Last weekend Attorney General William Barr sat down for a “friendly” interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox News. He covered a lot of subjects in that interview, but didn’t break new ground in any serious way.
I wrote a summary of the interview a few days ago.
Two days ago he sat down with NPR Morning Edition’s Steven Inskeep for a more “skeptical” session of questions and answers. NPR has now posted a transcript online of the interview.
Two observations before I get into the substance: 1) the interview shows Barr is willing to sit down and answer questions not just from a presumably “friendly” journalist, but he’s also willing to sit down and answer questions from journalist who is going to “bait” him with questions full of false premises; and 2) from the interview you can see why the House Judiciary Committee really doesn’t want AG Barr to sit in an open Committee session and be given the opportunity to lay waste to idiotic questions they think they can ambush him with.
Near the end of the interview AG Barr identifies the problems with media coverage of DOJ and his decision-making — it’s all a pre-constructed media narrative that is impervious to actual facts. The coverage tells the story that the media wants to tell, with inconvenient facts ignored, and imaginary facts made-up when necessary. It’s the quintessential “calling out” of the making of “fake news” by the media.
The transcript shows that there were in the neighborhood of 25 substantive questions/subjects put to AG Barr by Inskeep over the course of the interview. No fewer than 12 times Inskeep’s questions explicitly stated or implied that AG Barr’s actions across a variety of subjects were 1) taken at the instruction of the President, 2) done for the purpose of benefiting the President, or 3) done in a manner that would advantage the President’s interests in some way. He are a few examples of the way he framed his questions:
I want to ask about your underlying authority as you see it in cases like this [Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, removal of US Attorney in New York]. Does the president, acting through you, have the power, complete power, to use his authority in cases where he has an interest?
Although you say your act as the president’s hand. I mean, it’s the president acting [crosstalk].
What I’m driving at is the underlying power here. There’s nothing inappropriate about you getting so involved in a case involving a friend of the president. Is that your view of the law?
What do you say to voters thinking about how to vote this year, who see these cases and see a pattern of a president who continually wants to interfere and actually does appear to interfere in cases where he has an interest?
The Durham investigation is another matter where the president has expressed very strong opinions. Does the president have the power under the Constitution to tell you how the Durham investigation needs to come out?
So there is a limit on the president’s interference in law enforcement then [crosstalk]. Underlying facts is what the limit is.
Barr politely answered the questions, and he did so in a way that first dispelled the “myths” that were at the premise of most of them. At the same time he offered up some pretty simple and direct facts with regard to situations which have been the subject of endless conspiracy theories in left-wing circles.
He made it clear that all the decisions mentioned at the beginning of interview were decisions made by him without any input from Pres. Trump. Each was made on the merits as AG Barr determined them to be after getting information about each case.
With regard to the DOJ change of course on the Flynn prosecution, he pierced the balloon that is the presumption that everything done by the Mueller Special Counsel’s Office — and the Obama DOJ before them — was lawful and proper. He said a review of the entire case file by US Attorney Jensen — 10 years experience as an FBI agent, and 10 years experience as a prosecutor –revealed information not previously disclosed (the various FBI documents that came out in the last 60 days) which called into question the basis for the investigation and prosecution. Because of that, and because of all the time and resources being consumed in dealing with the filings made by Flynn’s new attorney digging into various matters, it was simply no longer in the interest of justice to continue the case. Basically, “enough was enough”. Not every case is a “hill worth fighting on”, and there were enough questions about the origins of the Flynn investigation and prosecution to justify walking away. Remember, at the point in the case where DOJ filed the motion to dismiss, it was about to be required to respond to Flynn’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. We don’t know yet because it has never been revealed, but it might be the case that DOJ recognized the “conflict of interest” problem involving Gen. Flynn’s original attorneys. If the motion to withdraw was granted, then DOJ was stuck with a live case with terrible underlying facts and huge problems with its witnesses.
Barr emphasized that the decision in the end was his — and said most such decisions in high profile cases that might create controversy are decisions he makes in the end. He made the point specifically with regard to the Roger Stone case, and the disagreement about making changes to the sentencing recommendation.
Let’s take a case that, according to a witness before Congress yesterday, sounded like an abuse of power. Prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky, who said he was a whistleblower, said that in the Roger Stone case, he received pressure to change the sentencing recommendation in a way that he considered inappropriate. And he said he was told by his supervisor that was because of political pressure, because of a fear that the president would be displeased if another course was taken.
Right. Well, the supervisors have said that much of what he said simply false. So, [crosstalk] and the statements he made, he said were, he admitted were double hearsay. He had no direct information. He had never talked to anyone involved in the decision, whereas I actually made the decision. I was the decision maker in that case because there was a dispute. And usually what happens is, disputes, especially in high profile cases, come up to the attorney general. It’s not unusual for there to be a dispute in a high-profile case and for it to be resolved by the attorney general.
OK, but you’re saying there are other cases where you have personally involved yourself in…
Yes. When cases come up, who do you think they come to? And why do you think we have one attorney general? We have 93 United States attorney’s offices and we have 50 states. We don’t run a department to have 50 different rules of law. We run a department that looks across the whole country to make sure people are treated equally. You can only do that if you have one office that’s responsible for that. And that’s me.
I’ve got a longer story coming later today on the testimony of Aaron Zelinsky about the changes made to the Stone sentencing memo. In that story I’ll lay out in some detail what AG Bar references only in passing.
Zelinsky did not have much experience before he was “selected” to join the Special Prosecutor’s Office. The sentencing memo he filed in the Stone case reflected that inexperience, and his failure fully understand the role of the federal prosecutor in the sentencing phase of a case. He assumes his sentencing memo was correct, but as AG Barr says in the interview the memorandum prepared by the line prosecutors was not correct, and so it was fixed. Zelinsky claims that constituted “political interference”, but in reality it was just more experienced prosecutors correcting young prosecutors and hoping they learn to not make the same mistake in the future.
Zelinsky’s mistake was the product of his own political bias. Correcting that mistake was not the application of any form of “counter-bias”.
Note what AG Barr said about the outcome of the Stone case:
The judge gave him three years and four months, which I thought was a fair sentence under the circumstances.… the same is true in the other case you mentioned, the Stone case. He got the sentence that everyone else would have gotten for that conduct. That’s justice.
Right there AG Barr says the prosecution of Roger Stone for his conduct was justified, and the sentence imposed on him for his conduct was inline with sentences received by other defendants in similar types of cases. It might not have been as long as the “Trump-haters” on the SCO staff wanted, but what they “wanted” and what was “fair” and “just” were not the same thing.
This interview should be a cautionary tale for the House Judiciary Committee hearing in July where AG Barr is expected to testify. He has you covered, and he’s not a “politician” who will concede that the views of his opponents are based on a “good faith” disagreements.