By Chris Gagin
March 2, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
Nothing is more sacred to the United States than our elections. It’s Attorney General William Barr’s job to ensure their security and integrity. But recent events demonstrate that Barr is a willing accomplice in the execution of President Donald Trump’s political agenda, helping Trump’s friends and punishing his enemies. Consequently, now that Barr has given himself the sole authority to decide whether to investigate any 2020 presidential campaign (including the president’s), Americans unfortunately must worry that Barr’s bias may taint the electoral process.
In his latest in a long line of disgraces, Barr retracted a sentencing recommendation for convicted felon and Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone after the president called his prosecution a “horrible and unfair situation” and a “miscarriage of justice.”
It was just hours after Trump tweeted his displeasure that Barr’s Justice Department rebuked the prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation and sent a weaker one in its place.
So blatant was Barr’s political interference that three of the Stone prosecutors withdrew from the case immediately, and a fourth resigned from the Justice Department altogether.
This interference comes on the heels of Barr confirming that the Justice Department established an “open door” to receive information about Ukraine from President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani – despite the fact Giuliani is currently under investigation by the Justice Department in New York. Most federal investigation subjects don’t get special back-channel connections to senior Justice Department officials. But as with Stone’s case, Barr has demonstrated his appalling willingness to give Trump’s associates special treatment.
These odious favors raise grave questions regarding Barr’s independence. He has already demonstrated his comfort with bending the rules in the handling of investigations to suit the president’s political interests.
He grossly mischaracterized and delayed the Mueller report to blunt its impact on public opinion. He also undermined an inspector general’s report to help promote an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory about political bias in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s surveillance of the Trump campaign in 2016, all while overseeing a parallel administrative probe, which he helped turn into a criminal investigation.
Barr has exhibited a willingness to help the president’s cronies when they’ve been convicted of crimes. His actions have made it abundantly clear that he will willfully sacrifice the fair and impartial administration of justice in service of the president’s political interests.
For this reason, Barr’s recent policy change at the Department of Justice giving him sole authority to decide whether to investigate any 2020 presidential campaign (including the president’s) should concern all Americans.
The attorney general’s supporters will argue he had a responsibility to adopt new election surveillance procedures after the 2016 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court debacle. But delegating more power to himself was not the way to give the American people confidence that the 2020 elections will be free from undue interference. Barr has proven himself to be the president’s deputy, not an impartial arbiter. Under the new policy, even if an investigation into a Democratic campaign were warranted, how could the American people ever trust the independence of Barr’s judgment?
Some argue such weighty decisions shouldn’t be left to career officials, who are less accountable to the elected president. They say the possibility of a rogue or biased bureaucrat is too great to entrust career officials with such responsibilities.
However, under Trump, the opposite is far more likely – that a political appointee like Barr will prejudge an investigation to the president’s political advantage.
Credible elections depend upon public trust. And while Barr has definitively earned the trust of the president, his overtly political actions in office have severely damaged his reputation and have effectively lost the trust of the public he serves. Someone so tainted should not be the guardian of our presidential election, let alone the master of an immense power that has proved controversial in the last election. Barr’s decision to make himself the guarantor of fairness will not quell the controversy, but only fan it.
Chris Gagin is a practicing attorney, former chair of the Belmont County, Ohio, Republican Party and a legal adviser to Republicans for the Rule of Law.
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