William Barr Is Donald Trump’s Hatchet Man

“Where’s my Roy Cohn,” President Trump shouted at his staff at the beginning of 2018. According to The New York Times, he was angry at then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Trump wanted his attorney general to be more like Roy Cohn, his infamous former lawyer and fixer, who had been an aide to Sen. Joseph McCarthy during McCarthy’s 1950s investigation into communist activity in America.

Cohn died in 1986, and Trump, despite going through multiple personal lawyers, White House Counsels, and even U.S. attorneys general, hasn’t found a similarly loyal aide. Or he didn’t, until William Barr got the job.

When Barr was first named attorney general, he was hailed as a calming presence, an “adult in the room” after the departure of Sessions and the brief tenure of Matthew Whitaker. Barr reassured line prosecutors on an early conference call that he was there to support them and make hard decisions. After all, according to a recent New Yorker profile, Barr had donated more to Jeb Bush’s campaign in 2016 than he did to Trump’s.

Once Trump was elected, however, Barr was supportive. Barr, as CNN reports, had courted Trump’s loyalty since he became president.

Journalist David Rohde explains Barr’s praise for and defense of Trump in his New Yorker profile of Barr:

Barr demonstrated a convert’s enthusiasm, writing op-eds for the Washington Post in which he endorsed Trump’s controversial positions. When Sally Yates, the acting Attorney General, refused to carry out a ban on travellers from predominantly Muslim countries, Barr accused her of ‘obstruction,’ and assailed news coverage of the situation. ‘The left, aided by an onslaught of tendentious media reporting, has engaged in a campaign of histrionics unjustified by the measured steps taken,’ he wrote.

Ever since, Barr has been extremely loyal to Trump. He made public comments minimizing the Mueller investigation, adopting Trump’s insistence that there was “no collusion” with Russia, and claiming, at a congressional hearing, that the Trump campaign had been “spied on,” during the 2016 election.

In 2017, after Jeff Sessions declined Trump’s request to open an investigation into whether Hillary Clinton played a role in arranging a deal to sell uranium to Russia, Barr told The New York Times, “There is nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation.” He added, “To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility.”

More recently, Barr overruled four career federal prosecutors in his own Justice Department in the sentencing of former Trump campaign aide Roger Stone, who was convicted on all seven counts against him, including witness tampering and lying to investigators. NBC News reported that Barr had intervened in the case, “to reverse a stiff sentencing recommendation of up to nine years in prison that the line prosecutors had filed with the court.”

The conflicts between Barr and the career prosecutors in the Justice Department had been building for a while. Per CNN, “Barr’s decision to overrule the sentencing recommendation from four career federal prosecutors in the Roger Stone case, and their subsequent resignation from the case, led to a rare public display of internal discord from the Justice Department that dominated the news cycle for days.”

Among the previous issues, according to CNN, were “a top-down management style, with the micro-managing Barr notorious for weighing in on matters usually left for less-senior officials, and a focus that broadly appears more centered on matters in Washington — and more specifically things the President cares about.”

“Trump wanted his Roy Cohn,” a person close to Barr told CNN. “What he’s gotten in Barr is someone who is extremely intelligent, not afraid to fight, or fight back and speak his mind.”

Read the full CNN report here, and the New Yorker profile here.

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