I have long defended Attorney Bill Barr, who I believe has been unfairly criticized for his handling of the Mueller Report and other issues. However, despite my continued respect and long association with Attorney General Barr, I believe that he has been rightfully criticized for his speech at the Federalist Society last Friday. It is absurd for some to call for his impeachment, but the fiery political speech was in my view inappropriate and ill-advised for an attorney general. Indeed, given this difficult and historical period for the Department, the speech itself could fit Barr’s description of an “incendiary” moment for our system. This is a time where the Attorney General should strive to stay above the political fray — not contribute to it.
Barr drew the legitimate criticism for this portion of the speech to the largely conservative legal audience:
Unfortunately through the past few years we have seen these conflicts take on an entirely new character. Immediately after President Trump won election, opponents inaugurated what they called ‘The Resistance’ and they rallied around an explicit strategy of using every tool and maneuver to sabotage the functioning of the executive branch and his administration. The fact of the matter is: that in waging a scorched earth, no holds-barred war of resistance against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in the systemic shredding of norms and undermining the rule of law. . .
This is a very dangerous and indeed incendiary notion to import into the politics of a Democratic republic. The fact is, that, yes, while the president has certainly thrown out the traditional beltway playbook and punctilio, he was upfront about what he was going to do and the people decided that he was going to serve as president.”
There is no need for the Attorney General to engage in such political discourse. That is particularly important at this critical historical period when a president is facing what appears a likely impeachment. Moreover, the Justice Department is not just investigating aspects of the 2016 election (including the criminal investigation by U.S. Attorney John Durham) but also investigating Trump counsel Rudy Giuliani. Given those investigations, this is a particularly bad time for such comments (even if one could think of any good time).
Of course, no sooner had Barr committed this unforced error, critics on the other side rushed to prove his point. Former White House Ethics Counsel Richard Painter tweeted “Another lunatic authoritarian speech as Barr goes from attacking ‘radical secularists ‘ [at Notre Dame Law School] to one month later attacking the ‘resistance’ at [the Federalist Society]. Impeach Barr now!” He then added “Bill Barr is the type of bare knuckles lawyer the Church would have hired thirty years ago to cover up sex abuse cases. The bishop would have been someone like Rep. Jim Jordan. Neither of these men belong anywhere near the impeachment inquiry.”
This is an outrageous statement that is not only wrong as a constitutional matter but grossly unfair as a personal matter. It is not an impeachable offense for a cabinet member to criticize what he views as a destructive political environment or obstructionist environment. I do not think it is wise but it is ridiculous to suggest that the speech constitutes impeachable conduct. The added insult that Barr would “cover up” child abuse for the church so just how unhinged and unfair our political discourse has become. Barr is a deeply religious person and a Catholic. However, no one has ever suggested that he would cover up the rape of children for the Church.
I have previously disagreed with the overextended and unsupported claims of critics on allegedly clear criminal violations by President Donald Trump, including past statements by Painter. This includes this suggestion that simply doing fundraisers for fellow Republicans is impeachable bribery. These comments however are far beyond the pale even in this age of rage.