A 'hatchet man for Trump'? Barr interview generates new concerns

Donald Trump's presidential cabinet features a variety of controversial figures, from the incompetent to the unqualified, from the hapless to the ethically challenged.

But all things considered, there's arguably no one quite as scary in Trump's cabinet as Attorney General Bill Barr. His exclusive interview with NBC News' Pete Williams brought into sharp focus why there's reason to be concerned about the nation's chief law enforcement official's efforts.

Attorney General William Barr said he still believes the FBI may have operated out of "bad faith" when it investigated whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, and he contends the FBI acted improperly by continuing the investigation after Donald Trump took office.In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Barr essentially dismissed the findings of the Justice Department's inspector general that there was no evidence of political bias in the launching of the Russia probe, saying that his hand-picked prosecutor, John Durham, will have the last word on the matter.

NBC News' report added that the attorney general's latest offensive against the FBI's investigation into the Russia scandal is "bound to stoke further debate about whether the attorney general is acting in good faith, or as a political hatchet man for Trump."

Quite right. In fact, that debate intensified almost immediately after the public was able to see Barr's latest comments. The attorney general argued during the interview, for example, "From a civil liberties standpoint, the greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government used the apparatus of the state, principally the law enforcement agencies and the intelligence agencies, both to spy on political opponents, but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election."

Except, as Barr knows, the Justice Department's inspector general just determined that none of those things happened. The Republican attorney may find this disappointing, but the evidence showed that the Obama administration did not, in reality, "spy on political opponents" and never used the levers of governmental power as part of a scheme to affect the election's outcome.

And yet, the attorney general appears to have no qualms about peddling these bogus claims to a national television audience as if they were true.

Indeed, if we're going to talk about the dangers posed by an incumbent administration to "use the apparatus of the state" in ways that "could affect the outcome of the election," perhaps Barr might be interested in his boss. We recently learned, for example, about Donald Trump withholding congressionally approved military aid to a vulnerable foreign ally as part of an extortion scheme that the president intended to use to cheat in his 2020 re-election campaign.

Perhaps the attorney general has heard a thing or two about this?

The whole interview with Pete Williams is well worth your time -- the two covered quite a bit of ground, and I'm just scratching the surface -- and the widespread criticisms of Barr's latest rhetoric are warranted. The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, for example, highlighted a half-dozen "jaw-dropping" falsehoods the attorney general peddled during the interview, adding, "Barr's conduct is nothing short of disgraceful and continues his pattern of misstating facts and out-and-out lying about documents to protect President Trump."

The Post's Philip Bump added that in the same NBC News interview, Barr positioned himself and his partisan allies as "the arbiters of accuracy on this matter" in Trump's Russia scandal and the investigation into what transpired.

It's critical to the American system of justice that federal law enforcement remain independent, free of bias, and depoliticized. Bill Barr is taking a sledgehammer to those norms, and it's not at all clear how, when, and whether the system can be properly restored.