Barr and The Daily Beast: How The Media Misconstrued His “Intervention” In The Cohen Case


The Daily Beast is out with another breathless account of the sycophantic, corrupt influence of Attorney General William Barr. The article entitled “Barr Reportedly Told DOJ Officials to Try and Undermine Michael Cohen’s Conviction” adds the subheading “The attorney general insists, meanwhile, that it’s nothing but a ‘media narrative’ to suggest he’s acting in the president’s personal interests.”  The article bounced off a piece in the New York Times. The thrust of both the headlines and the story capture the total decoupling of reporting from factual or legal foundations.  It could be denounced as a hit job but it completely misses its mark.

At the outset, as I have previously done, I should be clear that I have known Bill Barr as a friend and as a client for 30 years. I also testified at this confirmation hearing.  

This story however is demonstrably off base but all too common in the coverage of Barr.  The story states that

“The same day that Attorney General William Barr insisted there is “no pattern” of him working to advance the personal interests of President Donald Trump, several sources cited by The New York Times said one of his first moves after being sworn into office in early 2019 was trying to find ways to undermine the conviction of longtime Trump fixer Michael Cohen.”

The story says that Barr questioned whether Cohen should have faced criminal charges rather than a civil complaint in such a financial case.

Let’s take the New York Times story as true, and I have no reason to doubt its account of such sources.  What would that mean?

The Daily Beast repeatedly refers to Cohen as a close friend and confident of President Trump without mentioning once that, when Barr raised these questions, Trump despised Cohen and openly celebrated the conviction of Michael Cohen.  The only person who would been more upset by the undermining of Cohen’s conviction than the lead prosecutor would have been President Trump.  By that point, Trump was heralding the conviction and rejoicing in the Cohen going to jail.

The coverage in both publications does not seek any opposing view on the underlying legal issue.  For that reason, readers were never told that Barr has a long-standing position against such expansive reading of the criminal code on such offenses. I realize that the New York Times has apparently resolved to bar opposing views from its editorial pages but it would be heartening if a modicum of balance could be retained in its reporting.

Indeed, in the confirmation hearing, I noted to the Senate that Barr, as a private citizen, contacted the Justice Department to contest the charges against Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) on the basis that the matter should not be treated as a criminal offense.  He had no connection to Menendez.  He was concerned about the unwarranted extension of the criminal code.

This objection raises some of the same general issues in the criminalization of matters that Barr believes should fairly be addressed as civil matters. As I have previously stated, Barr is someone obsessed with the law and its proper administration. He is liked by many of us because he is honest and direct.  When he believes that there is an error in legal interpretation, he will tell you.

Now let’s get to the Southern District of New York. In a recent exchange with former acting Attorney General Stuart Gerson on Barr’s tenure as Attorney General, my friend Stuart made a true and telling observation. He said that some of these disputes are likely the result of Barr’s view of central control of Main Justice over U.S. Attorney offices.  That is true.  The New York Times article suggests that there is something terribly alarming about an Attorney General or Main Justice questioning the legal interpretation used by trial attorneys in a high-profile case. Barr, who previously served as Attorney General, does not buy that these offices are some form of independent contractors or that the SDNY is somehow an anointed “special” place within the department.  Neither does the U.S. Attorney’s manual.  The Department rules clearly lay out that these offices must follow the directives of Main Justice on the interpretation of laws and the coordination of cases. Period.

Now back to the Daily Beast article. The article highlights that “Despite insisting he treats all cases equally, [Barr] apparently could not name a single case not tied to the president’s inner circle where he had staged a last-minute intervention similar to that in the Flynn case.”  The suggestion is that this is another such case. Again, the story outruns the law.

In Flynn, Barr and Main Justice intervened at the sentencing stage, a move that is rare. I have already addressed my view that the prosecutors were wildly off base in their original sentencing and the ultimate sentence of 40 months fell in line with amended recommendation. The original sentencing memorandum asked for 108 months.  That was a last minute change.  Cohen was not.  Barr allegedly asked the prosecutors to reconsider their interpretation. There was no filing with the court or “intervention” to scuttle the case.

The main problem however is the fact that the article is suggesting that such an inquiry would please Trump.  While Trump did originally speak in defense of Cohen, he had become persona non grata in the White House.  Trump would have been furious to know that Barr was doing anything that might question Cohen going to jail. Barr was raising the same type of finance issues and code interpretation that he raised with regard to the Sen. Menendez.  Was he also currying favor with Trump on the Menendez case when he was seeking to raise such issues before he became Attorney General?

For over a year, Trump was calling for a long prison term for Cohen and mocking efforts to reduce his time in jail.  In December 2018, he tweeted “Michael Cohen asks judge for no Prison Time.” You mean he can do all of the TERRIBLE, unrelated to Trump, things having to do with fraud, big loans, Taxis, etc., and not serve a long prison term? He makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself.”

Barr was confirmed on February 14, 2019.  Just a week later, Trump was denouncing Cohen as “lying in order to reduce his prison time.”  Barr however was not convinced that Cohen should go to jail on the financial counts. He was so slavishly trying to please Trump that he was questioning the prison time that Trump was celebrating and seeking “a legal memo casting doubt on the legitimacy of Cohen’s conviction.”

Notably, the more interesting question was not addressed. Rather than ask whether such questions would help a friend of Trump (who was actually his greatest nemesis), it is fair to ask whether it could help Trump.  That case however would be attenuated and complex to make. Trump has always contested that such campaign finance violations are crimes.  He is not alone however in that view.  There was a great deal of debate among lawyers as to the case law supporting such claims.  Barr’s position however has much longer and deeper roots than Trump (who has argued that a wide range of conduct is not only noncriminal but entirely appropriate over the objections of many, including myself). That would seem relevant to these stories.

Moreover, I have previously stated that Cohen’s plea to the campaign finance violation could be used against Trump. Yet, the fact is that such a risk is limited. First, the statute of limitations is five years which could conceivably allow a charge after the President leaves office (I have maintained for many years that presidents can be charged with crimes in office). Yet, it would be difficult to nail a client on such a violation when lawyers have told him that it was an appropriate payment.  It is also not likely to present a serious threat of jail time.  His sentence was driven largely by the tax counts. Cohen plead guilty after being charged with eight counts tax evasion (Counts One through Five), making false statements to a financial institution (Count Six), and campaign finance offenses (Count Seven and Eight).  (He was separately charged with one count with making false statements to Congress) in another action.  Prosecutors sought enhancement of the sentence because of the “sophisticated means” used as a lawyer to conceal with crimes, including the campaign finance violations, as a “special skill” aggravator.  The campaign finance plea was widely viewed as an add-on to the primary prosecution for evasion. There is a risk to Trump in campaign finance but it remains comparatively slight on the current record. The failed prosecution involving former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards illustrates the difficult of such cases.

The point is not that my view is the only possible take on this story. The point is that it is a countervailing view that is entirely missing from the New York Times article and the Daily Beast column. Instead, the Daily Beast suggests that Barr was seeking to please Trump by questioning the prosecution of the man most despised by Trump.  That simply did not fit the narrative and thus it was deemed not relevant by either publication.

This is the daily beast that Barr faces from the media.  There are ample objections that can be made to Barr’s policies. I have criticized him for some of those policies and, as I detailed in my testimony, we have disagreed for decades over aspects of constitutional law and executive power. However, this story is another example of the narrative out running the facts and the law in coverage.

69 thoughts on “Barr and The Daily Beast: How The Media Misconstrued His “Intervention” In The Cohen Case”

  1. Excellent opening and a perfect condemnation of the Bias of the Media not the least of which is giving false credibility to the two sources mentioned.

  2. “Michael Cohen” et al. constitute a grand “red herring” designed to obfuscate the discovery and exposure of the colossal, historic, anti-American act of literal treason, the Obama Coup D’etat in America.

    All roads lead to Obama.

    “We will stop him.”

    – Peter Strzok to FBI paramour Lisa Page

    “[Obama] wants to know everything we’re doing.”

    – Lisa Page to FBI paramour Peter Strzok

    The Obama Coup D’etat in America is the most egregious abuse of power and the most prodigious criminal act in American political history.

    The co-conspirators are:

    Bill Taylor, Eric Ciaramella, Rosenstein, Mueller/Team, Andrew Weissmann, Comey,
    Christopher Wray, McCabe, Strozk, Page, Laycock, Kadzic, Yates, Baker, Bruce Ohr,
    Nellie Ohr, Priestap, Kortan, Campbell, Sir Richard Dearlove, Steele, Simpson,
    Joseph Mifsud, Alexander Downer, Stefan “The Walrus” Halper, Azra Turk, Kerry,
    Hillary, Huma, Mills, Brennan, Gina Haspel, Clapper, Lerner, Farkas, Power, Lynch,
    Rice, Jarrett, Holder, Brazile, Sessions (patsy), Nadler, Schiff, Pelosi, Obama,
    James E. Boasberg et al.


    The Obama Foundation (@ObamaFoundation): “In the afternoon of June 26, 2015, @BarackObama traveled to Charleston to eulogize Reverend Pinckney after a racist shooting at Mother Emanuel AME church. President Obama began to speak of grace. Then he sang. …”

    Today is the 5th anniversary of that memorial service.

    I was disappointed in Obama as President (I had high expectations for him, and he didn’t live up to them), but he was so much better a president than Trump is: more ethical, more honest, smarter, more empathetic, … In contrast, I had low expectations of Trump, but even so, he’s done more damage than I expected.I hope the country can recover from that damage Trump. I expect it will take a long time.

    1. Daniel W. Drezner: “I’ll believe that Trump is growing into the presidency when his staff stops talking about him like a toddler. [This is the 1500th TWEET in the #ToddlerinChief thread!]”

      1500 examples of current and former Trump staff talking about him as if he’s a toddler. That’s astounding and sad.

    2. OMG! Did you say Obama? Barack Obama, community organizer extraordinaire and head communist. Not only is that cheap charlatan ineligible, his not capable of leadership cognition regarding anything other than handing out “free stuff” from Other People’s Money. Obama was ensconced by the Deep Deep State to mollify the parasites with gifts and prevarication. Barack Obama has never held a job outside of academia, has never met a payroll and has never created even one dime of wealth. The admittedly dazed pothead knows only acquisition by way of theft from others – the essence of communism.

      Barack Obama will NEVER be eligible for the office of the president.

      Barack Obama’s father was a foreign citizen at the time of his birth.

      – A “citizen” could only have been President at the time of the adoption of the Constitution – not after.

      – The U.S. Constitution, Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5, requires the President to be a “natural born citizen,” which, by definition in the Law of Nations, requires “parents who are citizens” at the time of birth of the candidate and that he be “…born of a father who is a citizen;…”

      – Ben Franklin thanked Charles Dumas for copies of the Law of Nations which “…has been continually in the hands of the members of our Congress, now sitting,…”

      – The Jay/Washington letter of July, 1787, raised the presidential requirement from citizen to “natural born citizen” to place a “strong check” against foreign allegiances by the commander-in-chief.

      – Every American President before Obama had two parents who were American citizens.

      – The Constitution is not a dictionary and does not define words or phrases like “natural born citizen” as a dictionary, while the Law of Nations, 1758, did.


      Law of Nations, Vattel, 1758

      Book 1, Ch. 19

      § 212. Citizens and natives.

      “The citizens are the members of the civil society; bound to this society by certain duties, and subject to its authority, they equally participate in its advantages. The natives, or natural-born citizens, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens. As the society cannot exist and perpetuate itself otherwise than by the children of the citizens, those children naturally follow the condition of their fathers, and succeed to all their rights. The society is supposed to desire this, in consequence of what it owes to its own preservation; and it is presumed, as matter of course, that each citizen, on entering into society, reserves to his children the right of becoming members of it. The country of the fathers is therefore that of the children; and these become true citizens merely by their tacit consent. We shall soon see whether, on their coming to the years of discretion, they may renounce their right, and what they owe to the society in which they were born. I say, that, in order to be of the country, it is necessary that a person be born of a father who is a citizen; for, if he is born there of a foreigner, it will be only the place of his birth, and not his country.”


      Ben Franklin letter December 9, 1775, thanking Charles Dumas for 3 copies of the Law of Nations:

      “…I am much obliged by the kind present you have made us of your edition of Vattel. It came to us in good season, when the circumstances of a rising state make it necessary frequently to consult the law of nations. Accordingly that copy, which I kept, (after depositing one in our own public library here, and sending the other to the College of Massachusetts Bay, as you directed,) has been continually in the hands of the members of our Congress, now sitting, who are much pleased with your notes and preface, and have entertained a high and just esteem for their author…”


      To George Washington from John Jay, 25 July 1787

      From John Jay

      New York 25 July 1787

      Dear Sir

      I was this morning honored with your Excellency’s Favor of the 22d

      Inst: & immediately delivered the Letter it enclosed to Commodore

      Jones, who being detained by Business, did not go in the french Packet,

      which sailed Yesterday.

      Permit me to hint, whether it would not be wise & seasonable to

      provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the

      administration of our national Government, and to declare expressly that the Command in chief

      of the american army shall not be given to, nor devolved on, any but a natural born Citizen.

      Mrs Jay is obliged by your attention, and assures You of her perfect

      Esteem & Regard—with similar Sentiments the most cordial and sincere

      I remain Dear Sir Your faithful Friend & Servt

      John Jay


      The real Obama? Larry Sinclair stated that Obama smoked crack cocaine, had homosexual relations with him and implied that Obama had homosexual relations with a “Donald Young” who was murdered on Dec. 23, 2007, and was the openly gay choir director for Reverend Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ.

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