Professors and deans at George Washington University Law School renounced one of their most prominent alumni on Tuesday, releasing a statement vilifying Attorney General William Barr’s conduct since taking up residence in the 45th president’s cabinet. The undersigned faculty members requested that Barr be investigated and censured, but ultimately called for his resignation.
The 6-page open letter signed by more than 80-percent of the school’s active faculty members comes just days after Barr – who graduated from GW Law in 1977 – was lambasted over the bungled ouster of former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) Geoffrey Berman.
Barr had initially released a misleading statement claiming Berman had “stepped down,” which Berman quickly denied. Barr then released a second statement saying President Donald Trump had fired Berman. Hours later, Trump told reporters that he was “not involved” in the U.S. Attorney’s firing.
According to the legal educators, Barr “failed to fulfill his oath of office” by acting in a manner that had “undermined the rule of law, damaged public confidence that the law applies equally and fairly to all persons, and demonstrated contempt for basic constitutional rights.”
“Attorney General Barr places us in a unique position, and imposes a unique duty on us to candidly confront his abuse of the office of the Attorney General and his betrayal of professional norms and the Constitution,” the letter continued.
The group cited a list of Barr’s most controversial acts—from his handling of the Mueller Report to his role in the federal government’s use of force to disperse peaceful protesters outside the White House at the beginning on June 2020.
“William Barr’s actions as Attorney General since 2019 have undermined the rule of law, breached constitutional norms, and damaged the integrity and traditional independence of his office and of the Department of Justice,” the group wrote. “He obfuscated and misled the American public about the results of the Mueller investigation. He wrongfully interfered in the day-to-day activities of career prosecutors, and continues to do so, bending the criminal justice system to benefit the President’s friends and target those perceived to be his enemies. He participated in the forcible removal from public space of peaceful protesters, exercising their First Amendment rights to speech and assembly in order to protest racial injustice. His actions have posed, and continue to create, a clear and present danger to the even-handed administration of justice, to civil liberties, and to the constitutional order.”
The group also expressed solidarity with the more than 1,000 former DOJ officials in calling for Barr to resign from office, and made clear that their statement was not politically motivated, as the signees included members of both political parties and independents.
The statement was issued on the eve of the House Judiciary Committee’s scheduled whistleblower hearing, during which current DOJ federal prosecutors are expected to testify about “improper politicization” of the DOJ under Barr’s leadership.
George Washington University Law professor Jonathan Turley, who did not sign the letter, disagreed with the substance of his colleagues’ statement while praising their decision to sign the letter in their individual capacities.
“I commend my colleagues for their decision not to make such a statement as an institution, even though they clearly had sufficient votes to do so. Their decision to state their views as individuals was an important demonstration of the continued support for collegiality and pluralism on our faculty,” Turley said in an email to Law&Crime.
“However, the letter makes a number of legal statements that I believe are contested, unestablished, or mistaken. Indeed, this letter is being issued as investigations into Lafayette Park and both the Flynn and Stone case are producing new and material information. I believe, as law professors, we should wait for such facts to be established before reaching such conclusions as ‘the Attorney General believed that fulfilling the President’s personal wishes was more important than ensuring even-handed justice for all federal criminal defendants.’”
On Flynn, Turley pointed out that the “day after this letter was issued, including its discussion of the district court’s handling of Flynn case, the court of appeals ordered its dismissal.”
Turley noted that he has previously denounced Eric Holder over the “Fast and Furious” controversy and called for the resignation of former AG Janet Reno following Waco. He said that educators expressing their opinions in an individual capacity, “without rancor or retaliation,” benefits scholarly discourse.
“I have encouraged friends to read this letter because it is a cogent and powerful criticism of the decisions made by the Attorney General. There are good-faith reasons to criticize this Administration and Attorney General Barr. Indeed, I have criticized both. Nevertheless, there are many students, alumni, and faculty who disagree with the legal and policy statements contained in this letter,” Turley said. “Hopefully, our school will remain a place where such diverse opinions can be shared and debated without rancor or retaliation. The decision to use a letter of individual faculty members rather than a resolution of the school speaks to our continued commitment to such civil and scholarly discourse.”
Read the full statement below:
[image via PBS screengrab]
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