Trump presses Barr (again) to target his enemies before election

Under normal circumstances, this would be a presidency-defining moment. Because of what's become of our politics, this was a relatively normal Tuesday.
Image: Donald Trump, William Barr
President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr arrive to present the Medal of Valor and Heroic Commendations to officers and civilians who responded to mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, in the East Room of the White House ion Sept. 9, 2019.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

A few weeks ago, Donald Trump sat down with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo and the president threw a bit of a tantrum about his perceived enemies "spying on his campaign" in 2016, which he insisted constituted "treason" and "the crime of the century." None of this reflected reality in any meaningful way.

But it was the next part of his tantrum that mattered more: Trump added that he doesn't want Attorney General William Barr to be "politically correct" -- a phrase the president clearly does not understand the meaning of -- before publicly pressing the Republican lawyer to target his perceived political enemies before Election Day.

"Bill Barr has the chance to be the greatest of all time, but if he wants to be politically correct, he'll be just another guy, because he knows all the answers, he knows what they have, and it goes right to Obama and it goes right to Biden," Trump said.

All of this was, to be sure, ridiculous. And yet, in his latest interview with Fox News' Laura Ingraham, the president made eerily similar comments:

"Bill Barr can go down as the greatest attorney general in the history of our country or he can go down as just another guy. It depends. They have all the stuff -- you don’t need anything else. You know, they want everything. You don’t need anything else. They all lied to Congress. They were liars. They were cheaters. They were treasonous. There was treason."

The host asked, "Bill Barr, you're saying, has to prosecute all of these individuals to be a great attorney general?"

Trump replied, "Well, look, I'll let you know about that."

The president didn't specify who, exactly, he wants Barr to prosecute in order to be "the greatest attorney general in the history of our country," but as part of the on-air harangue, Trump referenced former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe by name.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, the conspiracy theory the president keeps describing is folly. No one spied on his campaign. His perceived enemies did not commit treason. No one in the Obama White House, U.S. intelligence agencies, or federal law enforcement committed "the crime of the century."

But let's not miss the forest for the trees: the point of the president's little on-air tantrum was to press his attorney general: Trump said in order for Barr to be "the greatest of all time," the president expects the Republican attorney to go after Trump's perceived enemies post haste.

In other words, Americans heard a sitting president tell a national broadcast audience that his foes are guilty of treason, and he expects the Justice Department to use the levers of power to target his enemies shortly before an election.

I continue to believe that under normal circumstances, this would be a presidency-defining moment. Because of what's become of our politics, this was a relatively normal Tuesday. These comments did not cause much of a stir.

That's partly the result of the nation growing accustomed to Trump's abuses and corruption. Indeed, the Mueller Report documented multiple instances in which the president tried to dictate a Justice Department investigation into Hillary Clinton.

But the fact that this has become one of the scandalous staples of Trump's term doesn't make his antics any less outrageous.