D.Onald Trump’s amazing suggestion at an election rally last weekend that the US president would use government attorneys to try to curb ballots on election night rests more than any other on the complicity of a federal official.
That official is Attorney General William Barr, who, as the Justice Department head, heads the army of government attorneys who are suing to stop counting votes.
In keeping with Trump̵
To some observers, the attorney general also appears to have laid the groundwork for another alarming move that would answer the question of what action the Trump administration will take if a controversial election in November leads to major new protests.
In order for Trump to steal the elections and then suppress mass demonstrations – for that is the nature of the nightmare scenario that can now be openly debated among current and former officials, academics, think tankers, and many others – Trump must be able to manipulate both the levers of the law and also its physical enforcement.
In Barr, not only does Trump get all of that, critics say, but he also enjoys the partnership of a man whose sense of biblical interests in the election fills him with a deep sense of mission in the re-election of Trump.
In a break with the relative reluctance of his first 18 months in office, Barr has set out his own thinking through a series of recent speeches, interviews, and internal discussions. Even routine critics of Barr have been met by the Barr who has now revealed himself.
The formerly meek attorney in Washington has launched attacks on electoral integrity and hostility towards street protests, expressly religiously setting an epochal showdown between the forces of “moral discipline and virtue” – which he believes he represents – and the “individual” described rape ”, which manifests itself as social chaos and is embodied by left-wing demonstrators, among others.
“His abuses only increased as we got closer to the election and the president felt more and more politically vulnerable,” said Donald K Sherman, deputy director of the Washington Citizens’ Responsibility Monitoring Group, who has called for Barr’s impeachment.
“I can’t put it more clearly: the attorney general is a threat to American citizens who have free and fair access to voting, and a threat to Americans whose votes are counted.”
In the past few weeks, Barr has reportedly asked prosecutors to weigh charges against protesters under the riot laws to punish conspiracies to overthrow the government and to weigh charges against the mayor of Seattle for allowing residents to take a small ” to set up a police-free protest zone. He has designated New York City, Portland and Seattle as “anarchy” zones where he has “refused to take reasonable steps to combat criminal activity,” threatening federal funding.
Such designations nourish Trump’s re-election report on threatened public security. They also reflect Barr’s constitutionally questionable and usually non-conservative willingness to involve the federal government arm in local law enforcement.
Barr has shown this tendency before. In June, as Attorney General, he took the most unusual step of personally instructing federal officials to evict peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square, near the White House.
Barr later denied giving direct orders, but the White House flatly stated, “It was AG Barr who made the decision.”
Meanwhile, Barr has competed with Trump to undermine confidence in the upcoming elections, spread unfounded conspiracy theories about foreign nations printing fake ballot papers, spread stories of mass postal ballot fraud – a lie that was later withdrawn by the Justice Department – and to express frustration that the United States is using mail-in and multi-day voting, which are common measures to accommodate voters dating back decades.
“We’re losing the whole idea of what an election is,” complained Barr during an appearance earlier this month at Hillsdale College, Michigan.
Neil Kinkopf, a Georgia state law professor who served in the Office of Legal Counsel under Bill Clinton, said Barr’s concern for Trump’s political welfare was historic.
“I think this attorney general is demonstrably more involved in the president’s political success and the president’s political agenda than any attorney general in history I can imagine,” said Kinkopf.
What drives Barr? For political observers familiar with Barr’s long career in Washington, which included a previous tenure as attorney general under George HW Bush, the notion that he could help bring American democracy off the cliff might be somewhat cognitive Cause dissonance. Like other powerful Republicans and everyday voters who made Trump possible, Barr seems motivated not by personal loyalty to Trump per se, but by a sense of Trump’s role in a larger plan.
Prior to Trump’s appointment, many insiders viewed Barr as a committed institutionalist who would protect Justice Department independence from Trump’s most damaging tendencies, though Barr was clearly a firm believer in a muscular presidency.
But others saw Barr coming. This includes Kinkopf, who testified against Barr in Barr’s January 2019 Senate confirmation hearing. In his testimony, Kinkopf cautioned against Barr’s subscription to the so-called unified executive theory, which contains an “alarming” and “dangerously false” view of “an executive power of breathtaking proportions, subject to negligible limits,” Kinkopf said.
“It seems that William Barr, if confirmed, will set precedents that embrace an enduring vision of the president’s power. one that can be used in future administrations to justify the exercise of power for very different purposes, ”Kinkopf warned at the time.
But today, even Kinkopf says he was “deeply surprised” at how far Barr exceeded that warning.
“When I testified against him, I realized how dangerous unified executive theory is,” said Kinkopf. “But what I didn’t appreciate, and I don’t think anyone appreciated, was how extensively they would apply this theory upfront, not for rule of law values, but to advance both the president’s political agenda and me thinking deeper about Barr according to his own social and religious obligations. “
Again, those commitments are public knowledge, including a speech Barr gave at Notre Dame University about a year ago. In the speech, Barr described a political philosophy driven by the need to counteract “individual rape” in humans that quickly leads, if not limited, to “licentiousness” and the destruction of “healthy community life”. The only possible limitation, in Barr’s view, is “moral values [that] must be based on authority that is independent of human will – they must come from a transcendent Supreme Being. “
In short, Barr argued, as elsewhere, that the inevitable result of secularism is moral decay and social chaos.
It seems that it is precisely this chaos that Barr sees in the current street protests fueled by the anti-racism movement Black Lives Matter. In his speech in Michigan, he denounced the protesters as “these so-called black lives concern people” and claimed that they were “not interested in black lives”. You’re interested in [using] Props – a small number of blacks killed by the police … to achieve a much broader political agenda. “
When Barr sums up the motivations of protesters haunted by the recurring specter of police killing of colored people in a terrifyingly short manner, he values his own motivations very much.
Barr appears to be embroiled in a historic battle against literal evil, and he appears to view the upcoming elections as the climate battle. A loss of Trump, Barr recently told a Chicago Tribune columnist, would mean the United States was “irrevocably committed to the socialist path.” He called the choice “a clear fork in the road”.
“The attorney general sees himself clearly as a fighter of cultural wars, which for him are moral and religious,” said Kinkopf. “And in my opinion these are deeper obligations for him than the obligation to federalism. To the extent that the balance between federal and state power stands in the way of achieving what it wants to achieve in the culture wars, it is ready to throw this aside.
“So if there wasn’t a culture war angle, I think he would take the position that states and local governments should oversee their own communities and that the federal government should stick their noses out. But because he sees something at stake in the current protests that threatens what he sees as the right order of society, he is not concerned about using federal power to pursue what he sees as the right outcomes looks at. “