EDITORIAL: Credibility in tatters, Barr must go

York Dispatch Editorial Board
The House Judiciary Committee witness chair will be without its witness this morning, Attorney General William Barr, who informed the Democrat-controlled panel he will skip a scheduled hearing on special counsel Robert Mueller's report, escalating an already acrimonious battle between Democrats and the Justice Department, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 2, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

When William Barr was confirmed as attorney general this past February, President Donald Trump got what he wanted — and the American people got screwed.

That’s because it has become glaringly apparent in the past month that Barr sees the job as does the president: Not as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer but as the personal defense attorney for Donald Trump.

Of course, this was also readily apparent before Barr’s confirmation. He landed on Trump’s short list to replace much-abused former Attorney General Jeff Sessions owing largely to an unsolicited memo he wrote in June 2018 to the Justice Department critiquing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling.

Over the course of his 20 pages, then-private citizen Barr laid out his belief of broad presidential powers — including, for example, Trump’s right to ask former FBI Director James Comey to end the bureau’s investigation of former national security advisor Michael Flynn — and his contention that Mueller’s probe of presidential obstruction of justice was “fatally misconceived.”

Barr’s memo came to the attention of Trump when it was sent to him by … William Barr.

Barr’s views were also known to the Senate before he went before that body for confirmation. But despite his pre-judgement of presidential innocence regarding obstruction of justice — an obvious conflict of interest — the Senate’s Republican majority, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey included, whisked Barr into power.

He’s been abusing that power ever since.

Attorney General William Barr speaks alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, right, and acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O'Callaghan, left, about the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report during a news conference, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at the Department of Justice in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Barr’s performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week was just the latest in his ongoing effort to run defense for Trump.

The attorney general’s initial four-page summation of Mueller’s 448-page report in March was a clear and intentional effort to mislead the public regarding the special counsel’s findings (as Muller himself argued in a letter to Barr). His month-long delay in releasing a redacted version of the report, a pre-release press conference in which he spun the document’s contents in Trump-flattering hyperbole, and his continued refusal to make the full, unredacted report available show that Barr continues to put the president’s interests ahead of the nation’s.

And much like the president he cravenly cushions, Barr evidently believes he is above the law. His refusal to appear before the House Judiciary Committee Thursday echoes the ongoing standoff between the White House and House Democrats seeking to fulfil their constitutional oversight responsibilities.

The House had an especially good reason to want an audience with Barr, seeing as he apparently lied during House testimony last month when he said he was not aware of the Mueller team’s concerns about how he characterized their report (see “Mueller’s letter,” above).

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Barr’s prevarication was nothing short of criminal.

“He lied to Congress,” the California Democrat told reporters Thursday. “If anybody else did that, it would be considered a crime. Nobody is above the law.”

Well, that remains to be seen. Because right now, with Trump & Co. ignoring subpoenas, refusing to turn over records and even suing to keep private companies from cooperating with congressional inquiries, it certainly doesn’t look as if the law applies.

Normally, in such cases, the nation would turn to its top law enforcement officer for recourse. But we know where that will get us.

All of which is why Barr needs to go.

If he had a shred of decency, he would offer his resignation. But decency is in short supply in this administration.

That leaves it to the House, which is now considering holding Barr in contempt. They should go even further and offer articles of impeachment.

Yes, the process would be time-consuming.

Yes, it would sap valuable resources.

Yes, the Republican lemmings in the Senate would prevent conviction.

But this administration is blatantly flouting the rule of law and a stand must be taken. That stand should start with the attorney general.

William Barr has seen to it that integrity and credibility are no longer to be found in the attorney general’s office. The next thing forced form that office should be him.