As a former U.S. attorney general, I am reluctant to publicly criticize my successors. I respect the office and understand just how tough the job can be.
But recently, Attorney General William P. Barr has made a series of public statements and taken actions that are so plainly ideological, so nakedly partisan and so deeply inappropriate for America’s chief law enforcement official that they demand a response from someone who held the same office.
Last month, at a Federalist Society event, the attorney general delivered an ode to essentially unbridled executive power, dismissing the authority of the legislative and judicial branches — and the checks and balances at the heart of America’s constitutional order. As others have pointed out, Barr’s argument rests on a flawed view of U.S. history. To me, his attempts to vilify the president’s critics sounded more like the tactics of an unscrupulous criminal defense lawyer than a U.S. attorney general.
When, in the same speech, Barr accused “the other side” of “the systematic shredding of norms and the undermining of the rule of law,” he exposed himself as a partisan actor, not an impartial law enforcement official. Even more troubling — and telling — was a later (and little-noticed) section of his remarks, in which Barr made the outlandish suggestion that Congress cannot entrust anyone but the president himself to execute the law.
In Barr’s view, sharing executive power with anyone “beyond the control of the president” (emphasis mine), presumably including a semi-independent Cabinet member, “contravenes the Framers’ clear intent to vest that power in a single person.” This is a stunning declaration not merely of ideology but of loyalty: to the president and his interests. It is also revealing of Barr’s own intent: to serve not at a careful remove from politics, as his office demands, but as an instrument of politics — under the direct “control” of President Trump. [Continue reading…]