William Barr testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be attorney general of the United States on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 15, 2019.
Yuri Gripas/Reuters

AG Bill Barr doesn’t bother with the pretense of propriety

Last October, when the fate of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination was uncertain, the conservative jurist scrambled to find his political footing. To that end, Kavanaugh adopted a specific media strategy, doing an interview with Fox News and writing a piece for the Wall Street Journal.

The choices were not accidental. Fox News, of course, is closely aligned with Republican politics, and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is arguably the most GOP-friendly space in all of major American print media.

Seven months later, Attorney General Bill Barr is under fire for a series of abuses, which yesterday led him to turn to … you guessed it … Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.

Of course, what the Republican lawyer said is more important than the outlets he spoke to, and in this case, Barr drifted into some rather strange waters. As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake explained:

In both a Wall Street Journal interview and another with Fox News, Barr cited the need to understand whether the U.S. government had put its “thumb on the scale” during the 2016 election. He told Fox that “there were some very strange developments” during the 2016 transition period. He said the answers he’s getting have been “inadequate” and “not sufficient.”

One of his more noteworthy and telling comments was about the Steele dossier. This was the document used to secure a FISA warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. “It’s a very unusual situation to have opposition research like that, especially one that on its face had a number of clear mistakes and a somewhat jejune analysis, and to use that to conduct counter-intelligence against an American political campaign is a strange –,” he said.

Barr then seemed to check himself and scale back his connecting of the dots, “– would be a strange development. I’m not sure what role it played, but that’s something we have to look at.”

If we heard a congressional Republican make comments like these, it’d barely be worth a mention. GOP lawmakers peddle White House talking points every day and pay little attention when they’re discredited.

But the attorney general should know better. In fact, it’s entirely possible Barr does know better, but is reading from the partisan script because Donald Trump’s political agenda requires it.

For example, Barr really ought to understand by now that the odd conspiracy theories surrounding Carter Page surveillance are kind of silly given everything we now know.

Similarly, there’s nothing to suggest anything about the Russia scandal was improper, and Barr’s “thumb on the scale” rhetoric may delight the president, but it’s not rooted in anything factual.

And yet, he keeps using partisan and needlessly provocative language, even when other top officials in the Trump administration, including FBI Director Chris Wray, move in a different direction.

It leaves us in a familiar position: the president clearly has an attorney general, but it’s increasingly obvious that the rest of us don’t.

Postscript: TPM had a related report this morning that’s worth checking out: “Every time Attorney General Bill Barr appears in public, it becomes clearer just how well-versed he is in the language and conspiracies that burble up out of the far-right’s fever swamps.”