad that happens.
Thoughts of this sort came to me briefly the other day when I heard commentators of the anti-Trump variety calling attention to how Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide took place under the auspices of Metropolitan Correction Center, that falls under the auspices of the federal Bureau of Prisons, which is part of the Department of Justice, all of which is headed by William Barr.
But then I remembered what Barr did upon Epstein’s arrest. At first he recused himself — for a couple of good reasons — and then the next day he un-recused himself.
With that act, Barr made an issue about how the Epstein matter was going to be his responsibility. His dance about recusal made the issue of the responsibility of the top-of-the-chart Attorney General for what would happen with Epstein much different than had it been some random event several levels down on the organizational chart.
Barr declared to the nation, in effect: “This is my baby.” Way more than the usual case, Barr took ownership of this one.
Which means several things.
First, it means that Barr’s recent efforts to blame the people down the chart — based on what we don’t know — won’t wash. If he was determined to be in charge, he certainly is obligated to acknowledge that a chunk of the buck stops on his desk.
Second, when we combine that with what we already know about Barr’s lack of integrity, lack of honesty, willingness to sacrifice truth to benefit a lawless President, it means that we have every reason to distrust whatever we would find out from a DOJ that is run by this man, with his proven willingness to obstruct justice.
Rather, we can trust him to tell us the truth if the truth does no damage to himself or to his boss. But we cannot trust him to allow us to learn if either he or Trump played any less than a kosher role in this whole death of an inmate of unusual prominence, known to have long-standing connections with powerful people (including the President), who — we don’t know — may have been co-conspirators in the child-sex-trafficking crimes for which Jeffrey Epstein was likely to spend the rest of his life in jail (unless he had something big to tell prosecutors).
(The House Judiciary Committee — in a letter signed by both the Democratic and Republican leaders — just sent a letter to the (acting) head of the Bureau of Prisons, asking a great many questions about who all was involved in the strange-seeming decision to take Epstein off of suicide watch.)
And third, the fact that we can’t trust what Barr’s investigation will tell us would seem to mean Barr has to get out of the way. Either Barr should recuse himself now from the investigation into what happened. Or some sort of special investigator not answerable to the Attorney General should be appointed.
Finally, this whole episode reminds me of why it seems clear that we cannot afford to continue to have an Attorney General like Barr in office. His conduct has been clearly impeachable — with his handling of the Mueller Report, and several other matters since — and his being in charge of what is supposed to be an independent agency for American law enforcement leaves us all the more exposed to the erosion of the rule of law in America.
It’s bad enough to have a lawless President. Do we have to tolerate, in the meanwhile, having an Attorney General who has so blatantly abused his office and violated his oath of office? We are reminded that impeachment is not just about punishing past crimes but is even more about re-establishing good governance where it has been corrupted.