“Where’s my Roy Cohn?” Trump responded in a rage when Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. Trump felt that Sessions’ recusal showed a lack of loyalty instead of rare flash of ethics (the ethical thing was for Session to recuse himself from an investigation of a campaign in which he worked). Though it’s hard to accuse of Sessions of being completely ethical, that moment of doing the right thing was enough to raise the president’s ire.
Trump’s continued fury towards Sessions and complete lack of self-consciousness about his own behavior says so much. And let’s not forget that Roy Cohn was probably one of the most reprehensible figures of the 20th century. He was also likely the closest Donald Trump ever got to a having a friend or a dad.
The Donald and Cohn met in a nightclub in 1973, and they quickly formed a bond. Roy Cohn became Trump’s mentor. He was also Joseph McCarthy’s “high executioner”, a man who ruthlessly targeted actors and writers with the Hollywood blacklist (included in this group was my grandfather Howard Fast). He was also at least somewhat responsible for making sure the Rosenbergs were put to death.
Trump seems to have found his Roy Cohn in Bill Barr these days. And last night, Barr wrote a letter to Robert Mueller making sure Mueller knew that Barr was the boss. “Any testimony must remain within the boundaries of your public report because matters within the scope of your investigation were covered by executive privilege,” the letter reportedly read.
As Josh Marshall wrote in TPM: “This whole exercise has the Department of Justice acting like the White House Counsel’s Office. Indeed, in some respects it seems to have the DOJ operating more like the President’s own personal attorneys.” And it’s not the first time that Bill Barr has acted like Trump’s private lawyer, either. Who could forget the calculated spin which led to “no collusion, no obstruction”, a dishonest reading of an extremely honest report? Barr spun so hard that Mueller had to write a letter back saying that Barr’s letter “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.”
In fact, throughout his tenure at the DOJ — a mere six months but it feels like years — Barr has acted like a defense attorney (something which Mimi Rocah has also pointed out.) Barr is supposed to be the head of the department of justice. He is supposed to work for America. But instead, he obfuscates just like a member of the administration.
In an interview with CBS in May, Barr told the nation that “the fact is, there is no evidence of a conspiracy. So, it was bogus. This whole idea that Trump was in cahoots with the Russians is bogus.” Trump finally found someone who was willing to absolutely commit himself to preserving his presidency, even if it leads to his own downfall — which it inevitably will. Because if there’s one thing we know for sure, sooner or later Trumpism kills everything it touches. Just ask Rex Tillerson, or Paul Manafort, or Jason Miller.
“Barr has had a vision of the president as possessing nearly unchecked powers,” according to former George W Bush deputy attorney general Donald Ayer, in an Atlantic op-ed published last month. “Eighteen months serving under the sedate George H W Bush afforded him little opportunity to seriously contend that the president is the executive branch, or otherwise argue for almost unlimited presidential powers," Ayer continued.
Perhaps we’ll never know why Bill Barr has become Trump’s biggest cheerleader — perhaps, one day we will. But whatever the reason, it’s one of the worst things to happen to democracy since the election of Donald J Trump.
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