An Assistant U.S. Attorney who worked in the Department of Justice for more than three decades and under “19 different attorneys general and six different presidents” is leaving the department because he’s had enough of Attorney General Bill Barr’s “slavish obedience to Donald Trump’s will.”
Phillip Halpern wrote in an op-ed for the San Diego Union-Tribune on Wednesday that Barr is a “well-trained bureaucrat” and a “career bureaucrat” who “seems determined to turn our democracy into an autocracy.” This is a criticism that has been levied against Barr more than a few times during his second stint as attorney general of the United States.
In “I won’t work in Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department any longer,” Halpern painted a picture of Barr, a person who has “never actually investigated, charged or tried a case,” pulling the strings of the criminal justice system in order to help the 45th president and his allies. Halpern said he had hoped that Barr’s “preemptive misrepresentation” of the Mueller Report was “an honest mistake or a solitary misstep — rather than a deliberate attempt to conceal potential presidential misconduct.” He does not have those hopes now.
Halpern noted that Senior U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said Barr “lacked candor” about the conclusions of the Mueller Report and “distorted” the special counsel’s findings. This was the first in a series of overtly political acts by a “lap dog” attorney general in “slavish obedience” and service of the president and his friends, Halpern wrote.
“Unfortunately, over the last year, Barr’s resentment toward rule-of-law prosecutors became increasingly difficult to ignore, as did his slavish obedience to Donald Trump’s will in his selective meddling with the criminal justice system in the Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Roger Stone cases,” he wrote. “In each of these cases, Barr overruled career prosecutors in order to assist the president’s associates and/or friends, who potentially harbor incriminating information.”
The longtime prosecutor concluded that there is also “no other honest explanation for Barr’s parroting” of President Donald Trump’s “wild and unsupported conspiracy theories regarding mail-in ballots […].”
“Rather than representing the interests of the American public, Barr chooses to act as Trump’s lap dog,” Halpern wrote, turning his attention to the government “assault” on Lafayette Square protesters before the president’s photo op with a Bible. Halpern took shots at the John Durham investigation, saying it is nothing more than a “quixotic pursuit designed to attack the president’s political rivals.”
The decades-long federal prosecutor, who recently prosecuted and secured the conviction of corrupt Republican congressman Duncan Hunter, took offense to Barr’s characterization of DOJ prosecutors as “headhunters.”
Recall: Barr, in a September speech, tore into prosecutors as “headhunters, consumed with taking down their target,” particularly “prominent political figures.” The attorney general went on to compare line prosecutors to preschoolers as far as the entire DOJ hierarchy is concerned.
“Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it’s no way to run a federal agency. Good leaders at the Justice Department — as at any organization — need to trust and support their subordinates,” Barr said. “But that does not mean blindly deferring to whatever those subordinates want to do.”
Halpern made no apologies for prosecuting Hunter and Randy “Duke” Cunningham; the latter was a Republican congressman convicted in 2005 in a fraud and $2 million-plus bribery case. Cunningham served 8 years of prison time.
In closing, Halpern said he was disturbed that it has gotten to the point that longtime federal prosecutors like himself are “abandoning Barr’s ship” and many “qualified lawyers” are refusing to board it.
[Image via CHIP SOMODEVILLA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]
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