Barr Sinister: The Most Dangerous Man in America
Wherefore art thou a traitor, Bill Barr?
HE SEEMS SO NICE. Unlike Paul Manafort, who presents as the mobbed-up asshole he is, or Roger Stone, who arrayed himself like a comic-book villain, or Corey Lewandowski, who comes across as the drunken lout rooting for the other team behind you at the game, Bill Barr doesn’t look like a bad guy. He has a kind face, gentle eyes, a full head of hella-good hair, bookish glasses, and an avuncular manner. His pleasing plumpness is more Kris Kringle than Jabba the Hutt. In a word, he’s cuddly. But make no mistake: the once and current Attorney General is the most dangerous man in America. He may well be the Devil himself.
After some initial speculation that he was a “white hat”—wishful thinking, as it turned out, based on his reported close friendship with Robert Mueller—Barr outed himself as a traitor last spring, when, after pulling the plug on the Mueller investigation, he got in front of his old chum’s report with a mendacious “summary” that both undermined the Special Counsel’s findings and neutralized their impact. Since then, he has done everything in his substantial power to thwart the House impeachment inquiry, acting more as Trump’s defense attorney than a representative of the people.
This week, Barr blasted the IG report and the impeachment process and gave an interview with Pete Williams of MSNBC that was positively Orwellian in its use of doublespeak—prompting the former AG, Eric Holder, to rebuke him in the Washington Post. Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Governmental Ethics, was one of many respected professionals to sound the alarm about Barr’s despotic leanings:
That Holder and Shaub are Obama appointees does not make them wrong.
So: Bill Barr, white hat? More like white phosphorus. And I don’t just say that to be provocative. One of Trump’s most important directives, in his seditious capacity as Putin’s puppet, is to destroy the hallowed institutions of the U.S. government from within. Thus he installs an Education Secretary who doesn’t support public education, an EPA chief who denies climate change, judges who are ignorant of the court system, and so on. This is by design. Trump is the Russian malware president. He did not come to Washington to drain the swamp. He came to burn the country to the ground.
The third and most effective of Trump’s Attorneys General follows the same pattern. The man who leads the Department of Justice does not believe in justice—at least, not the American version of it. Indeed, Barr does not seem to believe in democracy at all. “Might makes right” is his credo. And he has made it his mission to ensure that the president’s might rivals that of a Saudi king, medieval Pope, or Roman emperor. He is, at best, a monarchist, and at worst, a raging Fascist. He is not just a traitor. He is an apostate, rejecting completely the prevailing faith of his countrymen—our American faith in democracy.
Donald Trump is a monarchist, too, in that he sees himself as some sort of king. But that is a function of his own narcissism and insecurity, not a coherent worldview. Barr is different. In a nation founded by revolutionaries, by patriots, he is a Tory—a redcoat. It is not difficult to imagine him dolled up in white wig and fancy get-up, grovelling before George III.
His treachery is so obvious as to be indisputable. But Barr is unique among the Trump loyalists for two reasons: First, he’s competent. Second, his motives are more opaque.
MICE is the acronym used for the four most common reasons traitors have for betraying their country: Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego. Laid out that way, the motives of the traitors are easy to spot:
Money: Trump and his kids, Kushner, Manafort, Giuliani, Flynn
Ideology: Carter Page, Erik Prince
Compromise: Graham, Nunes, Rand Paul
Ego: Gordon Sondland, Roger Stone, Flynn again, Giuliani again
Sometimes it doesn’t break down quite as neatly, but generally speaking, if you name me a traitor, I can identify exactly why they have betrayed their country to stand with Trump.
Barr is different. He’s almost 70 years old, with three grown children and grandkids. He made millions of dollars working as general counsel for GTE/Verizon—more than enough to support a comfortable retirement. He plays the bagpipes competitively. His wife is in a Bible study group with Robert Mueller’s wife, and the four of them were chummy. He was on the sidelines, a forgotten public figure from four administrations ago. He essentially applied for the job by circulating a position paper, written on spec, that blew smoke up Trump’s ample ass…and when the president came calling, he accepted the job. Why on earth did he do this? Why did he give up his cushy, pleasant existence to become, quite literally, the devil’s advocate?
From 1964-74, Barr’s father, Donald Barr, was the headmaster at Dalton, a progressive co-ed prep school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which alumnae include Chevy Chase, Anderson Cooper, Claire Daines, Sean Lennon, and Wallace Shawn. It was during his tenure that the 21-year-old Jeffrey Epstein, a college drop-out, was hired to teach mathematics, and immediately began grooming his young female charges. Indeed, one could scarce imagine a more ideal set-up for an ambitious pervert of Epstein’s peculiar and odious ilk.
As headmaster, Donald Barr was reportedly kind of a dick. A conservative and a libertarian, he was a stickler for the rules. He was evidently big into harsh discipline for minor infractions, especially drug related. And: he wrote a sci-fi novel called Space Relations, about a futuristic dude who is enslaved on some faraway planet by a dominatrix-y female oligarch, and made to have sex with minor girls for the purpose of sadism and procreation. As I’m not the first to point out, this seems of a piece with Epstein’s own predilections.
That novel, and the audacity of publishing it given his day job, suggests that Donald Barr was an arrogant prick who believed that consequences did not apply to him. As Becky Ferreira wrote in Vice: “Barr wrote a novel filled with underage rape at the same time he was running an esteemed Manhattan high school, and he didn’t even feel the need to use a pseudonym.”
What does this all mean? Probably nothing, as the younger Barr did not even attend Dalton, but rather Horace Mann, a rigid all-boys prep school notorious for its own sexual abuse scandal. But it gives insight into the man who raised Bill Barr: haughty, conservative, pretentious, domineering, and totally chill about raping kids.
Barr’s first job after finishing his masters in Chinese Studies in 1973 at Columbia University, where his father was long a professor, was at the Central Intelligence Agency. While attending law school at night, he worked by day as an analyst in the Intelligence Directorate division. Frank Snepp, the CIA analyst-turned-Peabody-Award-winning-journalist, was his colleague in the early years. “Jovial and unassuming, [Barr] took his cues easily from an overly politicized office chief,” Snepp recalled in 1992. “It was a token of things to come.” In short, the young Barr was a kiss-ass.
As fate would have it, 1976 was the one year that George H.W. Bush served as DCI. Snepp writes:
Barr first met Bush in the CIA. In 1976, having shifted to the agency’s legislative office, he helped write the pap sheets that director Bush used to fend off the Pike and Church committees, the first real embodiments of Congressional oversight of the CIA. Intimates say the experience was formative for Barr, turning him into an implacable enemy of congressional intrusions on executive prerogative.
Here is the moment when Barr strayed from the true democratic faith to serve at the altar of unitary executive theory. A decade-plus later, he would put these despotic dogmas to good use in Poppy Bush’s Justice Department. Snepp explains how, at this time, Barr
drafted two key documents rationalizing the U.S. invasion of Panama and the seizure of General Manuel Noriega….The first “opinion,” written in June 1989, recognized the president’s right to dispatch FBI agents abroad to arrest foreigners even in violation of international treaties. The second document, issued the following December as American forces geared up to invade Panama, gave a patina of legality to the president’s desire to use the military in similar takedown operations. Together, the two memos enshrine what has come to be known as the president’s “snatch authority.”
It should be noted that the U.S. Attorney responsible for prosecuting the “snatched” Panamanian president, Manuel Noriega, was none other than Robert Swan Mueller III. But one last bit about Barr’s “opinions,” prototypes for John Yoo’s Bush II Torture Memos: “In an inevitable seignorial flourish,” Snepp tells us, “the administration refused to release the complete contents of these documents, even to Congress.”
This is a nothing more than the Trumpist mantra of “Fuck You, Pay Me,” writ large.
During Barr’s term as Attorney General, there were a series of banking scandals that involved money laundering for organized crime. The Bank of Credit and Commerce International, called BCCI, was known as the Bank of Crooks and Criminals. As the Washington Post reported in 1991:
BCCI made phony loans, concealed deposits, hid huge losses, and was the bank for a host of shady customers ranging from terrorists and spies to drug runners and dictators…
According to British authorities, BCCI committed fraud on a grand scale: keeping separate books for a "bank within the bank" that handled illegal transactions, making a $32 million payoff to silence one of its own managers, using clients' accounts to hide its own losses, and shuffling money among different affiliates to disguise the bank's true financial condition.
Founded in 1972 by Agha Hasan Abedi, a Pakistani national, BCCI became the sort of institution that, a generation later, Russian mobsters would seek out to launder their money—and Donald Trump would look to in desperation for credit. As AG, Barr slow-footed the investigation into the Bank of Crooks & Criminals to the point of stasis—subpoeanas were delayed, nothing seemed to be happening. It took enormous effort from the crusading senator John Kerry to ensure that justice was served. How did Kerry do it? He used the New York state DA’s office—similar to how New York is now going after Trump’s tax returns:
Kerry opted in 1989 to take the same information that had been coldly received at [Bill Barr’s] Justice Department and bring it to New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who agreed to begin a criminal investigation of BCCI, based on Kerry's leads. Kerry also continued to keep up the public pressure. In 1990, when the Bush administration gave the bank a minor slap on the wrist for its money laundering practices, Kerry went on national television to slam the decision. “We send drug people to jail for the rest of their life,” he said, “and these guys who are bankers in the corporate world seem to just walk away, and it's business as usual…When banks engage knowingly in the laundering of money, they should be shut down. It's that simple, it really is.”
Kerry’s assessment was, and is, correct. But Barr evidently did not think so. He employed a similar tactic in the “Iraqgate” scandal, kicking the can down the road, initiating futile action designed to run out the clock. Again: similar to the tactics he’s using now with respect to Trump.
Frank Snepp sums up the soporific details of Iraqgate neatly:
To be up to speed, you have to understand a few arcane facts. First, the [Bush I] administration is accused of having allowed U.S. agricultural loan guarantees to be used to underwrite military purchases by Iraq during the late 1980s when the official policy was: moderate through conciliation. Second, the Atlanta branch of the Italian bank Banca Nazionale del Lavoro is said to have floated $5 billion in illegal loans to Iraq during the same period. Third, [Bill Barr’s] Justice Department is suspected of having deliberately singled out BNL’s Atlanta branch manager for prosecution, saying he acted alone, so as to avoid embarrassing his higher-ups in Rome and opening a can of worms that could reveal deeper administration complicity in the funding of Iraq’s military buildup.
It looks like Barr bent over backwards to cover up the shenanigans at a bank based in Rome. Speaking of Rome…
Bill Barr is rumored to be a member of this hardline Catholic Prelature, made famous by the Dan Brown novel and Ron Howard film The DaVinci Code, in which its exemplar is a deranged albino monk who practices self-flagellation. That book, needless to say, is pure garbage, and its depiction of Opus Dei is just as implausible as its central Jesus-was-biological-forefather-of-kings conceit. As Anthony Lane wrote in his scathingly brilliant New Yorker review of the ponderous movie, Opus Dei is “the Catholic organization so intensely secretive that its American headquarters are tucked away in a seventeen-story building on Lexington Avenue.”
I don’t see how Barr fits in with these people. According to its website, “The aim of Opus Dei is to contribute to that evangelizing mission of the Church, by fostering among Christians of all social classes a life fully consistent with their faith, in the middle of the ordinary circumstances of their lives and especially through the sanctification of their work.” How is sanctifying Trump’s crimes doing the work of the Savior? One of its handful of directives is this:
In their professional, family, political, financial or cultural activities, [members] act with freedom and personal responsibility, not involving the Church or Opus Dei in their decisions, nor presenting those decisions as the only Catholic solutions. This implies respecting the freedom and the opinions of others.
Like his fellow Catholic Paul Ryan, whose perversion of Catholic doctrine compelled the Jesuits and other faculty at my alma mater to write him an open letter of correction, Bill Barr does not strike me as particularly vested in Church orthodoxy. In almost every sense, he has failed to abide by the rules established by the Prelature—just as assiduously as he has done in his day job as AG. From where I sit, he’s rejected the teachings of Christ and of the Constitution.
It should come as no surprise that a human being who shows the world a soothing, kindly, gentle, and compassionate face to conceal his own diabolical nature is into cover-ups. Barr was the Winston Wolff of the Bush I administration, especially with regards to the biggest scandal of the 1980s: Iran-Contra. One wag on the New York Times op-ed page dubbed him the “Cover-Up General.” Which bleeding-heart tree-hugging soy boy affixed this label? William Fucking Safire, that’s who—Nixon’s former speechwriter!
I won’t go into the intricacies of Iran-Contra. The salient point here is that H.W. Bush almost certainly lied to Lawrence Walsh, the Independent Counsel charged with investigating the scandal, when he claimed ignorance of the goings-on. When the subsequent criminal trial of former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger threatened to expose this perjury, Barr urged his boss to issue Weinberger a pardon—which 41 dutifully did. Walsh, the Mueller of his day, thundered: “The Iran-Contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.” Barr groused that Weinberger and the others had been “treated unfairly.” Insert the adverb “very,” and this becomes one of Trumps pet phrases.
Given this unseemly history, what we can expect of Barr, for as long as he is Cover-up General for Donald J. Trump, is more of same: delay, inaction, obstruction of Congress, and, if necessary to protect POTUS, preemptive presidential pardons of the perpetrators. (Note: The previous sentence is an homage to Safire).
To be fair, while Weinberger and his accomplices—and likely Reagan and Bush as well—violated the law in Iran-Contra, they did so because they believed what they were doing was essential to national security. Iran-Contra did not exist so Ronald Reagan could build a shitty hotel in some wretched Eastern bloc city. (If Reagan came back from the dead and read up about Trump’s capitulation to Putin in Helsinki, to say nothing of the Zelensky affair, he’d march to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 86 45 himself.)
Bill Barr, by contrast, does not seem to care about the underlying motives of the president. In his view, the president is an Augustus, above the law. What matter if the emperor in question is Marcus Aurelius or Caligula? This is, needless to say, antithetical to the American way. Rep. David Cicilline put it best during this week’s hearings: “If we decide the President is above the law, then we will no longer live in a democracy. We will live in a dictatorship—trading the values of Madison for the values of Moscow.” Or, I might add, the values of Monarchy.
And that brings us back to MICE. Barr’s motive, it seems to me, is one rarely seen in the current greed-fueled climate: ideology. Not Putinist ideology, of the kind espoused by Russophile Carter Page, or even Trumpist mobster ideology, but rather the ideology of unitary executive theory. To promulgate the peculiarly un-American view of president as king, Bill Barr is apparently willing to spend the rest of his life in prison. That, combined with the awesome powers of the DOJ at his disposal, makes him the most dangerous man in America.
HAPPILY, there is a way to stop Bill Barr. The House has already found him in Contempt of Congress. Now, it must take him into custody until he 1) releases the full Mueller documents to the House Intelligence Committee and 2) allows all the president’s accomplices to honor their subpoenas.
What is the mechanism for arresting the guy in charge of authorizing all federal arrests? I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t know. But on page 30 of Congress’s Contempt Power and the Enforcement of Congressional Subpoenas: Law, History, Practice, and Procedure, Todd Garvey of the Congressional Research Service avers that
it appears that all that is legally required for House committees, the House general counsel, or a House-retained private counsel to seek civil enforcement of subpoenas or other orders is that authorization be granted by resolution of the full House.
So, I mean, can we at least try? If Barr can successfully maintain that a felonious president can do whatever the fuck-all he wants, surely the army of attorneys on Capitol Hill can figure out a compelling legal argument to stop him before he, you know, ends the American experiment once and for all.
Trump, with Barr as his first mate, has steered the country into uncharted territory. It’s time for the good guys to take back the helm.
Note: I have quoted liberally from Frank Snepp’s excellent 1992 Village Voice article, “Bill Barr: The ‘Cover-Up General.’” I encourage you to read every word of it.