If “the walls are closing in,” it’s only because President Trump can’t stand anyone standing up to him. Attorney General Bill Barr had been pushed far enough and spoken his piece. Now Barr is flirting with being part of the problem (because all solutions are Trump).
“Whether it’s Congress, newspaper editorial boards or the president, I’m going to do what I think is right,” Mr. Barr said in an interview with ABC News, echoing comments he made a year ago at his confirmation hearing. “I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”Barr Says Attacks From Trump Make Work ‘Impossible’, New York Times, Feb. 13, 2020
Barr has done his best to support the president, through the Mueller report, through the impeachment, and Roger Stone seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Barr can handle media criticism. He can handle being called Trump’s enforcer. But at heart, Barr is a serious lawyer, and he bristles when he’s trying to at least maintain a patina of legal scholarship and Trump’s own peanut gallery tweets make a mockery of him.
Such tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors in the department that we’re doing our work with integrity,” Mr. Barr said.
He added, “It’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases.”
Someone had to tell the president that it’s a continuing abuse of presidential power to publicly comment and tweet about DOJ criminal cases. I maintain that Trump was within his rights to bring in Barr on the Stone affair, and even to pardon Stone if he wishes. But he can’t bring in Barr and then bully the man who is supposed to uphold the law under Trump’s administration. Why bother even having laws?
This has been Trump’s pattern from the beginning. If Jeff Sessions had not immediately recused himself from the Mueller investigation, I’m certain Trump would have done far worse to him than the running commentary of how bad Sessions was for his “betrayal.” Even John Kelly, who remained loyal to Trump through some really cringe-worthy episodes (like the “fine people” Charlottesville press conference), is now a traitor.
So far, Trump hasn’t reacted negatively to Barr’s remarks, though he tweeted a retort from Barr, “The President has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.” As usual, Trump’s view is he can do as he pleases, including asking the AG to perform like a circus monkey.
To say that the relationship between Trump and Barr is fraught and tenuous might be going a bit too far at this point. But Barr has sent Trump a message, and from what we know of the president, he won’t receive it.
And Trump’s praetorians won’t save him if Barr turns sour. Lou Dobbs sunk his teeth into Barr on his Fox Business show.
“I am so disappointed in Bill Barr. I have to say this. It’s a damn shame when he doesn’t get what this president has gone through and what the American people have gone through and what his charge is as attorney general,” Dobbs added.‘A damn shame’: Lou Dobbs trashes Barr for criticizing Trump’s use of Twitter, Washington Examiner, Feb 13, 2020
One day, Barr is a saint because he backed up Trump and freed Stone from an almost certain prison sentence (it’s likely still a certain prison sentence). The next day, Barr’s a Judas because he didn’t dance fast enough when Trump said “dance!”
At some point, Barr will have had enough of Trump, and will be swarmed by the lifetime ticket holders on the Trump Train. Just like Jeff Sessions, John Kelly, Reince Priebus, and the entire cast of “Cats!” Barr will be added to the persona non grata list. I don’t know who would replace him, because anyone crazy enough to want the job is probably not qualified to do it.
And there may be four more years to serve, if Trump wins the election. Trump would do well to back off Barr, because he owes the man, and also because his army of trolls won’t save him if Barr turns.
Trump could do a Nixon Saturday night massacre and fire Barr, like he’s cleaning house at the NSC with Vindman. But there’s a difference: Trump did nothing illegal in dismissing Vindman, and that news cycle is now long in the dustbin. Firing Barr could open a Pandora’s box of problems, rooted in the Mueller report and the ongoing investigations in Congress related to the botched impeachment.
Would Democrats try to impeach Trump again? You bet your Sunday church shoes they would. And there’d be no Bill Barr to offer serious legal punch to the president’s flighty mean tweets. Mean tweets and troll swarms won’t save the president from his own paranoia.
Ultimately, if Trump doesn’t pull back a little from his scorched earth vengeance political fights, especially with his Attorney General, he’s going to self-fulfill the media trope “the walls are closing in.” It will be Trump himself pulling them in.