Barr’s Circle of Hell

Attorney General Bill Barr’s ham-fisted efforts to shape the narrative around the Mueller report have, it appears, backfired spectacularly. The four-page “summary” that Barr released in late March ended up – no surprise – having precious little to do with the actual 448-page, two volume, report. That he thought he could get away with such nonsense is a truly great exercise in hubris, in chutzpah, in bluster and balderdash.

Barr’s summary essentially boiled down to two main points: that the Special Counsel had found no evidence of “collusion” or conspiracy between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government to influence the 2016 election; and that Trump himself had committed no crimes, including not obstructing justice.

In fact, when the report, even in its heavily redacted form, was finally released on April 18th, the findings were, to any neutral reader, clearly very different.

True, Mueller’s team didn’t find a smoking gun proving, to a degree sufficient to prosecute, that the Campaign itself embarked on a coordinated conspiracy with the Russians. But, that seems more due to ineptitude than to lack of intent. Over and over again, the report documents instances in which the Russian government, and military branches of its security apparatus, did work to tip the scales in favor of Trump and against Clinton; and, in many of those instances, when individuals and agencies connected with that sabotage effort contacted Trump team members such as Donald Trump Jr to see if the campaign would be interested in receiving the dirt on Clinton, the Campaign’s officials jumped at the chance. 

That they apparently did so without realizing they were dealing with Russian fronts hardly negates the extent of their willingness to get down in the dirt to utilize illicitly gained, hacked, emails and other private documents. Russian actions did, the investigators concluded, violate U.S. criminal law, but “the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges” against Trump Junior, Jared Kushner, and others involved in arranging and attending meetings.  “The investigation established that several individuals with the Trump campaign lied to the Office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters. Those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference.” But, the investigators ultimately concluded, they didn’t rise to the legally provable level of conspiracy.

The report details numerous instances in which Campaign officials retweeted, and otherwise used, propaganda put out by Russian front-groups. And, most damagingly, it documents the enthusiastic response to WikiLeaks’ systematic assault against the Clinton campaign. “The Trump Campaign showed interest in WikiLeaks’ releases of hacked materials throughout the summer and fall of 2016.” Trump Jr “had direct electronic communications with WikiLeaks.” And Michael Flynn “contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails.”

None of this is, remotely, an expression of confidence in the moral integrity of the Trump Campaign.

As for obstruction, far from the Mueller investigation exonerating Trump, in painstaking detail, over scores of pages, the report documents more than ten instances of potential obstruction of justice by the President. 

At the end of this process, the authors wrote that investigators could not exonerate Trump, but didn’t feel they could explicitly say so because they had been advised by the Office of Legal Counsel that a sitting president could not be indicted. This passage has, of course, been widely quoted, but it’s so stark that it’s worth repeating: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we were unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and interest presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.” 

And so, they did what they were supposed to do and laid out a roadmap for Congress to conduct further investigations should it so choose. “The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the power of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” 

Moreover, when they encountered other, potentially criminal acts, outside the rubric of their investigative mandate, they handed the materials over to other prosecutors and jurisdictions.

There are, apparently, fourteen open investigations, the details of which are hidden behind the markings of Barr’s censorship pen. As a result, we can only guess what they involve. But, the context in which Barr’s sharpie pen redacted passages suggests they involve financial wrong-doings, campaign-finance violations, and other matters that could, ultimately, embroil Trump in lawsuits for the rest of his presidency and beyond. 

Given what likely lies temporarily hidden behind the censor’s pen, if I were Trump I’d not only be ranting and raving on twitter, I’d also be seriously scared about a slew of prosecutions being launched against him the minute he leaves office.

**

Barr’s shameful exercise in selective editing since he first received the report in late March, and his deliberate taking out of context Mueller’s words, will have convinced no-one outside of Trump’s base of Trump’s innocence. Sure, Mueller didn’t find a smoking gun that would suffice to prove conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt. But he did paint an extraordinary picture of corruption, venality, opportunism, dysfunction, contempt for the rule of law, and an almost Mafia-like culture of protecting The Boss. 

The Special Counsel also painted a picture of grotesque idiocracy, of a narcissist boy-man with the word skills and thought processes of a rather mediocre elementary school bully. Perhaps the most awful scene comes when Trump orders one of his henchmen to approach then-Attorney General Sessions and command him to give a speech stating that “Our POTUS is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was in the campaign w/him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.” 

And there you have it: ill-punctuated, ungrammatical narcissism in its purest, most distilled form.

**

Barr was portrayed by Republican figures during his confirmation hearings as a moderate, an old-school Republican, a stabilizing voice during turbulent times. He has shown himself to be nothing of the kind. Like all the other figures who have tied themselves to Trump, he has been corrupted and be-spoiled by the association. He has shown himself willing to say, and to do, the most craven of things simply to curry favor with an authoritarian, aberrant leader.

In his misrepresentation of the Mueller Report’s findings, Barr showed himself to be the most craven of political hacks. In his willingness to propose brutal policies, especially against immigrants, simply to sate his boss’es sadistic impulses, he has likewise shown himself entirely unfit for high office. 

A couple days before Barr reluctantly released the redacted text of Mueller’s report, he embraced a policy shift barring huge number of asylum-seekers from receiving bond, even if they had passed the first hurdle of showing that they had a credible fear of what would happen to them if they returned to their home countries.  In place of bond, Barr proposes indefinite detention, presumably in DHS- and military-run camps, until such time, months or years later, as their asylum cases can be heard by the courts. With such a decision – which will certainly be challenged in the courts – Barr has written his own chapter in our current, shameful moment. 

Once we were, as a country, happy to be defined in the eyes of the world by Emma Lazarus’s words from her famous 1883 poem: 

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Now, Barr has added his imprimatur to Trump’s vulgar brutalism; to his desire to punish and to humiliate would-be immigrants; to his ugly words about immigrant invaders and his ludicrous, nativist, assertion that “our country is full.” The Administration is busily replacing the Statue of Liberty as an American icon with a barbed wire-topped wall.

There are circles of hell for men such as Trump, and also for their enablers. For people who ought to know better but who go along with the inane, violent, crooked impulses of The Boss for reasons of political expediency. Barr is one such man. 

Dante reserved an entire section of hell for opportunists. Such people would, he wrote, be condemned to chase banners, and in turn to be chased by hornets and wasps, for all eternity.

And this blind life of theirs is so debased,
They envious are of every other fate.
No fame of them the world permits to be;
Misericord and Justice both disdain them.

4 Replies to “Barr’s Circle of Hell”

  1. NIce essay, and I agree one-hundred percent.

    But I don’t think that Barr really cared what analytic, fact checking people would do. In diplomacy, one talks of establishing “facts on the ground” to further a diplomatic purpose. The tactic of the Trumpistas is to establish “lies on the ground”—that is, to propagate lies that are accepted by those who are predisposed to accept them as they spread through right-wing media. The lies then take on their own ghastly reality and further Trump’s political purpose. Trump’s supporters will never believe what the New York Times or the Washington Post says–forget about a writer for Nation Magazine says.

    Barr has won here. Large swaths of the population now believe his lies about the content of the report.

    1. I said above “now believe his lies.” I should have said “now accept his lies.”

      And what’s creepiest is that, I think, many of Trump’s supporters realize that Trump and his acolytes are lying. But they enjoy it. They seem to view politics as a form of reality TV, and they get off on trolling the left with lies.

      (Maybe you could allow people to edit their comments? As in my above comment, I always seem to find my errors in grammar and punctuation and spelling and diction AFTER I hit the “post comment” button).

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