Bill Barr, unitary executive extremist
Grover Norquist always said that Republicans only need a president who can hold a pen, meaning that it didn't matter whether he or she was a "real conservative" as long as they could get elected and sign rightwing legislation, specifically tax cuts, issue orders to dismantle the "administrative state," and pack the courts with extremist judges. Right-wing ideologues have long pressed for an authoritarian strongman definition of the presidency which they call the "unitary executive." Their dream has been delivered by the incompetent boob Donald Trump.
The GOP Congress delivered on the tax cuts and functionaries in the Executive Branch are working feverishly to destroy the regulations that keep us healthy and safe. Bill Barr has taken on the job of perversely ensuring that this erratic, bizarre presidency solidifies unaccountable presidential power.
The long-term goals of the conservative movement are being realized. No wonder they all back Trump unquestioningly.
Here's a piece of a long Politico profile of Bill Barr that will send chills down your spine:
Now that Barr has provided him with political cover from Mueller’s report, Trump is lavishing him with praise. Days after Barr released a four-page summary of the report’s conclusions that Mueller himself found problematic, Trump told his friend and Fox News host Sean Hannity that Barr was a “great gentleman” and a “great man.” In a tweet on Monday, Trump gloated that while Barr is “highly respected,” Democrats now pretend not to remember their onetime hero Bob Mueller.
Other Republicans are just as exuberant about Barr, who they believe embodies the ruthless competence of previous Republican administrations that has often been sorely lacking in the current one. After his combative news conference moments before the release of the Mueller report, one GOP operative wished aloud that Trump would drop Vice President Mike Pence from the ticket in 2020 and add Barr instead. Other prominent Republicans speak of him in almost adulatory terms. “Barr is the closest thing we have to [former Vice President Dick] Cheney,” said Chuck Cooper, a conservative litigator and Barr ally who, like the attorney general, has led the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. “He’s a man. He has a very strong sense of purpose and confidence.”
To Democrats, Barr is merely shilling for Trump, putting politics ahead of the law — “waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump,” as House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler put it. To them, he is an expression of the corruption of the Republican party under Trump, one among many conservatives who might have had second thoughts about the president but now follow in lockstep. That’s a theme they will press in two Congressional hearings this week, beginning with a Wednesday session before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But people who know Barr and have tracked his career for years say the story is more complicated. Trump and Barr barely have a personal relationship, according to White House aides. Barr may have donated $2,700 to Trump in the 2016 general election, but only after he threw $55,000 to Jeb Bush in the primaries. They say that it’s not Donald Trump whom Barr is fighting for, but a vision of the presidency.
Advocates for the "unitary executive"
Barr’s first interaction with the Trump White House came in the spring of 2017 when he met with Pence to talk about representing him in the Mueller probe. Barr waved off the offer, instead recommending a handful of friends to do the job. About a year later, when the president’s children were unhappy with Trump’s legal representation, Barr got another phone call — and turned down another offer, this one to join the president’s personal legal team.
In late 2018, when the White House was on the hunt for a new attorney general, Barr might as well have been on speed dial. He is a longtime friend of White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who worked for him at the Department of Justice in the 1990s and who pressed him to take the job. Again, Barr begged off, urging the White House to consider his friend J. Michael Luttig, a former federal appeals court judge — or former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl — or his Kirkland & Ellis partner Mark Filip.
Ultimately, his friends managed to talk him into it. “We had discussions over a period of time, and I encouraged him to take it,” said George Terwilliger, a conservative attorney and longtime friend of Barr’s.
Barr’s social and professional circle was critical in drawing him into Trump’s orbit. Barr pals, including Terwilliger, Cooper, Luttig and former Virginia Attorney General Richard Cullen are part of a group of elite conservative litigators who were once wunderkinds in the the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. They grew up together and have fought countless political battles alongside one another.
The Trump era has been no different. Cullen represents Pence in the Russia probe. Cooper represents former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And Luttig was the runner-up for the attorney general post when Trump tapped Barr in December, according to multiple sources.
They are united by a firm belief in a theory of robust presidential power dusted off by Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese. Known among legal scholars as the theory of the “unitary executive,” they argue that the Constitution grants presidents broad control of the executive branch, including — to take a salient Trump-era example — the power to fire an FBI director for any reason at all.
Barr made his first imprint in this battle as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in the George H.W. Bush administration, when he authored a controversial memo giving the FBI the right to seize fugitives abroad without the consent of the foreign government in question. As deputy attorney general, he told George H.W. Bush he had the power to send U.S. military forces into Iraq without congressional authorization
Conservative heroes from Robert Bork to the late Justice Antonin Scalia have been advocates of this theory. Bork carried out President Richard M. Nixon’s directive, in the midst of the Watergate scandal, to fire independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox because he determined the president had the right to do so. Scalia, in a 1988 dissenting opinion, argued that the president had the power to fire any executive branch official, including an independent counsel.
“A lot of The Federalist Society heroes are people who participated in or were advocates for the unitary executive,” said University of California law professor John Yoo, himself a proponent of the theory, which became a flash point in the George W. Bush administration after Yoo penned memos advising Bush that the Constitution grants the president virtually unlimited authority to use force abroad and justifies the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens.
Enter Bill Barr. Before he agreed to take the attorney general job, he drew on the unitary executive theory in the 18-page memo he sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last June — a document his critics say amounted to a veiled application for his current job. In that memo, Barr argued that obstruction of justice is limited to things like witness tampering and destroying evidence and that the president has “complete authority to start or stop a law enforcement proceeding.” The implication: Trump was acting on firm constitutional ground when he fired FBI director James Comey, regardless of his motivation, and that doing so was not an effort to obstruct justice. Neither were Trump’s subsequent, but thwarted, moves to fire Mueller himself.
Described by his friends as supremely confident in his views, Barr said at his confirmation hearing that he had circulated the memo widely “so that other lawyers would have the benefit of my views.”
"Supremely confident" doesn't even begin to describe it. There is a touch of megalomania in Barr, a mirror of what a president like Trump would look like if he weren't a simple demagogue. If they get away with this, there may be no going back.