Monday, August 10, 2020

Attorney General William Barr

Make no mistake: every accusation of "presidential excess" made against President Donald Trump that is based in fact is the result of the advice and counsel of Attorney General William Barr. In A.G. Barr, President Trump has his perfect interpreter of Constitutional Law and the powers of the presidency. While President Trump may appear to act whimsically in his use of presidential power, it is in fact the coming of age of A.G Barr's life's work in the law.

Attorney General William Barr has been a singularly outspoken advocate for an extremely strong and independent presidency - as a matter of constitutional law. After graduating Columbia University in 1973 with a M.A. in government and Chinese studies, he started his career as a CIA intelligence analyst. Hard working and intelligent he took night classes at G.W. Law School and worked with a younger George H. W. Bush as the eventual president became director of the CIA, including advising him in defense of CIA wiretaps of liberal members of Congress. In 1977 Barr earned his law degree and clerked for federal appeals court judge Malcolm Wilkey, who wrote a dissenting opinion in 1973 that Nixon should not have to turn over the Watergate tapes under the argument that the President has an "absolute" power to hold back from any demands of the courts or the Congress. Barr would become the first President Bush's Attorney General.

Barr first became Attorney General in 1989 at the age of 39. As a firm ideologue of the independent and powerful presidency, he wrote legal memos to the leaders of the Bush administration with multiple examples of past "micromanagements of the Executive Branch," and "Attempts to Restrict the Present's Foreign Affairs Powers." His opposition to oversight of the Presidency, or what he called "encroachment," was now the policy of the administration.

In 1988 he advocated a position before the Supreme Court that would have declared Independent Counsels (in this case, investigating President Reagan, VP Bush and others in the Iran Contra scandal) to be unconstitutional, again under the argument that the Presidency is independent from the other branches of government, and should have no oversight in its own areas of authority. The S.C. ruled 7-1 against his position for unbridled Presidential freedom of action from investigation.

During the tax debate that eventually cost Bush his re-election, Barr advised use of the "line item veto" by the president, by which he could cross out whatever he didn't like and just sign the rest into law. Untested as a constitutional construct, President Bush did not follow Barr's advice. He was the architect of heavy prison sentences for drug crimes, intense policing of illegal immigration, and believed that crime was the result of moral choices - not social, economic or racial disadvantages. "The people who have been given mandatory minimums generally deserve them - richly."

In the wake of the Rodney King riots in L.A. in 1992, Barr sent 2,000 federal law enforcement agents to the city on federal military planes. He was frustrated that we was not allowed to deploy them actively "against the gangsters" in the streets, as he described them.

Following President George H.W. Bush's defeat to Bill Clinton in 1992, Barr advised and supported broad Presidential pardons for members of his administration who were under investigation for corruption, including obstruction of justice and lying to Congress:  Robert McFarlane, Elliott Abrams, Alan Fiers, Casper Weinberger and Duane Clarridge, and Clair George.  Ultimately, Barr's view of the executive branch is that only the ballot box, not the courts or the congress, should ever be used to correct the behavior of the duly elected President and their appointed officials.

Perhaps you can draw some contemporary lines, connect the dots, and see that it is William Barr who is the intellectual and legal buttress which supports and empowers today's expression of Presidential Power.

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