Ever since William Barr was sworn in as U.S. Attorney General, he has failed to honor the sacred oath he recited to “faithfully discharge the duties” of that high office. Among other things, he has shown a higher allegiance to the President than to the law, has knowingly allowed his departmental attorneys to make specious arguments in court, and has disregarded his responsibility to uphold the rule of law.
The United States Attorney General is not the personal attorney of the President. He represents the American people and is to be guided in doing so by the U.S. Constitution and the other laws of this great land. The AG is responsible for seeing that the laws are carried out impartially and that law enforcement is independent of political influence.
I served as attorney general of Idaho for eight years and understand the need for the top legal officer of a governmental entity to stand up for the rule of law. A person fulfilling that role is often pressured or implored to do the bidding of his or her party but doing so is ethically and legally wrong. When the AG acts in a partisan manner it seriously erodes public confidence is our legal system.
Right from the start, Barr violated his ethical responsibility to recuse himself from all aspects of the Mueller investigation. Even though Jeff Sessions had many serious failings as attorney general, he understood that he was too closely aligned with the President to oversee that investigation. Barr telegraphed how he viewed that proceeding before his appointment, likely got appointed precisely because of that, and has acted as the President’s chief cheerleader ever since.
Despite Mueller’s disclosure of strong evidence of Trump’s obstruction of justice, including the President’s directive to White House counsel Don McGhan to commit the felony offense of lying to federal investigators, Barr improperly exonerated the President. It is no wonder that over a thousand former federal prosecutors signed a statement saying that Mueller had made a powerful case for Trump’s indictment on obstruction charges.
Barr’s disregard of ethical standards has been on full display during the unfolding scandal over the citizenship question on the 2020 census. It was clear from the start that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was lying about the reason for wanting the question. It was for raw political purposes. Three federal district courts found Ross to have lied, as did the appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Barr forced his attorneys to repeatedly lie as to the source and reason for the question, knowing that it was not in keeping with the Constitution’s directive for the census.
Rather than fessing up for his department’s frequent repetition of the lies to numerous federal judges, Barr has been trying to come up with additional contrived excuses for trying to corrupt the census. It is like the police officer who pulls over a speeder only to hear numerous alternate reasons for why the car was going too fast--being chased, new tires, medical emergency, bad speedometer, yada, yada, yada.
Despite knowing the law requires young asylum seekers to be provided safe and sanitary living conditions, Barr’s attorneys tried to convince a panel of federal judges that imprisoned migrant kids did not need soap, toothbrushes and sleep. The judges were all dumbfounded as to how that constituted proper care, as all of the rest of us should be. The AG has a moral and legal obligation to comply with the law rather than to try to justify its breach.
Our AG has turned out to be a political lap dog, rather than an advocate for the rule of law, which has made our legal system the envy of the world. With Barr in charge, the luster is wearing off fast.
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Jim Jones is former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court, a Vietnam veteran and a frequent contributor to The Press.