An eager accomplice

Trump does think he is in effect a king. Someone surely must have told him that in fact the powers of a president are not those of a king, but he equally surely must have paid no attention.

And Barr is his enabler.

Barr was once seen as a potential check on Trump’s overt desire to take command of the justice department, deploying its investigators and prosecutors at his whim and his will. But this week, critics warn, the attorney general has been revealed as an eager accomplice in eroding norms meant to insulate the criminal justice system from political interference, threatening the bedrock principle of equality before the law.

I’m not sure who once saw Barr as a potential check on Trump’s overt desire to take command of the justice department; the way I remember it there were some faint hopes that he might be more principled than Sessions (let alone Whitaker), but also plenty of pessimism.

“We fought a revolution against kingly prerogative,” said [Paul] Rosenzweig. “At its most extreme, Trump’s actions post-impeachment in the last week reflect his belief that he really has, as he said, an absolute right to intervene anywhere in the executive branch. And there’s a word for that.

“People with absolute rights are kings.”

And presidents don’t bounce around shouting that they have an absolute right to do X…unless they’re Trump. He’s a first that way; he’s the first to be that unselfconsciously authoritarian and that reckless about saying so, and he’s the first to be historically and institutionally illiterate enough to think it’s true.

“Bill Barr has turned the job of attorney general and the political appointee layer at the top of the justice department on its head,” said Neil Kinkopf, a Georgia State law professor who worked in the Office of Legal Counsel under Bill Clinton.

“In past administrations of both political parties, the function of the political appointees at the justice department has been to insulate the rest of the department from political pressure. And Bill Barr instead has become the conduit for that political pressure.”

All for…what? An end to abortion rights? A permanent Republican stranglehold on elections? Lower taxes for billionaires? Copper mines in all the national parks?

Barr has not been untouched by the turbulence of the last week. Reported threats of additional resignations drove him on Thursday to grant a TV interview in which he complained that Trump’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job” and vowed: “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody.”

A Trump spokesperson said the president’s feelings were not hurt. Barr was said to have warned the White House of what he was going to say.

And nobody believed a word of it.

The interview was met with outrage and eye-rolls among critics who saw a wide divergence between what Barr said and everything else he has been doing.

“I think Bill Barr is shrewd, deliberate, smart, calculating, careful, and full of it,” tweeted the former US attorney Preet Bharara.

The real Barr, critics say, has a 12-month track record as a spearhead for Trump’s attack on justice, beginning with public lies about the report of special counsel Robert Mueller and running through his intervention in the case of Roger Stone.

In short he’s a hack and a very bad man.

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