Book review of One Damn Thing After Another: Memoirs of an Attorney General by William P. Barr

Barr wasn’t certain if the purpose of his story — that generally it’s smarter to attend to answer an assault — registered with the president. Left unaddressed is whether or not Trump might have obtained one other message: Don’t mess with Bill Barr.

Modern American politics is pushed much less by what individuals consider than who they hate, and one of the quickest paths to fame and relevancy is to be despised by the opposite aspect. In this, Barr excelled: Democrats argued that he was Trump’s hatchet man, twisting justice to spare the president’s mates and punish his critics.

Barr was simply Trump’s simplest and necessary Cabinet member, and confirmed much more competence and crafty than Trump’s prior attorneys common, Jeff Sessions and the mercifully transient performing AG Matt Whitaker.

The title of Barr’s guide isn’t, as one may suspect, a reference to its practically 600-page size however comes reasonably from former legal professional common Ed Levi’s description of the job. The first quarter of the narrative is a sort of prequel, describing Barr’s childhood, early authorized profession and first -stint as legal professional common within the early Nineties beneath President George H.W. Bush.

Barr is an old-school conservative, raised on disgust with anti-Vietnam War hippies, contempt for the media he manufacturers “corrupt” and blames for Bush’s 1992 loss, and a perception that non secular life in America is beneath siege from liberals.

Initially a Jeb Bush supporter in 2016, Barr says he got here to again Trump largely as a result of of Trump’s possible picks for the Supreme Court. “On this foundation alone,” he declares, “I might crawl over damaged glass to the polls to vote for Trump.”

Barr can inform a superb yarn and has a penchant for deadpan punchlines.

“Do you understand what the key is of a very good tweet? Just the correct quantity of loopy,” Trump advised Barr on the finish of one assembly.

The president, Barr writes, appeared to bond with him over their shared dislike of former FBI director James B. Comey, however Barr bristled when Trump talked ceaselessly about firing his handpicked substitute for the job, Christopher A. Wray.

Comey, who appeared to make dangerous judgment a private model in 2016, later grew to become a supply of friction between Trump and Barr when the legal professional common refused to pursue a felony case towards the previous FBI chief.

Barr’s account of Trump’s obsession with arresting his perceived political enemies is usually advised with a way of humor that’s greater than somewhat unsettling, as if he’s describing not the commander in chief however a cranky sitcom dad whose declarations immediate head shakes, eye rolls and amusing monitor.

On Wray, the dispute was extra stark. Barr thought he was a superb FBI director, whereas Trump complained that Wray was not aggressive sufficient towards his most popular targets.

One of the “pathologies of our age,” Barr writes, is that folks “have come to assume that, just because circumstances counsel wrongdoing, some set of individuals ought to go to jail for a criminal offense,” an concept he returns to later within the guide, arguing: “Not all censurable conduct is felony. The present tendency to conflate the silly with the legally culpable causes extra hurt than good.”

Barr is true that the Justice Department has been weakened by fixed public calls for that this or that politician be arrested. Former prosecutor Rudy Giuliani hyped fantastical allegations of crimes and investigations towards first Hillary Clinton, then Joe Biden. Over the 2 years of particular counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, liberal veterans of the Justice Department provided up each day hypothesis concerning the crimes Trump and his colleagues certainly dedicated.

But the previous legal professional common conveniently ignores his personal participation on this conduct of lending his legislation enforcement credentials to specious accusations towards politicians he doesn’t like. It was Barr who said in 2017 that Clinton ought to be investigated criminally over a company deal known as Uranium One, and it was Barr who publicly praised Comey’s choice to announce, simply days earlier than the 2016 election, that he was reopening the felony investigation of Clinton’s use of a non-public electronic mail server whereas secretary of state.

In late 2020, Barr’s relationship with the president soured, as Trump complained that John Durham, the prosecutor tapped to research how U.S. companies pursued allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump marketing campaign in 2016, was not going to ship large information earlier than Election Day.

More critically, Barr writes, Trump and his authorized workforce, together with Barr’s nemesis, Giuliani, pushed absurd claims of mass voter fraud. “His authorized workforce had a troublesome case to make, and so they made it as badly and unprofessionally as I might have imagined,” Barr writes. “It was all a grotesque embarrassment.”

Once once more, Barr engaged in some of the identical conduct he now decries. In September 2020, he grossly exaggerated the info of a small fraudulent-ballot case in Texas, and some weeks later he told Trump a couple of nascent investigation in Pennsylvania involving fewer than 10 ballots present in a trash can. The president instantly touted the Pennsylvania case as proof of pervasive fraud, however it turned out to be easy human error.

Trump’s authorized efforts have been a clown automobile of incompetence, however for a time Barr rode in that automobile. Before resigning in December 2020, Barr advised the president in blunt phrases that his mass-voter-fraud arguments have been bunk.

By comparability, the chapters Barr devotes to extra standard points like college vouchers come as a sort of reduction, even when they usually learn as an airing of grievances for conservative attorneys — a Festivus for the Federalist Society. He additionally repeats his 2020 declare that some states’ coronavirus restrictions have been “probably the most sweeping and onerous denial of civil liberties” since slavery — the type of factually inebriated argument certain to infuriate historians of segregation or the World War II internment of Japanese Americans.

Barr earned the wrath of liberals and lots of present and former Justice Department officers for his dealing with of instances involving Mueller’s investigation of Trump, particularly two of the targets, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, and the general public launch of Mueller’s last report.

Democratic lawmakers argued that Barr kneecapped his previous buddy Mueller and sabotaged the report by declaring that there was inadequate proof to cost Trump with obstruction, thereby killing any risk of Congress eradicating the president from workplace. Some of Barr’s strongest arguments within the guide come when he pushes again towards that concept, noting that Mueller’s personal flip as, in essence, a hostile witness earlier than Congress did extra to undermine such an end result than something Barr did.

He is way much less convincing in terms of the dealing with of the Stone and Flynn instances, arguing that he publicly overruled the Stone prosecutors on a sentencing suggestion, and sought to scrap a responsible plea Flynn had already entered, within the higher pursuits of justice. If that was justice, it was of a sort unrecognizable to most federal prosecutors.

His guide isn’t for these prosecutors, neither is it for these anticipating surprising particulars about Trump’s conduct behind closed doorways. Barr’s guide can be a protection of his tenure to fellow conservatives — and a call to dump Trump in 2024.

Like that day in school so a few years in the past, Barr bided his time earlier than taking one final swing. But so long as there are senior officers like Barr, there will probably be presidents like Trump.

One Damn Thing After Another

Memoirs of an Attorney General

William Morrow. 595 pp. $35

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