By Karl A. Racine, the first elected attorney general of the District of Columbia. He is president-elect of the National Association of Attorneys General and Chair Emeritus of the Democratic Attorneys General Association.
In describing why he fired former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump explained that Mr. Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence and the Federal Bureau of Investigation about his dealings with a Russian ambassador.
President Trump, however, never wanted Flynn prosecuted. “I hope you can let this go,” the president said to former FBI Director James B. Comey.
Rather than defend his innocence and face a jury of his peers, former General Flynn pled guilty to two counts of lying to federal investigators. In his own words, “I recognize that the actions I acknowledge in court today were wrong, and through my faith in God, I am working to set things straight.”
Having fired his previous attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for not acting enough as his personal lawyer, President Trump struck gold with his hiring of Attorney General Bill Barr. Eschewing any attempt to cloak his actions in centuries old principles of fairness, justice, and respect for the rule of law, Mr. Barr continued his brash and transparent efforts to do the president’s bidding as he did in grossly mischaracterizing the Mueller report, and disregarding and disrespecting the work of career law enforcement officials in the Roger Stone and Flynn cases.
Indeed, Mr. Barr delivered the president’s request “to let Michael Flynn go.” His lack of subtlety—even outright brashness—recalls the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s classic quip that the wolf appears as a wolf.
Mr. Barr’s unfitness to serve as the people’s lawyer comes into full focus in his recent response as to how history will judge his actions regarding the Mueller, Stone, and Flynn investigations:
“History is written by the winners. So it largely depends on who’s writing the history.”
Such an attitude is unbecoming of the leader of the Department of Justice. Indeed, addressing the nation’s U.S. Attorneys nearly 80 years ago, former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice and U.S. Attorney General Robert P. Jackson spoke of the core traits of fair and just prosecutors, “a sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power, and the citizen’s safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.”
Sadly, in blindly serving the president, not the people of the United States nor the rule of law, Mr. Barr has failed Justice Jackson’s test. In doing so, he has caused great damage to the Department of Justice.