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In classified docs scandal, Bill Barr won’t defend his former boss

The question for rank-and-file Republicans becomes obvious: If even Bill Barr recognizes the seriousness of the Mar-a-Lago scandal, why can’t they?


Late last week, Donald Trump used his Twitter-like platform to publish the latest in a series of screeds targeting his own former attorney general. Bill Barr, the former president wrote, lacked “guts,” was “weak and pathetic,” and “didn’t have courage or stamina.”

And what, pray tell, prompted this broadside? It apparently was the direct result of Barr telling the truth about his former boss’ Mar-a-Lago scandal. NBC News reported:

Former Attorney General William Barr suggested Friday that the president who appointed him misled the Justice Department in its investigation of government records and classified documents Donald Trump stored at his Florida home after he left office.

While a great many Republicans have condemned federal law enforcement for executing a court-approved search warrant, Barr appeared on Fox News and crushed the partisan talking point.

“They jawboned for a year, they were deceived on the voluntary actions taken, they then went and got a subpoena, they were deceived on that — they feel,” the former attorney general said. “The facts are starting to show they were being jerked around, so how long do they wait?”

Barr also dismissed another arrow from the GOP’s rhetorical quiver. “I think the driver on this from the beginning was loads of classified information sitting in Mar-A-Lago,” he explained. “People say this was unprecedented, well, it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club.”

Indeed, the lawyer didn’t seem especially interested in helping bolster his party’s defenses at all, adding that he couldn’t think of a “legitimate reason why” Trump took the classified documents in the first place.

As for the former president’s favorite claim, Barr went on to tell Fox, “I, frankly, am skeptical of this claim that ‘I declassified everything.’ I think it’s highly improbable ... if in fact he sort of stood over scores of boxes, not really knowing what was in them, and said, ‘I hereby declassify everything in here.’ That would be such an abuse, and — that shows such recklessness that it’s almost worse than taking the documents.”

He also told The New York Times, “It’s hard to wrap your head around him taking so much sensitive materials. I was, let’s just say, surprised.”

The point is not that Barr’s latest efforts, including this and his cooperation with the Jan. 6 committee, somehow wipe the slate clean. On the contrary, Barr’s record will continue to chase after him like cans tied to a bumper — and his recent candor doesn’t cut the strings.

The political relevance of Barr’s comments on the Mar-a-Lago scandal, however, is the degree to which it leaves Trump’s Republican defenders in an even more difficult spot. In recent weeks, Trump and his GOP enablers have tried to turn the controversy into a partisan affair, with Republicans on one side and everyone else — federal law enforcement, legal experts, national security experts, et al. — on the other. To be a Republican in good standing was to defend Trump in this scandal whether it made sense or not.

It’s against this backdrop that Barr is uprooting this dynamic. Here’s a partisan who helped Trump politicize the Justice Department and enable many of the former president’s abuses. No one seriously considers the former attorney general a GOP “moderate” who’s secretly in league with Trump’s Democratic detractors.

And yet, when asked about the former president allegedly stealing classified materials, refusing to give them back, and then obstructing the retrieval process, Barr isn’t just telling politically inconvenient truths, he’s also making Trump’s Republican sycophants look a little worse.

The question for rank-and-file GOP Trumpers becomes obvious: If even Barr recognizes the seriousness of the Mar-a-Lago scandal, why can’t they?