An ethics group is calling on the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings against Attorney General William Barr, alleging he has compromised U.S. interests, put national security at risk, and used his position to support President Donald Trump.
The Ad Hoc Group of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law (CERL) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), in an Oct. 12 release (pdf) said it had carried out an in-depth study of Barr’s and Department of Justice (DOJ) practices and policies following his 2019 confirmation, concluding that his actions warrant an impeachment inquiry.
“For the United States to remain a ‘government of laws, and not of men,’ it is essential that our nation’s highest law enforcement office maintains independence from partisan politics and the executive branch,” said Ad Hoc Working Group Co-Chair Claire Finkelstein, Penn law professor and faculty director of CERL, in a statement. “After months of study, our group has concluded that Mr. Barr has compromised U.S. interests and jeopardized national security,” she stated. “He has an authoritarian worldview that limits his adherence to the rule of law.”
Justice Department officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Attorney General William Barr appears before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 28, 2020. (Matt McClain/Pool via Reuters)
In a 267-page report (pdf), the group highlighted several Barr actions, including what it described as his intentional mischaracterization of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as Barr’s decision to assign U.S. Attorney John Durham to conduct his own investigation into the origins of the probe into the Trump campaign.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board, in an Oct. 11 op-ed, defended the Attorney General, arguing that, “Barr chose Mr. Durham for the job precisely because he has a reputation for following the law and not the politics,” adding that Barr, “has been trying to restore public trust in the Justice Department after its politicization during the Obama Administration” and that “he has tried to restore proper supervision over an FBI that became a government unto itself.”
“For doing all of this, Mr. Barr has endured relentless and unfair criticism from the partisan Washington press corps that helped to promote Russian disinformation,” the editorial board wrote.
Another area examined by the ethics group was the DOJ’s involvement in the Ukraine matter, which was the basis for an impeachment inquiry against Trump and in context of which the group mulled whether Barr should have recused himself on grounds of conflict of interest, with members of the working group unable to reach agreement on the issue. Other areas of inquiry were the firing or reassignment of government officials, apparent resistance to congressional oversight and inquiries, and alleged politicization of DOJ offices.
The group considered whether Barr violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials from using their official positions of influence to help political candidates. In this context, they considered Barr’s role in clearing Lafayette Park of protesters “to facilitate a political photo op for the President.” The group said it found “strong evidence” Barr was using the Justice Department “to achieve partisan political aims” and took aim at him for supporting Trump.
“It’s become apparent that Bill Barr is using his position and the powers of the Justice Department as a vehicle for supporting Donald Trump’s political objectives. This is evident in his attempts to intervene in investigations and prosecutions on behalf of the president’s allies and to help with the president’s bid for re-election,” said Working Group Co-Chair and CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder, in a statement. “Barr’s insistence on pursuing politically-motivated investigations, like the Durham investigation, is clearly intended to justify Trump’s conduct in the 2016 campaign and to provide fodder for his 2020 campaign.”
Barr, in a July appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, defended his independence amid accusations by Democrats that he had politicized the DOJ, claming that Democrats on the committee sought to “discredit” him by “conjuring up a narrative that I am simply the President’s factotum who disposes of criminal cases according to his instructions.”
“The President has not attempted to interfere in these decisions. On the contrary, he has told me from the start that he expects me to exercise my independent judgment to make whatever call I think is right,” he said at the time. “That is precisely what I have done.”
“The Department had been drawn into the political maelstrom and was being buffeted on all sides. When asked to consider returning, I did so because I revere the Department and believed my independence would allow me to help steer her back to her core mission of applying one standard of justice for everyone and enforcing the law even-handedly, without partisan considerations,” he added.
The ethics group called for Congress to launch an impeachment inquiry and provided 12 recommendations in its report. These include strengthening the independence of the special counsel, introducing staggered ten-year terms for U.S. attorneys and Inspectors General, requiring regular testimony from the attorney general, and strengthening the independence of members of the intelligence community, specifically the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Barr earlier faced impeachment calls, with Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) earlier this year alleging Barr broke the law.
“We should pursue impeachment of Bill Barr because he is reigning terror on the rule of law,” Cohen said in June.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected the proposition, saying voters should decide in the upcoming election.
“One hundred and thirty-one days from now, we will have the solution to many problems, one of them being Barr,” Pelosi said in an interview with the Washington Post in June.
“He is contemptible. There’s no question about that. But at this point, let’s solve our problems by going to the polls and voting on Election Day,” she added.