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Premature Anti-Barrism

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Ben “I Will Most Definitely Get Fooled Again” Wittes has been let down by another Republican Daddy:

I was willing to give Bill Barr a chance. Consider me burned.

When Barr was nominated, I wrote a cautious piece for this magazine declining to give him “a character reference” and acknowledging “legitimate reasons to be concerned about [his] nomination,” but nonetheless concluding that “I suspect that he is likely as good as we’re going to get. And he might well be good enough. Because most of all, what the department needs right now is honest leadership that will insulate it from the predations of the president.”

When he wrote his first letter to Congress announcing the principal conclusions of the Mueller report, I wrote another piece saying, “For the next two weeks, let’s give Attorney General William Barr the benefit of the doubt” on the question of releasing the report in a timely and not-too-redacted fashion.

I took a lot of criticism for these pieces—particularly the second one, in which I specifically said we should evaluate Barr’s actual performance in regard to releasing the Mueller report, and thus wait for him to act, rather than denouncing him preemptively.

Barr has now acted, and we can now evaluate his actual, rather than his hypothesized, performance.

It has been catastrophic. Not in my memory has a sitting attorney general more diminished the credibility of his department on any subject. It is a kind of trope of political opposition in every administration that the attorney general—whoever he or she is—is politicizing the Justice Department and acting as a defense lawyer for the president. In this case it is true.

The piece is worthwhile as far as it goes. And yet, as Leah Litman observes, the extent to which voices who inexplicably defended Barr when it mattered most are being privileged is irritating:

Barr is a particularly egregious example of someone being given the benefit of the doubt purely as a show of performative “moderation.” It was justified by nothing in his record. Leaving aside his longstanding history as a sleazy Republican cover-up artist, he got the job by writing Trump an unsolicited 19-page memo about how the Mueller investigation was a fraud. As Jamelle says, “[h]elping Republican presidents act with impunity is William Barr’s stock-in-trade — it’s what he does.” Trusting Bill Barr to be an honest broker with the Mueller Report is like buying $100,000 worth of Glengarry Highlands on credit to fund your retirement. And yet in this meritocratic thing of ours announcing yourself as a sucker gives you more credibility than being right all along.

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