THE THREE INDIVIDUALS on whose support the impeached criminal Donald John Trump most depends are Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corp., who heads the president’s popular propaganda media network; Mitch McConnell, the obstructionist Senate Majority Leader, who throttled the will of the people in the sham impeachment trial; and, above all, William Barr, the nihilist Attorney General, who has done everything in his considerable power to insulate Trump from the law—and, thus, to lurch our democracy toward despotism.
Murdoch will remain at Fox until he steps into direct sunlight or Van Helsing stakes his charred and ashy heart. McConnell will be dealt with in November, at the ballot box. But Barr represents a clear and present danger to the United States. His maneuvers at Justice have neutralized the Office of the Special Counsel, which Barr almost certainly shut down early, inoculating Trump and his minions from further investigation, despite the President’s numerous and egregious crimes.
With the news that the DOJ revised its sentencing recommendations for convicted Trumpist Roger Stone, and the subsequent resignation of all four of the federal prosecutors working that case in protest, it is now clear that, to help his orange overlord, Barr is willing to put his fat thumb on the scales of justice. This is especially dangerous because Barr, like McConnell, but alone among Trump cabinet members, actually knows how to wield the mighty powers at his command.
Let me be clear: Barr is not all-powerful. The DOJ is not a monolith, and it is staffed, in the main, by patriots, not traitors—as demonstrated by the aforementioned protest resignations of the four federal prosecutors. These patriots are doing their jobs, albeit working in what must be less-than-ideal circumstances. Even the report that Barr must sign off on any investigations into the president or any presidential candidate is not necessarily the tyrannical power-grab it might seem at first glance:
(While I don’t know the real identity of “Spiro Agnew’s Ghost,” I can say that the account has been vouched for, and his conclusions echoed, by several known attorneys whose word I trust, and who, like Ghost, have contacts at SDNY.) Indeed, there is reason to believe that, in this case at least, Barr is not jumping on Rudy Giuliani’s Ukraine Train as much as he’s simply telling the President what he wants to hear:
Even the revised Stone sentencing memo—which, make no mistake, is an abomination; the stuff of “failed-state fascists,” in Hillary Clinton’s exquisite phrasing—could just be for Trump’s benefit, as the actual sentence will be determined by the judge, Amy Berman Jackson, who sent Paul Manafort to the hoosegow and seems unlikely to be merciful toward Stone, an impudent buffoon who posted a picture of her in a sniper’s crosshairs on his Instagram page, in violation of the court’s gag order.
With all of that said, Barr remains a powerful adversary, corrosive to our democracy—a cancer on the body politic.
The need to honeycomb the ranks with collaborators likely informed Barr’s decision to move his daughter, Mary Barr Daly, then the director of Opioid Enforcement and Prevention Efforts in the deputy attorney general’s office, to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit—in effect installing a mole in the federal agency overseeing any investigation into Trump’s taxes:
Or more than a mole? Don Winslow, who has extensive contacts in federal law enforcement, has sounded the alarm bells on a cover-up happening at Treasury, masterminded, he says, by Daly:
Given what we know of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (the hollowest of hollow men), and of Barr, here is little reason to believe this isn’t true.
Barr’s son-in-law, Tyler McGaughey—not Mary’s husband; he still works at Justice—was moved to the White House counsel’s office. The White House counsel, of course, is Pat Cipollone, last seen spinning conspiracy theories on his client’s behalf before the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
To recap: Barr has spies and surrogates embedded in the various departments, a canny and conniving McConnellesque mind, the ideology of the sort of monarchist the Founding Fathers revolted against, and the full weight of the Department of Justice at his disposal. I have no idea what his motives actually are. But he is, by every available metric, a bad actor. We must remove Barr from office before he lands a death blow to democracy. This is Defcon One, people:
By any lawful means necessary, the AG must go.
This is difficult to accomplish, not least because any federal investigation into Barr’s wrongdoing will be strangled in the cradle by Barr himself. But he is the Attorney General, not the President, and thus does not enjoy the Constitutional protections of his office that Trump relies on. For legal purposes, he is no different than you or I.
Impeachment has been bandied about. While it may be useful to expose Barr’s shady dealings to public view, I doubt that the process would be welcomed by most Americans, who will view it as political retaliation against the president. Too, the result is likely to be, yet again, 52 against. And the process takes too long.
Barr controls the federal Justice Department, but has no truck with state and local authorities. I’m not sure if he resides in Maryland, Virginia, or the District, but the AGs in those states could certainly find some reason to investigate him. (Virginia’s governor is a Democrat, while Maryland’s is a Republican who does not like Trump). In theory, DC Metro could arrest him for loitering, and there’s not a damned thing he could do about it.
The media, too, needs to put on a full-court press. Barr has been a Beltway insider for decades. He’s left a lot of breadcrumbs, which I covered at length a few weeks ago—he’s connected to Jeffrey Epstein, to his creepy father Donald Barr, to Opus Dei, to shady bank dealings dating to the Bush I years. Investigative reporters need to follow these crumbs, and find the truth. Editors need to deploy every journalist at their disposal to investigate Barr. Billionaires like Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer should consider funding the efforts of citizen journalists, so they can invest the necessary time and energy into the project. All hands on deck, people.
But the secret weapon here is contempt of Congress. The House already held Barr in contempt over a question related to the Census, which seems quaint next to the seditious crimes of Donald John Trump. Democrats were not willing to use that power last summer, as the precedents for doing so were so old. But Congress does have the ability to jail those found in contempt, and to fine them real money. The time has come to see if “contempt of Congress” has real teeth.
Jerry Nadler, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has promised to investigate Barr:
Barr should be subpoenaed to testify immediately, and if he refuses, he needs to be punished. Period. Lock him up. Fine him brutally. Take away his fucking money. Whatever the law allows, or might allow, must be put to the test. Nadler has to bring the heat this time. No more letters. No more niceties. No more proverbial knives to proverbial gun fights. Fight fire with Rick Dalton’s flamethrower. Incinerate these motherfuckers (metaphorically, of course).
One of the reasons Trump has been winning these little process battles is that the Democrats have been reluctant to upset the apple cart of tradition and decorum. The time has come to kick over that cart and start pelting the bad guys with apples. If need be, the House needs to vote to de-fund the Justice Department until subpoenas are adhered to. (In other words: Pelosi should do to Barr what Trump did to Ukraine!) We need to go on the offensive. Our republic depends on it.
And, while we are not there quite yet, it is almost time to “take to the streets.” I have a lot of thoughts on how best to do this, which I will write about separately. But pack your go-bag, because it’s almost time for the Avengers to assemble—peacefully, of course, but strategically. What it might take to get rid of Barr, in the end, is all of us.
Greg Olear is the author of Dirty Rubles: An Introduction to Trump/Russia (2018), as well as two novels. He lives in New York.