William Barr’s Perversion of Justice

The attorney general is turning the Justice Department into a political weapon for the president.

New York Times

By

The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

May 9, 2020
  

“History is written by the winners,” William Barr, the attorney general, said Thursday when asked how he thought future generations would assess his decision to drop all criminal charges against Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, who had pleaded guilty twice to breaking the law. “So it largely depends on who’s writing the history.”

In service to Mr. Trump, Mr. Barr is abusing his power not to write, but to erase, some of the most important lessons of American history.

The Watergate scandal, with its revelations of how dangerous a renegade White House could be, led to reforms meant to ensure an independent Justice Department, one faithful to the law rather than to the Oval Office.

The nation had seen firsthand how much harm a president with no respect for the rule of law could do — particularly when he used the Justice Department, under a compliant attorney general, to protect allies, punish adversaries and cover up wrongdoing.

Among the key reforms were stronger transparency and ethics rules, like the creation of independent inspectors general to root out waste, fraud and abuse in the executive branch. (Mr. Trump has been firing inspectors general he thinks are not loyal to him.) There were also new limits on presidential power, like the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act. (President Trump broke that law last year, according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, when he withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine.)

To Mr. Barr, these reforms were obstacles to a vision of a virtually unbound executive. For decades, he has pushed to give presidents — Republican presidents, anyway — maximum authority with minimal oversight. In a 2018 memo criticizing the Russia investigation, he argued that the president “alone is the Executive branch,” in whom “the Constitution vests all Federal law enforcement power, and hence prosecutorial discretion.” For the attorney general, that discretion includes cases involving the president’s own conduct.

If you’re having trouble distinguishing Mr. Barr’s vision of the presidency from the rule of a king, you’re not alone. “George III would have loved it,” said Douglas Kmiec, who led the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

“Bill Barr’s America is not a place that anyone, including Trump voters, should want to go,” wrote Donald Ayer, who served as deputy attorney general under the first President Bush. “It is a banana republic where all are subject to the whims of a dictatorial president and his henchmen.”

Bill Barr’s America is the one we’re now living in. The Justice Department, in the midst of a presidential campaign, has become a political weapon.

Having absorbed the lessons of Watergate, mainstream Republicans once balked at the politicization of the Justice Department — even by Republican presidents. When President George W. Bush’s attorney general Alberto Gonzales fired eight United States attorneys because they were not aggressive enough in prosecuting Democrats, the outrage was bipartisan, and he was forced to resign.

But today’s Republicans, who could be most effective in defending the integrity of American justice, appear either too afraid of Mr. Trump or too eager for short-term partisan advantage to confront the danger to the country.

Mr. Barr’s decision to drop the charges against Mr. Flynn may be his most egregious abandonment of his role as the public’s lawyer, but it’s certainly not the first. Last year, barely a month after he was confirmed to his post, he stood before the American people and misrepresented the contents of the long-awaited report by Robert Mueller, the special counsel who investigated ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in 2016.

The report itself, at 448 pages, documented extensive evidence of those ties, as well as multiple instances of lying and obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump and other top government officials. Mr. Barr’s four-page summary claimed the opposite — that Mr. Mueller had found no collusion or obstruction of justice. Mr. Mueller protested, and yet weeks passed before Americans could see the report themselves and discover just how much Mr. Barr had twisted its findings to benefit Mr. Trump.

In March, a federal judge called Mr. Barr’s characterization of the report “distorted” and “misleading,” and said his “lack of candor” called his credibility into doubt.

But Mr. Barr didn’t stop there. He also rejected a report by the Justice Department inspector general finding that there was sufficient evidence to open the Russia investigation. He referred to the investigation as “spying” and ordered a criminal inquiry into its origins. He intervened in the prosecutions of two of Mr. Trump’s top advisers, Mr. Flynn and Roger Stone, for whom he recommended a lighter sentence than his own prosecutors had sought. And he declined to open a criminal investigation into last fall’s whistle-blower complaint against Mr. Trump, saying it did not qualify as an “urgent concern.” The complaint ultimately led to Mr. Trump’s impeachment.

Last month, Mr. Barr went on Fox News and called the Russia investigation “one of the greatest travesties in American history,” and said, “We’re not dealing with just mistakes or sloppiness, there was something far more troubling here; and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.”

With these remarks, Mr. Barr appears to have violated Justice Department policy against publicly discussing current investigations. His insistent attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the Russia investigation and absolve Mr. Trump of any wrongdoing also appear to violate department policy against taking any actions that could be seen to have a partisan political purpose, especially in an election year.

The damage Mr. Barr is doing extends beyond policy violations. He has weakened the morale of the department by undercutting career prosecutors — men and women who devoted their lives to the rule of law. Four of them quit the case against Mr. Stone, who was convicted of federal crimes including perjury, wire fraud and witness intimidation, when Mr. Barr intervened to ask for a lighter sentence. Another quit the case against Michael Flynn shortly before the department filed its request with the court to drop all charges.

President Trump couldn’t be more pleased. He has shown little sense of the law, other than that whatever it is, he must be above it. He has never given the slightest hint he thinks the Justice Department exists for a reason other than to protect his interests. And no wonder, since he took his cues from President Richard Nixon himself. “I learned a lot from Richard Nixon, don’t fire people,” Mr. Trump said on Thursday. “I learned a lot. I study history.” One of the most important lessons? “He had tapes all over the place. I wasn’t guilty, I did nothing wrong. And there are no tapes.”

Together, the president and his attorney general appear to be laying the groundwork to use the Justice Department against Mr. Trump’s primary political opponent — Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.

A fabulist narrative is taking shape before our eyes, in the shape of multiple investigations Mr. Barr has ordered. He is pursuing the theory that under President Obama and Vice President Biden, a corrupt Justice Department and out-of-control F.B.I. schemed to keep Mr. Trump from winning the White House by opening a sham investigation into his ties to Russia. This is the upside-down version of reality, of course. In fact, even though the F.B.I. had plenty of reason to open the investigation, it refused to acknowledge its existence until after the election.

Mr. Barr and Mr. Trump have made their intentions clear. “We’re going to get to the bottom of what happened,” Mr. Barr said Thursday.

“These are dirty politicians and dirty cops and some horrible people, and hopefully they’re going to pay a price some day in the not too distant future,” Mr. Trump said in his Fox News interview
Friday.

Democratic self-government is premised on the expectation that the people’s representatives will not wield the immense powers of law enforcement for their own personal ends, without oversight by the other branches. The nation’s founders did not wage a war for independence from a tyrant who considered himself to embody the law so that the republic would tolerate another executive who considers himself above the law.

DISCLAIMER: New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (NMMOP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. As such, we work on issues that are nonpartisan on a cross-partisan basis with persons of all political affiliations and ideological perspectives to accomplish its goals. The intent of any reference to a political person or party made by us in this email is to call attention to the statement or action made by such person or party that pertains to one of or more of NMMOP’s goals, not to show favor or disfavor to such person or party. Statements made by other persons or sources reproduced here represent the perspective of the writers or publishers and not necessarily that of NMMOP.

Trump intensifies war with Democrats over voting laws

The GOP has doubled its budget to fight Democratic lawsuits to $20 million.

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump’s political operation is expanding its legal effort to stop Democrats from overhauling voting laws in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican National Committee and Trump reelection campaign are doubling their legal budget to $20 million as litigation spreads to an array of battleground states. With the virus likely to complicate in-person balloting in November, Democrats have been pushing to substantially ease remote voting restrictions — something the Trump campaign and RNC are aggressively fighting in the courts

Trump, who has long been fixated on voter fraud, has taken a personal interest in the project. He is expected to discuss the legal maneuvering during a meeting with his political team Thursday.

The battle over voting laws — specifically Democrats’ efforts to make it easier for people to vote remotely during the pandemic — has emerged as a key front in the general election showdown between the parties.

More than two dozen Republican operatives are focusing on the legal battles and have been closely coordinating with party officials at the state and local levels. The Trump campaign and RNC recently intervened in Nevada, where Democrats are pushing for the state to ease restrictions by mailing ballots to all registered voters. Republicans have also been active in New Mexico, where they fought back a similar Democratic-led lawsuit.

The legal skirmishing has also been taking place in such battlegrounds as Pennsylvania and Georgia. While Republicans say they are open to some changes amid the pandemic, they are opposed to many of the farther-reaching reforms Democrats are pursuing.

“We will not stand idly by while Democrats try to sue their way to victory in 2020,” said RNC chief of staff Richard Walters. “Democrats may be using the coronavirus as an excuse to strip away important election safeguards, but the American people continue to support commonsense protections that defend the integrity of our democratic processes.”

The RNC and Trump campaign initially announced in February that they would direct $10 million to legal fights. But the party, Walters said, is prepared to sue Democrats “into oblivion and spend whatever is necessary.”

Democrats have long pushed to ease voting restrictions. Marc Elias, a prominent election law attorney who is leading the party’s effort, said Democrats were currently focused on litigation in more than a dozen states, including Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Many of the lawsuits, he said, involve expanding vote-by-mail rules.

He acknowledged, however, that the Republican Party’s massive investment is a hurdle.

“We’re not unrealistic about the fight that is ahead,” Elias said. “There is no question that Donald Trump and the Republican Party have made opposing voting rights a top priority for their campaign.”

Republicans insist public opinion is on their side. Earlier this month, the RNC commissioned a survey finding that nearly two-thirds of voters believed there was fraud in elections and that a majority thought fraud occurs more frequently when ballots are cast by mail.

DISCLAIMER: New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (NMMOP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. As such, we work on issues that are nonpartisan on a cross-partisan basis with persons of all political affiliations and ideological perspectives to accomplish its goals. The intent of any reference to a political person or party made by us in this email is to call attention to the statement or action made by such person or party that pertains to one of or more of NMMOP’s goals, not to show favor or disfavor to such person or party. Statements made by other persons or sources reproduced here represent the perspective of the writers or publishers and not necessarily that of NMMOP.

 

HELP US GET MORE SIGNATURES!

There are nearly two hundred NM candidates who have yet to be asked to sign the Pledge. 

Even though most of us are sheltering in place, we can still work on the 28th Amendment Pledge drive.

Step 1: Go to the list of all candidates for elected office on the Secretary of State’s website here. Choose from the list of candidates those other than judicial candidates (because they can’t take positions on matters that might come before them) you would like to contact to sign the Pledge.

Step 2: Contact Charlotte Schaaf, our Pledge Drive Coordinator by email at charlottesantafe@gmail.com.  Tell her the names and offices of the candidates you would like to approach to sign the pledge. Charlotte keeps a database that lists the candidates, which ones have already signed the Pledge and which our volunteers have already selected to work on to sign the Pledge. If someone else has already chosen one of your names, Charlotte will tell you and you may select someone else. The purpose of this step is to avoid the duplication of effort and perhaps annoying a candidate or his or her campaign staff. Charlotte will record your information and your selection of candidates.

Step 3: Contact the candidate. Send an email to the candidate asking him or her to sign the Pledge. This is a suggested email/letter that you may use that describes the Pledge and asks the candidate to sign. If there is no email shown on the SOS’s list, you can either go to the candidate’s website and make the request using the contact form there or you can contact the candidate by the phone number listed. The email explains how the candidate or his or her staffer can complete the Pledge process online through the American Promise website.  It also says that you would be glad to assist by sending the signed pledge, photo and personal statement from the candidate if he or she has difficulty completing it directly on line through the American Promise site.

Step 4: Follow up in a week or so with the candidate if the candidate or a campaign staffer doesn’t respond to your email. Ask if the request was received and if you can help answer any questions. If you still do not receive a written response, try calling the candidate’s campaign office.  Persistence is the trick. Keep it up as long as you feel comfortable until the candidate signs the Pledge.

Step 5 :Thank the signer in an email or telephone call after he or she has signed and provide follow up materials, inviting them to stay actively involved with the 28th Amendment movement, American Promise, and NMMOP. Getting a candidate or elected official is a beautiful beginning to developing an ongoing relationship, in preparation for future collaboration and partnering on common goals. For this, you can use or adapt the form email/letter.

Step 6:  Report back to Charlotte the results of your effort. She will then update the database with your information.

This kind of grassroots effort is really not very difficult or time consuming. But the significance of it is monumental. Most advancements that have been achieved in civil rights didn’t begin at the federal level. Change typically starts from the ground up, at the local level first, and then the state level.  When a certain number of cities, towns and states have signed on, a tipping point is reached and change is finally made on the federal level. Women’s suffrage, interracial marriage and intersex marriage all took this path.

So please,  join us in this effort!

 

BLUMENTHAL, WARREN, JAYAPAL, AND SARBANES LAY OUT OVERSIGHT, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND ANTI-CORRUPTION PROVISIONS FOR NEXT CONGRESSIONAL COVID-19 RESPONSE PACKAGE

(This announcement is from Declaration for American Democracy, the national coalition of  over 100 nonprofit activist organizations to which NMMOP belongs)

BLUMENTHAL, WARREN, JAYAPAL, AND SARBANES LAY OUT OVERSIGHT, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND
ANTI-CORRUPTION PROVISIONS FOR NEXT CONGRESSIONAL
COVID-19 RESPONSE PACKAGE

Read their letter to Congressional leadership here

Read white papers detailing some of their proposals here and here

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and John Sarbanes (D-MD), Chair of the House Democracy Reform Task Force, laid out strong oversight, accountability, and anti-corruption provisions to be included in the next Congressional COVID-19 response package. They sent a letter to Congressional leadership urging their proposals be included.

“Real accountability demands a watchdog, not a lapdog, to stop the waste, fraud and favoritism pervading this administration. An effective enforcement hammer is essential to deter wrongdoing, preserve resources, and conserve credibility. Strong scrutiny is required to make sure aid reaches the right hands. Getting relief to those who need it – small businesses, struggling families, the working poor and middle class – means keeping an eye on the corporate fat cats who are trying to cut them in line,” Blumenthal said. “The only people threatened by oversight are the ones are the ones trying to game the system, or hide something.”

“President Donald Trump has made clear that he is putting himself and his buddies first during this global pandemic – and he will actively undermine independent oversight,” said Warren. “The next relief package must include our provisions to empower inspectors general, prohibit conflicts of interest, and strengthen oversight and enforcement, and to stop any government-sanctioned profiteering and corruption. The American people need to trust their government is on their side, especially now.”

“Donald Trump has a long and established record of disregarding ethics, integrity, and transparency, and his latest attempts to sideline and dismiss independent inspectors general have raised the stakes during this crisis. It’s unfortunate that we cannot trust the President of the United States and his appointees to properly and ethically distribute billions of dollars in economic relief, but this is the reality we must confront. We must pass aggressive oversight measures in future relief packages to ensure economic aid is delivered to struggling families and businesses in need, keep this President accountable and prevent him and his Administration from misusing and misallocating taxpayer dollars,” said Jayapal.

“We must ensure that federal COVID-19 economic relief goes directly to American families and small businesses who need it most – not to President Trump’s business buddies, corporations or Mitch McConnell’s wealthy donors,” said Sarbanes. “The robust anti-corruption, oversight and accountability standards that we have presented today will prevent the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans from hijacking vital support for hardworking Americans and sending it instead to wealthy and well-connected special interests.”

Last month, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES Act), which provided critical aid to hospitals, small businesses, families, unemployed Americans, and other parts of our economy and society hit hard by this global pandemic. The Act also established a $500 billion bailout for giant corporations, which—without stronger oversight and anti-corruption provisions—could be wasted and misused by the Trump Administration to enrich giant corporations and senior executives, make monopolies worse at the expense of workers and taxpayers, and reward political allies and punish foes.

Other provisions in the CARES Act, including support for small businesses, also lack critical oversight and conflicts of interest protections and are alarmingly vulnerable to exploitation for personal, financial, and political gain. The CARES Act imposes some oversight of these programs, but President Trump began undermining these provisions the moment the bill became law.

President Trump also fired the Inspector General independently designated to chair the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), which Congress established to conduct and coordinate oversight and provide transparency over the federal government’s coronavirus response and management of pandemic response spending.

The President’s actions send a clear signal to Congress that stronger oversight, accountability, and anti-corruption provisions are urgently necessary.

“The gravity of our current crisis demands a responsible allocation of bailout funds. The process must be free from conflicts that favor special interests, and that requires robust oversight. CARES Act implementation to-date has been fraught, with loopholes that have allowed large companies to get cash meant for smaller businesses. We must course-correct, and ensure that taxpayer dollars help the public, workers, and protect our health. Public Citizen strongly supports the reforms proposed by Senators Warren and Blumenthal and Representatives Jayapal and Sarbanes for the next relief package to make sure that this happens,” said Lisa Gilbert, Vice President of Legislative Affairs for Public Citizen.

“Senators Warren and Blumenthal and Representatives Jayapal and Sarbanes have outlined a set of proposals that would address many long standing issues affecting oversight and would drastically improve accountability and transparency around the federal government’s actions in response to COVID-19. We urge Congress to take these issues up quickly,” said Liz Hempowicz, POGO’s Director of Public Policy.

“The funds provided in the CARES Act are critical to an effective pandemic response, which can mean the difference between life and death, but with such massive amounts of money involved, they will be a natural target for fraud and influence. So ensuring these funds go where Congress intended is equally critical.  All members of Congress should want immediate and thorough oversight into whether taxpayer funds are being spent fairly and without fraud or influence; these provisions would be a crucial step toward that needed oversight,” said Noah Bookbinder, Executive Director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Read the full details of the proposal here. Summaries of the provisions are below:

  • Prohibit Conflicts of Interest: Strong rules are necessary to prohibit conflicts of interest that may arise in connection with the administration of the CARES Act and any future COVID-19 relief packages. Such rules must address conflicts arising in the selection or hiring of contractors or advisors; the distribution of grants and loans; and revolving door restrictions on government employees and officials involved in the administration of relief funds and programs. All government officials (including members of any White House task force) who advise or work on the pandemic response must file public reports detailing their financial interests. And while the CARES Act already prohibits assistance from the $500 billion bailout fund from going to certain companies affiliated with senior government officials, the scope of those restrictions should be expanded to include all CARES Act funds, additional senior staff and their family members to ensure that relief funds are not funneled to well-connected businesses.
  • Empower Inspectors General: Inspectors general (IGs) should be fired only for good cause. The President should be required to inform Congress when any IG, including an acting IG, is removed from their post. When an IG position becomes vacant, it should be filled automatically by the first assistant to the last IG. Acting IGs must be selected from officials who enjoy civil service protections, ensuring that they have some recourse if they face retaliation. Any member of the staff of an unlawfully fired IG should be allowed to file suit to challenge the firing, as should any member of the public who has been harmed as the result of such action. The President’s decision to fire or otherwise discipline an IG or acting IG should trigger an automatic review by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency Integrity Committee, and the findings of that review should be made public. Read more about this proposal here.
  • Strengthen the Congressional Oversight Commission: The Congressional Oversight Commission which sits beyond the President’s reach, must be granted subpoena authority for testimony and documents, and Congress should expand its jurisdiction to include all COVID-19 relief funding, including the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. Read more about this proposal here.
  • Strengthen CARES Act Executive Branch Accountability & Oversight Entities: Congress should require the Treasury Secretary to submit a weekly list of any instances in which the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Relief (SIGPR) or the PRAC believe they have been unreasonably denied information from the executive branch. If the Treasury Secretary omits or misrepresents instances of wrongdoing to Congress, he should be liable for perjury and prosecuted by the Department of Justice. If the Treasury Secretary fails to provide a required filing, Congress should use its power of the purse to ensure that neither he nor any other senior political appointee in the Department of Treasury be paid. Read more about this proposal here.
  • Protect Whistleblowers: Strong whistleblower protections must apply to government employees, government contractors, and private sector workers (including essential workers) who may witness waste, fraud, or abuse or be victims of misconduct. These provisions must protect all Americans who call out wrongdoing and protect against all retaliation (including criminal or civil prosecution and workplace harassment). These protections must also include contractors, companies, and nonprofits facing improper political pressure or retaliation, and protect such entities when they challenge demands to cover up wrongdoing. Congress should establish a direct channel for whistleblowers to submit complaints directly to the SIGPR, PRAC, and the Congressional Oversight Commission.
  • Restrict and Disclose Lobbying & Political Spending: Congress should require the Department of Treasury to make monthly disclosures on all lobbying related to COVID-19 relief spending or lending. These disclosures must include meetings between companies receiving federal funding and Treasury officials or White House staff, as well as any documents provided by those companies to government officials. Additionally, any company that receives bailout money should not be permitted to engage in political spending or lobbying expenditures for a least a year after any loan is fully repaid.
  • Improve Transparency & Disclosure around Bailout Funds:  Congress should require more transparency about where bailout funds are going. Any recipient of emergency funding or support, including contractors and grantees, must provide regular, public reporting about how that money is being used. While the Federal Reserve Board recently took an important step in announcing they will disclose the names and amounts borrowed for each participant in their lending facilities backstopped with CARES Act money, this does not go far enough. Congress should require these disclosures by law and require recipients to provide a detailed description of how the assistance was used. If we want companies to use bailout funds to maintain their payrolls and pay their workers well, we should require relevant data: recipients should be required to disclose compensation and workforce data, including the mean, median, and minimum wages of all non-executive employees; the number of workers before and after the receipt of assistance; and the salaries of executives, including bonuses and capital distributions. Congress should also require recipients to disclose whether they have been charged with violations of federal law and the nature of those alleged violations. Finally, Congress must ensure the Paycheck Protection Program truly helps small businesses rather than giant or well-connected companies by requiring the Small Business Administration to publicly disclose on its website, on a weekly basis, basic information about lenders and recipients, including loan amounts.
  • Strengthen Enforcement: Anyone harmed by misuse of bailout funds should be allowed to seek recourse through the courts. This will ensure that harmed parties, like workers fired after a company committed not to fire anyone, have the ability to bring private lawsuits against bailout recipients who do not adhere to bailout terms. Senior executives of companies that violate bailout terms should be held personally liable, including by having their executive compensation seized, if necessary.