Lowering the Barr
Determined as we all are to stay steady, sometimes it’s really difficult to fight off dismay and anger at what’s happening to our country and the world.
The news fatigue is real. We are buffeted by unending stories of domestic instability over our democracy, our health and safety, and our constitutional rights. War is raging in Europe, bloody crackdowns are occurring in Iran, and China is increasingly belligerent. Oh, and of course, there are also the climate crisis and the lingering pandemic.
In this seemingly unrelenting negative news cycle, a blockbuster report like The New York Times’ “How Barr’s Quest to Find Flaws in the Russia Inquiry Unraveled” can slide into the category of “old news” without the full attention it deserves. That would be a shame. For despite its understated headline, the piece raises serious concerns about powerful government officials and the milieu in which they operate.
As close followers of current events, many of you likely either read the original article or saw follow-on reporting and analysis. It is a careful and comprehensive piece of journalism. It paints a narrative through context, fact finding, and illustrative anecdotes about how the former attorney general, William Barr, blatantly overstepped the bounds of his office.
While Republicans have argued that Democrats have politicized the Department of Justice, the evidence presented here proves it was Barr who did exactly that in order to justify President Trump’s unfounded (and self-serving) conspiracy theories. Rather than search for the truth, Barr worked to obfuscate it. That he knew better makes the offense all the more disgraceful.
The article focuses on the lengthy, costly, and ultimately fruitless “investigation” by John Durham of conspiracy theories Trump promulgated about Russian election meddling in 2016. Trump claimed that law enforcement and the intelligence community (whose work ultimately was included in the Mueller report detailing real Russian election interference) were merely “deep state” operatives seeking to undermine Trump.
We put “investigation” into quotes here because, as the article makes clear, Durham and Barr’s approach was not “let the facts lead us to the truth” but rather “how can we validate the malarkey the president says he believes to be true.” Although, after reading this reporting, it now seems that Barr himself had come to at least consider, if not fully embrace, these feverish fantasies. The entire article is worth a read, as it is full of jaw-dropping details.
There was great fanfare on Fox News and other right-wing media outlets (not to mention from the man in Mar-a-Lago) throughout Durham’s endeavor. It stemmed from a widespread belief that once Durham started digging, he would find smoking guns of Democratic duplicity everywhere. Conservative media platforms primed their readers and viewers with a sense that a judgment day loomed ahead, and that it might bring down not only Biden and the current Democrats, but Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to boot.
All this is catnip for conservatives, red meat for reactionaries.
Durham is but the latest former Trump administration official to see that tenure damage, if not ruin, a previously respectable reputation. As Durham’s work concludes, the “sound and fury” that accompanied his appointment have eroded to the point of “signifying nothing.” One can only speculate what Shakespeare would have done with a character like his.
Or like Barr, for that matter.
Barr’s resume of government service in more conventional Republican administrations might have suggested a different code of conduct. But alas, he did the nefarious biddings of Trump almost to the end. Last year, Barr went on a PR tour for his book, One Damn Thing After Another. The title suggests a man eager to set the record straight with hard candor. The reality was far different. Barr was not a truth teller but a toady to the Trump party line, the facts and the health of American democracy be damned.
There has been a lot of talk over the last several years about how history will judge Trump and his cronies harshly — Barr included. One gets the sense that most of this crowd really doesn’t care. If they get their way, there won’t be much teaching of factual history anyway. In the meantime, they can hunker down in their lucrative fact-free echo chambers.
There was a time when the media and political landscapes were far less fractured. Public censure meant a lot more. Shame and embarrassment were deterrents. Sadly, Trump demonstrated that extreme right-wing politicians could embrace shamelessness as a successful campaign strategy. And so too could an attorney general, in a craven exercise of illegitimate power.
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I would go one step further and suggest that it’s not just “news fatigue”, it’s “lack of action fatigue”.
General news media is day after day after day tellings of dirty politics, police brutality, and mass shootings. And day after day we’re left with the same unanswered question - ‘Okay, but who will do something about it?’.
Vote? We’ve done that. Protest? Check. Send money? Also check.
It breaks my heart to hear about all of it, and it breaks my heart just as much that I don’t see any hope of it ever getting sorted. At least maybe not in my lifetime.
And I pray that I’m wrong about that.
Jim Jordan (OH-4) should certainly include Barr's weaponization of the DOJ in his Star Chamber inquisition. But wait! Jordan doesn't investigate Republicans. I forgot.