The New York City Bar Association wants Congress to investigate Attorney General Bill Barr over various comments targeting American progressives, leftists and social justice reform advocates. Those political statements, made at various gatherings, threaten to undermine “public confidence in the fair and impartial administration of justice,” according to the Manhattan-based group.
A six-page open letter notes:
Barr’s recent actions and statements position the Attorney General and, by extension, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) as political partisans willing to use the levers of government to empower certain groups over others. These statements are the latest examples of a broader pattern of conduct that is inconsistent with the role of the Attorney General in our legal and constitutional system and with the norms and standards that govern the fair administration of justice.
“We urge Congress to exercise its constitutional authority to investigate this troubling pattern of conduct, in order to assess Mr. Barr’s actions as Attorney General and to consider any legislative and oversight responses and remedies that may be necessary,” the letter continues. “The duties to act impartially, to avoid even the appearance of partiality and impropriety, and to avoid manifesting bias, prejudice or partisanship in the exercise of official responsibilities are bedrock obligations for government lawyers.”
Optimistically addressed to House and Senate minority and majority leaders, the letter highlights three separate speeches in which Barr directed ire and decidedly harsh invective at his political enemies.
The first incident occurred in October 2019 at the Notre Dame School of Law. There, Barr repeatedly attacked “so called ‘progressives’” for an alleged “campaign to destroy the traditional moral order.” Also on the chopping block for the nation’s top law enforcement officer were “secularists” who are supposedly attempting to “marshal all the force of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.” Barr’s anti-secular progressive screed ultimately prophesied ecumenical doom. He warned the end game was the “organized destruction” of various faiths.
Barr’s first speech was widely panned but quickly shrugged off by the media as it largely evoked the same sort of boilerplate Republican Party paranoiac persecution fantasies that abounded during the administration of George W. Bush and which can be regularly heard during primetime on Fox News.
Next month, however, Barr went a bit further.
As Law&Crime previously reported, the second incident occurred at the annual meeting of the Federalist Society—a conservative judicial activism group which pushes for a so-called “originalist” understanding of the U.S. Constitution and a return to pre-New Deal interpretations of law.
Legal experts were immediately horrified at Barr’s November 2019 speech where he said:
Immediately after President Trump won election, opponents inaugurated what they called “The Resistance” and they rallied around an explicit strategy of using every tool and maneuver to sabotage the functioning of the executive branch and his administration. The fact of the matter is: that in waging a scorched earth, no holds-barred war of resistance against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in the systemic shredding of norms and undermining the rule of law.
“This is a very dangerous and indeed incendiary notion to import into the politics of a democratic republic,” Barr continued. “The fact is, that, yes, while the president has certainly thrown out the traditional beltway playbook and punctilio, he was upfront about what he was going to do and the people decided that he was going to serve as president.”
Response was a bit less muted the second time around. Barr’s speech was slammed as the rantings and ravings of a “lunatic authoritarian” and congressional Democrats eventually called for the attorney general’s impeachment.
A third row occurred when Barr castigated allegedly anti-law enforcement communities in December 2019 during a DOJ awards ceremony. During that diatribe, Barr elaborated on themes he had first articulated while appearing before the Fraternal Order of Police in August 2019.
“[T]he American people have to…start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves…if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need,” he said at the ceremony.
Aside from Barr’s attacks on leftists and criminal justice reformers, the open letter also referenced the attorney general’s dismissive comments about the DOJ Inspector General report which largely cleared the Federal Bureau of Investigation of abusing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act viz. the Russia and Robert Mueller investigations. Though Inspector General Michael Horowitz identified numerous FBI errors in the FISA application process, he didn’t find evidence of political bias. Horowitz found that the investigation had sufficient legal and factual justification.
Barr publicly disagreed with Horowitz.
“The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” Barr said. “It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory.”
John Durham, the U.S. Attorney that Barr tasked to investigate the origins of the Mueller Probe, released a “political” statement of his own.
“I have the utmost respect for the mission of the Office of Inspector General and the comprehensive work that went into the report prepared by Mr. Horowitz and his staff. However, our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department,” Durham said. “Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S. Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”
Those comments, the non-partisan legal group claims, “are reminiscent of Mr. Barr’s earlier mischaracterizations of the Mueller Report, prior to his release of a redacted version of it, in which Mr. Barr claimed the special counsel had found insufficient evidence of any obstruction of justice by President Trump.”
Again the NYC Bar Association’s letter:
These public statements by Mr. Barr also contravene the norms applicable to his office and warrant further investigation by Congress as part of an inquiry into Mr. Barr’s conduct as Attorney General more generally. They may even implicate ethical considerations, insofar as prosecutors must generally avoid public comments on ongoing investigations and must not manifest any bias or prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation or partisan political considerations in exercising their prosecutorial discretion.
“Mr. Barr’s recent actions and statements are in sharp and diametric contrast to the principles he cited in his confirmation hearings,” the letter continues. “In addition, they reinforce a broader pattern of conduct during his tenure in which he has created, at a minimum, an appearance of partiality in how he understands and carries out his role as Attorney General…We urge Congress to exercise its constitutional obligations by expeditiously commencing formal inquiries into Mr. Barr’s conduct.”
[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]