Why Trump won't commit to keeping Bill Barr on in a second term

What Trump is effectively arguing is that Barr simply isn't corrupt enough, which is quite an argument for an incumbent to make this close to Election Day.
President Donald J. Trump
Attorney General William Barr listens as President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks in the Oval Office at the White House on Nov 26, 2019.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

Donald Trump has spent an unsettling amount of time recently demanding that Attorney General Bill Barr prosecute his political opponents before Election Day. So far, the presidential directives -- more in line with how authoritarian governments function than the United States -- have gone ignored.

Yesterday, Trump made his dissatisfaction known.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he is "not happy" with Attorney General William Barr after the Justice Department's investigation of the Obama administration found no wrongdoing and quietly concluded with no criminal charges. Trump made the comments to Newsmax TV. He also declined to say whether he would keep Barr on as attorney general for a potential second term.

"Can't comment on that," the Republican said in the interview. "It's too early. I'm not happy, with all of the evidence I had, I can tell you that. I am not happy."

The comments come on the heels of multiple reports that the Justice Department's investigation into the "unmasking" matter was a total dud, which effectively exonerated Obama administration officials. In yesterday's interview, the president seemed to confirm the reporting, saying, "Personally, I think it's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. It's a disgrace. I think it's really a horrible thing that they're allowed to get away -- when they say no indictments, they actually said no indictments before the election."

Trump added, "I had to go through elections with all those clouds over my head. But they don't because the Republicans are so nice. Personally, I think it's too bad. I think it's too bad, they're guilty as hell."

Just to quickly unwrap this, Trump had to go through elections under clouds of scandal because of actual wrongdoing; there's nothing "disgraceful" about a pointless investigation ending without charges; and there's simply no evidence of "them" being "guilty" of anything, the president's overactive imagination notwithstanding.

But of greater interest is Trump's increasingly public disappointment with Barr -- the attorney general the president apparently expects to serve as his latest "fixer."

What Trump doesn't seem to fully appreciate is the extent to which the attorney general has already proven himself willing to go far further than he should. Watching the nation's chief law enforcement official over the last 21 months, we've learned that Barr will lie for Donald Trump. He'll launch pointless investigations for Donald Trump. He'll parachute into cases for Donald Trump. He'll create an entirely separate set of criminal-justice standards for cases of interest to Donald Trump.

But Barr won't bring fraudulent prosecutions for Donald Trump -- not because he's uncomfortable with corrupting federal law enforcement, but because he knows such charges would never withstand any meaningful scrutiny in a court of law.

What the president is effectively arguing now is that Bill Barr simply isn't corrupt enough for his liking, which is quite an argument for an incumbent to make this close to Election Day.