Bob Christie / AP
Updated at 8:22 p.m. ET
Attorney General Bill Barr has beaten his own Justice Department attorneys as a “permanent bureaucracy” which all too often misuses its power to pursue high profile goals in what he likened to “headhunting”.
In a remark on Wednesday to a largely conservative audience celebrating Constitution Day at Hillsdale College, the Justice Department head said he was the one to make the big calls in cases of national interest.
“The idea that prosecutors should make the final decisions in the Justice Department is completely insane,” said Barr.
“By law, all prosecution rests with the Attorney General. And these people are agents of the Attorney General. As I tell the FBI agents, ‘Whose agent do you think you are?’ Well, I’m not saying that pompously, but that’s the chain of authority and legitimacy in the Justice Department. “
Barr didn’t mention any specific law enforcement measures, but has been constantly criticized for his decision to intervene in cases to help people close to President Trump, including longtime political advisor Roger Stone and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Some prosecutors have resigned in response to Barr’s interventions. Two current law clerks testified on Capitol Hill last summer about political interference at a whistleblower hearing.
The attorney general saved most of his anger for his own ranks in the Justice Department. He once compared junior prosecutors to preschoolers.
“It may be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool to have the youngest members put on the agenda, but it’s not a way to run a federal agency,” Barr said.
Later, when Barr pleaded for more “distancing” from his prosecutors, Barr referred to lines from CS Lewis, who frequently wrote on religious subjects: “It may be better to live among robber knights than among almighty moral bustling bodies,” Barr said. “‘The robber baron’s cruelty may sleep at times, his lusts may at some point be satisfied; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end because they do so with the consent of their own conscience. They may be more likely in the Coming to heaven and at the same time more likely to make hell out of earth. ‘”
During a question-and-answer period following his formal statements, Barr reiterated his concerns about the November presidential election postal vote and repeated unsubstantiated allegations by the president of possible fraud, with no evidence other than “common sense” to present.
Barr glanced at the legal skills of former staff members of Special Adviser Robert Mueller, who investigated Russia’s attack on the 2016 elections and detailed in his report how the Trump campaign welcomed this interference.
In response to a question about the First Amendment religious services and freedoms during the coronavirus pandemic, Barr said this about the idea of national Covid-19 bans: “Aside from slavery, which was another type of restraint, this is the biggest encroachment into civil liberties in American history. “
He later addressed the Black Lives Matter movement. “They don’t care about black lives. They are interested in props, a small number of blacks who are killed by the police in conflicts with the police – usually fewer than a dozen a year – that they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda. “