In a recent column, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan suggested that by his actions and attitude, Trump squandered the chance to learn from and rely on the Republican old hands who could have lent his administration wisdom, credibility and stability.
While this notion necessarily downplayed Trump’s significant accomplishments that endear him to “official Washington” – significant tax cuts, deregulation, appointment of two conservative Supreme Court justices, improved trade relations with Canada and Mexico – it had some merit. But Ms. Noonan spoke too soon.
Enter Bill Barr, official Washington personified: a former head of the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, deputy attorney general and attorney general for George H.W. Bush, and enthusiastic donor to Jeb Bush in 2016 ($55,000). Little kudos were given to Trump when he tapped Mr. Barr for the attorney general job.
But Barr’s appointment may prove the most consequential and beneficial to Trump’s administration and re-election chances, not only because of what Mr. Barr says and does, but because of the message his presence sends to Republicans and ordinary Americans concerned about the politicization of the Justice Department that characterized the end of the Obama years and the beginning of the Trump years.
Beginning with his unsolicited (but persuasive) June 2018 legal memorandum questioning the legalities of the Mueller investigation and continuing through the present, Mr. Barr has exerted an outsized influence on our politics, put Democrats and their media allies on the defensive, restored a sense of order at the Department of Justice, and by all of these, improved the Trump (and therefore Republican) brand after two years of incessant and baseless media slanders. The Barr highlight reel is as follows:
Exhibit A: Mr. Barr’s April 18, 2019 press conference the morning of the Mueller report’s release, following his March 24, 2019 letter to Congress summarizing the Mueller Report, was a textbook example of how to control the political narrative, play by the rules (a stark contrast to former FBI director Jim Comey’s press conferences clearing Hillary Clinton under a made-up standard, and wrongly announcing the FBI’s supposedly private counter-terror investigation into Trump) and not get played by the media.
Exhibit B: Mr. Barr’s May 1, 2019 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee demonstrated that he is not cowed by the false Democratic/media narratives (collusion and now “obstruction”), spurious accusations of providing misleading testimony, or the hero status Democrats afford Robert Mueller, Mr. Barr’s employee who, by the way, Mr. Barr can (and should) order not to testify before Congress.
Exhibit C: Faced with an entirely partisan and baseless contempt vote in the House of Representatives for his justifiable refusal to comply with a Democratic subpoena (for the unredacted Mueller report and its supporting documents), did Mr. Barr buckle, as his predecessor Jeff Sessions – who needlessly recused himself from the Russia investigation – might have, and give Democrats what they asked for? Hardly.
Mr. Barr called the next move – the White House’s invocation of executive privilege – and he is properly refusing to comply with the subpoena, as compliance would violate federal procedural and decisional law. That Democrats and the media have proclaimed his actions grounds for a “constitutional crisis” only confirms his effectiveness and their detachment from reality.
Exhibit D: Mr. Barr’s frank admission that the Obama administration spied on a member of the Trump campaign and his promise to get to the bottom of the suspect origins of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign, which included reliance on the discredited Steele dossier for surveillance warrants. These words, and impending release of the DOJ’s Inspector General’s report, have Democrats rightly worried.
As a result of Mr. Barr’s efforts, Washington Republicans are motivated, Trump’s approval numbers are up (45% in the RealClearPolitics Average), and more importantly, Americans are bearing witness to an attorney general who does not put politics (Eric Holder) or his own reputation (Jim Comey) first. Not bad for a 68-year-old, semi-retired attorney who had to be dragged into the job.