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We can ignore Bill Barr's insincere apology tour

No amount of interviews can erase Barr's terrible second run at the Department of Justice.

Former Attorney General William Barr, who for two years faithfully served in the Trump administration, has written a new memoir titled, “One Damn Thing After Another.” In it, he argues that America needs “leaders who can frame, and advocate for, an uplifting vision of what it means to share in American citizenship” — and says Donald Trump isn’t temperamentally capable of such a task. Indeed, according to Barr, the prospect of another term in office for Trump is “dismaying.”

In related news, Barr is shocked, shocked to learn that there is gambling is going on in Casablanca.

Barr is shocked, shocked to learn that there is gambling is going on in Casablanca.

Barr’s newfound apostasy is a transparent contrivance — a pathetic and ham-handed effort to rehabilitate himself after his tenure as arguably the worst attorney general in modern American history (a ignominious title for which there is healthy competition).

It’s hardly surprising that Barr would want to separate himself from a toxic political figure who is, on a daily basis, undermining the very foundations of American democracy. But to accept Barr’s 180-degree turn on Trump means engaging in some major amnesia about the role he played in enabling and empowering Trump’s assault on the rule of law.

In his time at the Justice Department, Barr turned the nation’s federal law enforcement agency into Trump’s personal law firm. Months after taking office, Barr openly lied to the American people about the conclusions of the Mueller report, giving Trump’s supporters the useful catchphrase “no collusion,” and then spent the rest of his term stonewalling subpoenas from members of Congress seeking to get an unredacted copy for themselves. He just weeks later tried to bury the initial whistleblower report outlining the allegations against Trump that led to his first impeachment.

Barr publicly overruled prosecutors by seeking a more lenient sentencing recommendation for Trump political adviser Roger Stone. He also ordered prosecutors to scrap former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea for lying to Congress.

Under Barr’s leadership, the DOJ sent Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen (the other one) back to jail for refusing to sign a supervised release agreement that would have prevented him from publishing a book or talking to the media. Barr's DOJ also tried to prevent the publication of John Bolton’s tell-all book about his time in the White House as Trump’s national security adviser and even filed a dubious amicus brief on behalf of the president’s legal efforts to keep Trump's taxes hidden from federal prosecutors. And let's not forget that he also signed off on the DOJ taking over Trump's defense against a defamation lawsuit from E. Jean Carroll.

In his memoir, Barr derides what he calls one of the “pathologies of our age,” namely the belief that “simply because circumstances suggest wrongdoing, some set of people should go to prison for a crime.” He adds: “Not all censurable conduct is criminal. The current tendency to conflate the foolish with the legally culpable causes more harm than good.”

Yet, as attorney general, he instructed federal prosecutors to look into charging Black Lives Matter protesters with sedition, and even explored charging Jenny Durkan, the mayor of Seattle, with federal crimes. But then again, consistency has never been Barr’s strong point.

In his time at the Justice Department, Barr turned the nation’s federal enforcement law agency into Trump’s own personal law firm.

The same man who now calls for “an uplifting vision of what it means to share in American citizenship” said in 2020 that Covid-19 public health restrictions intended to save lives were “the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history” — other than slavery, that is.

Barr now derides Trump’s lies about the 2020 election as a “disservice to the nation,” and highlights his willingness to tell the enraged president the truth: There was no systemic fraud in the balloting. But in the run-up to the election he was busy helping lay the groundwork for the “Big Lie.” In a July 2020 interview on NPR, Barr told so many lies about election fraud that the news organization had to run a follow-up article calling out his claims as “demonstrably false.”

Likewise, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune’s John Kass in September, he compared mail-in voting to “the business of selling and buying votes” and said it could mean ballot "harvesting, undue influence, outright coercion, paying off a postman, here’s a few hundred dollars, give me some of your ballots.”

“Someone will say the president just won Nevada,” Barr mused “‘Oh, wait a minute! We just discovered 100,000 ballots! Every vote will be counted!’” Barr’s hypothetical is basically what Trump has been saying actually happened to cost him the 2020 election. And, in the weeks before the election, Barr personally fed Trump’s mania about voter fraud by telling him about an investigation into seven discarded mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, which Trump then publicly claimed was evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Barr’s hypocrisy is almost too astonishing to believe — but so, too, is his hope that those buying his new book are as allegedly gullible as he laments having been. In the memoir, Barr claims that in the final months of Trump’s term, he came to realize that “Trump cared only about one thing: himself. Country and principle took second place.”

That’s a bit like standing out in a driving rainstorm for hours and suddenly coming to the disquieting realization that water is wet.

Barr, like so many of his fellow enablers, saw the former president as a means to an end. Trump was a tool for pushing Barr’s own noxious views that the president should have near unlimited and unquestioned unilateral power as chief executive. Serving as attorney general for the second time gave him the platform to attack liberals, "soft-on-crime" prosecutors, and the media organizations he calls “corrupt.” Indeed, Barr openly says in the book that he would “crawl over broken glass to the polls to vote for Trump” in 2016 because of the opportunity to remake the federal courts with conservative judges. Even now, with all of his criticisms of Trump, Barr says he would still vote for him in 2024.

Barr was happy to venerate Trump when it was in his interest to do so. Now that he wants to rehabilitate his image, he’s happy to sing a different tune. He’s as selfish and hypocritical as the former president. And while we, unfortunately, can’t do the same about the leading candidate to be the Republican nominee in 2024, we can, and should, choose to simply ignore Barr’s overwrought, insincere mea culpa.