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William Barr: Two ethics groups seek impeachment inquiry against attorney general

Department of Justice has been politicised during Barr’s tenure, say ethics bodies 

Mayank Aggarwal
Tuesday 13 October 2020 07:55 BST
Groups say Barr used the powers of the DOJ as a vehicle for supporting the political objectives of President Donald Trump
Groups say Barr used the powers of the DOJ as a vehicle for supporting the political objectives of President Donald Trump (Getty Images)

Two private ethics groups have requested the House of Representatives begin impeachment proceedings against the US attorney general William Barr, accusing him of using the powers of his public office to further Donald Trump’s political objectives.

The two ethics groups, the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law (CERL) and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), released a 267-page report on Monday, calling it an extensive study of Barr’s and the Department ofJustice’s (DOJ) practices and policies since the Trump official’s confirmation in 2019.  

The report accuses Barr of prioritising Mr Trump’s interests over those of US national security. 

“There are two senses in which this appears to be the case. First, the attorney general is willing to take measures to please the president or because the president has requested or pressed him to do so. Second, the attorney general appears to be willing to use the powers of his office to attempt to help with the president’s bid for re-election,” the ethics groups’ report said.  

The groups said these issues raise separate and distinct concerns about the conduct of the attorney general, though both create an ethos of politicisation at the DOJ.

“For the United States to remain a government of laws, and not of men, it is essential that our nation’s highest law enforcement office maintains independence from partisan politics and the executive branch,” said ad hoc working group co-chair Claire Finkelstein, Penn Law professor and Faculty Director of CERL, in a statement.

She said that after months of study they have concluded that Mr Barr has compromised US interests and jeopardised national security.  

The report held that Mr Barr could not be trusted to represent the DOJ’s work accurately and that he distorted both law and facts, placing a spin on his own actions, the actions of the DOJ, or the actions of the president’s political rivals in a way that was not faithful to reality and seemingly motivated by political considerations.  

It claims that in several different areas, the actions of the DOJ under Mr Barr compromised US national security and increased risks to US national interests relative to foreign and domestic enemies. These included making “misleading public statements about the Russia investigations as well as counter-investigations,” to provide political cover for Mr Trump.

For the report, the groups consulted with a bipartisan group of experts including national security specialists, lawyers, retired military, former acting and deputy attorney generals, and law professors and, assisted by student interns, consulted open source reports as well as conducted a series of interviews pertaining to DOJ Barr’s tenure as attorney general from 14 February last year to 1 October.  

They examined issues including the rollout of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report, the DOJ’s involvement in the Ukraine matter, the DOJ’s interference in ongoing investigations and prosecutions; deployment of federal agents and troops against protestors in Portland and Lafayette Square; potential suppression of freedom of speech and press; the alleged politicisation of DOJ offices; and many others including apparent resistance to congressional oversight and inquiries. The report concluded that there is sufficient basis for Congress to conduct a detailed impeachment inquiry.

Working group co-chair and CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder remarked that Barr’s insistence on pursuing politically-motivated investigations, like the Durham investigation, was clearly intended to justify Mr Trump’s conduct in the 2016 campaign and to provide fodder for his 2020 campaign.  

The report recommended a range of other measures including strengthening of the independence of the special counsel and that of career DOJ attorneys in all departments, staggered ten-year terms for US attorneys, and the recusal of presidential appointees in the DOJ from particular party matters involving the president’s personal financial interests, the president’s family or his campaign.

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