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

Trump says a little more than he should have about AG Bill Barr

Updated

Donald Trump, still feeling buoyant about the Mueller report he has not read, called into Sean Hannity’s Fox News program last night for a fairly long interview. The friendly pair covered quite a bit of ground, though these presidential comments struck me as especially notable. In reference to the special counsel’s investigation into the Russia scandal, Trump argued:

“There was no crime, as you know. You’re only allowed to do this legally if there is a crime. There was no crime. They’ve all admitted it. Comey, who is a terrible guy, Comey and McCabe and Strzok and Page, the lover, Page, and all of these people, they’ve admitted in testimony that there was no crime. So they’d started an investigation based on no crime.

“I will say this, our new attorney general, Bill Barr, is a great gentleman. I’ve heard about him for years. He’s a great man. Had he been there initially, this all would not have happened because what has gone on there is just a disgrace to our country.”

For all of this president’s flamboyant dishonesty, once in a while he shares his candid and sincere thoughts – even when that isn’t a good idea.

Let’s quickly dispatch with the first point Trump raised: Robert Mueller’s probe shouldn’t have happened because “there was no crime.” This is plainly absurd. For one thing, the special counsel’s investigation uncovered all kinds of crimes committed by key members of Trump’s inner circle. Indeed, the man who oversaw the president’s political operation in 2016 was recently sentenced to several years in a federal penitentiary. Trump’s personal lawyer will soon be behind bars, too.

For another, law enforcement does not uncover crimes and then launch investigations. Trump seems confused about the process at the most basic level.

But as notable as this is, what truly amazed me was the president’s boast that Attorney General William Barr would’ve prevented the investigation altogether. Trump sees this as a compliment. It’s not.

Let’s not forget that the president held Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, in contempt for months – not because the Alabama Republican had made a mistake, but because he rightly recused himself from overseeing the investigation into the Russia scandal.

For Trump, this was an unforgivable betrayal. Indeed, the president has been a little too candid on this front, too, repeatedly suggesting he expected his attorney general to intervene in the law enforcement process and shield him from legal consequences.

That’s not how the system is supposed to work in the United States, but in the president’s vision, the attorney general is supposed to serve as his lawyer, not the people’s lawyer.

As of last night, however, Trump made his satisfaction clear: Bill Barr is executing the duties of the attorney general in ways that make the president happy – unlike his predecessor, who failed to pull strings in his boss’ favor.

It’s against this same backdrop that all of us – members of Congress, journalists, voters – are supposed to take Barr’s characterizations of the Mueller report at face value, confident that the attorney general has summarized the special counsel’s findings in a fair and neutral way.

Why anyone would be inclined to buy this is something of a mystery to me. Why anyone would buy this after hearing Trump’s on-air comments last night is even more bizarre.