President Donald Trump insisted when he made Matthew Whitaker his acting attorney general that he wasn’t familiar with Whitaker’s past commentary critical of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe.
But now it might be happening again.
Former Attorney General William Barr has emerged as Trump’s top pick to be the nominee for the full-time attorney general job, The Post is reporting. And picking former President George H.W. Bush’s attorney general would seem a pretty safe and confirmable pick, on its surface.
But much like Whitaker, Barr’s past commentary has downplayed the severity of the allegations against Trump – on the collusion and obstruction-of-justice fronts – and also suggested that the Clintons should be in more trouble.
In fact, in November 2017, Barr told The New York Times that there was actually more basis to investigate Hillary Clinton for the Uranium One deal than there is to investigate Trump for potential collusion with Russia. He went so far as to say the Justice Department was wrong to give Clinton a pass.
“To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility,” he said.
Earlier that same month, Barr also explicitly called for more investigation of the Clintons, telling The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Matt Zapotosky, “I don’t think all this stuff about throwing (Clinton) in jail or jumping to the conclusion that she should be prosecuted is appropriate.” Then he added: “But I do think that there are things that should be investigated that haven’t been investigated.”
In both stories, Barr declined to judge Trump harshly for calling for specific investigations – even ones affecting him and his political opponents, apparently. Barr suggested that was okay for a president as long as the decision was made with respect to the actual evidence at hand and not for political reasons.
But Barr apparently thinks those conditions have been met on the topic Trump had strongly tried and failed to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate – the Clintons – and that has to be music to Trump’s ears.
Barr has also given Trump a complete pass on one of the central events in the Mueller probe: Trump’s firing of then-FBI Director James Comey. In a Washington Post op-ed, Barr said Trump didn’t just not doing anything wrong, but that he actually “made the right call”:
“It is telling that none of the president’s critics are challenging the decision on the merits. None argue that Comey’s performance warranted keeping him on as director. Instead, they are attacking the president’s motives, claiming the president acted to neuter the investigation into Russia’s role in the election.
“The notion that the integrity of this investigation depends on Comey’s presence just does not hold water. Contrary to the critics’ talking points, Comey was not “in charge” of the investigation.”
It would seem quite the coincidence that Trump seems to be settling on yet another attorney general who seems prepared to take his side on these very personal and political investigative issues in a way Sessions wouldn’t. It’s also notable that Barr seems to believe the line between the presidency and the nation’s top law enforcement official needn’t be drawn so rigidly – something Trump has long craved.
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