Attorney General William Barr certainly is consistent in his views.
Amid the controversy and outrage over his intervention in the criminal case of President Donald Trump’s friend Roger Stone, be warned: it is not out of the question that Barr himself will advise Trump to pardon Stone, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and others. Barr has done this before, but for that we need to refer back to his first stint as U.S. Attorney General, from 1991-1993 during the George H.W. Bush years.
“I don’t remember going through the pardon office, but I did ask some of the seasoned professionals around the Department about this, asked them to look into it,” Barr said in 2001. “Based on those discussions, I went over and told the President I thought he should not only pardon Caspar Weinberger, but while he was at it, he should pardon about five others.”
In 1992, Bush pardoned former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger before Weinberger was slated to go on trial for alleged perjury and obstruction of justice. Elliott Abrams, Robert McFarlane, Clair George, Alan Fiers, and Duane Clarridge were also pardoned.
Barr explained that he felt people were “unjustly treated” and that “standard Department [of Justice] guidelines” were not followed:
I don’t remember, I must admit. I asked some of my staff to look into the indictment that was brought, and also some of the other people I felt had been unjustly treated and whether they felt that they would have been treated this way under standard Department guidelines. I don’t remember going through the pardon office, but I did ask some of the seasoned professionals around the Department about this, asked them to look into it. Based on those discussions, I went over and told the President I thought he should not only pardon Caspar Weinberger, but while he was at it, he should pardon about five others.
On Tuesday, Barr’s DOJ moved quickly to roll back a 7- to 9-year sentencing recommendation for Stone after the president criticized it as a “miscarriage of justice” on Twitter. Four prosecutors promptly moved to withdraw from the case. In their initial sentencing memo, they said they followed the sentencing guidelines. But DOJ higher-ups overruled the “extreme,” “excessive” and “disproportionate” recommendation; the line prosecutors exited. In short, this was a sign that it is Barr’s belief Stone was being unjustly treated and that these prosecutors didn’t follow the standard DOJ guidelines.
This happened after Barr installed his former top aide Timothy Shea as U.S. Attorney in D.C., the office handling the Stone and Flynn cases. Shea’s name appeared on the new Stone sentencing memo recommending three to four years in prison. Some “odd” things have been going on of late for Flynn’s sentencing, too. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office notably secured a guilty plea from Manafort in Washington, D.C., and all three of these cases we are discussing find their origins in the Mueller probe.
While Barr is reportedly taking control of legal matters of interest to the president (i.e. “lingering” Mueller cases), Trump has been quite open about how he feels about these cases: “Unfair.”
In response to a tweet on Tuesday saying “Raise your hand if you believe it’s time for a FULL PARDON for Roger Stone and Michael Flynn,” Trump asked, “Prosecutorial Misconduct?” Trump also referenced the Manafort case on Tuesday, saying not even Al Capone was treated that harshly.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is also presiding over Stone’s case, did revoke Manafort’s bail conditions, resulting in him being jailed ahead of trial. During that time, Manafort’s lawyers complained he was in solitary confinement, but Jackson called that claim “disingenuous.”
“The defendant was not in the SHU (special housing unit)!” she said.
“Unfair” is a word Trump often uses in the context of pardons, and Barr has been catering to the overall narrative of unfairness through his various actions as Attorney General.
But speaking of origins: Barr appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate the origins of the Russia probe, and that investigation has transformed into a criminal probe. And Barr was hired as AG in the first place because of his unsolicited criticism of Mueller’s obstruction case.
Barr and Durham both issued “political” public statements after DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz produced his report on the FBI’s FISA errors and abuses under former FBI Director James Comey’s watch.
“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.”
Then came the Durham statement.
“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.”
As you surely know, Mueller’s appointment and the sweeping Russia investigation quickly followed Trump’s firing of Comey. Mueller’s appointment, as memorialized by the New York Times, noted the necessary Flynn-related context:
The decision by the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, came after a cascade of damaging developments for Mr. Trump in recent days, including his abrupt dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the subsequent disclosure that Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey to drop the investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.
Mr. Rosenstein had been under escalating pressure from Democrats, and even some Republicans, to appoint a special counsel after he wrote a memo that the White House initially cited as the rationale for Mr. Comey’s dismissal.
Just this week, Barr acknowledged that a “process” is in place to receive and evaluate the dirt Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has dug up in Ukraine. Giuliani’s adventures have been aimed, at least in part, at discrediting the Mueller report.
What’s more, Giuliani’s indicted former business associate Lev Parnas recently claimed Fox News legal guests Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova, Giuliani and Barr are all friends, and that Barr must have known about Giuliani’s efforts to get Ukraine to announce investigations of the Bidens. Trump mentioned Barr by name on the infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a call the led to a whistleblower complaint, impeachment, and impeachment acquittal.
During the call, Trump suggested that Zelensky link up with Barr on the desired Bidens probes and the probe of the debunked, Kremlin-endorsed CrowdStrike conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election. Notably, Mueller’s investigation focused on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Parnas also claimed Barr was “basically part of the team” of individuals trying to get information through indicted Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash that would discredit the Mueller investigation–allegedly in exchange for stopping Firtash’s extradition and prosecution in the United States. Firtash is under indictment for bribery. Toensing and diGenova started representing Firtash in July 2019.
Parnas claimed that he never spoke to Barr personally but was “involved in lots of conversations that Joe diGenova had with [Barr] in front of me, Rudy had with him front of me, setting up meetings with Dmytro Firtash’s team, I was involved in that.”
A DOJ spokeswoman denied “as 100% false” the claim that Barr knew through Giuliani about an effort pressure Ukraine to announce an investigation of Joe Biden.
When Trump celebrated acquittal, he framed the impeachment ordeal as nothing more than a continuation of Comey and Mueller probe persecution: “We were treated unbelievably unfairly. You have to understand, we first went through ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’. It was all bullshit.”
Then he once again mentioned the firing of James Comey.
“Had I not fired James Comey, who was a disaster by the way, it’s possible I wouldn’t even be standing here right now. We caught him in the act. Dirty cops, bad people,” he added. “This should never ever happen to another President, ever.”
Consider the waters muddied.
Trump doesn’t need Barr to advise him to grant pardons, but Barr has laid all the groundwork for those pardons to happen. Maybe he’ll even advise them as he did decades ago.
[Image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.