Reprinted with permission from Alternet
In a new piece for The Atlantic, a man who once supervised Attorney General Bill Barr published an incisive call for the head of the Justice Department to resign while outlining his disturbing view of executive power.
Donald Ayer, the former deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, supervised Barr when he led the department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 1989 and 1990. After Ayer left the deputy attorney general position in 1990, Barr replaced him and then became attorney general, a position to which he returned in 2019 under President Donald Trump.
In light of Ayer’s close connection to Barr, his scathing condemnation hits with even more force.
“In chilling terms, Barr’s own words make clear his long-held belief in the need for a virtually autocratic executive who is not constrained by countervailing powers within our government under the constitutional system of checks and balances,” Ayer wrote. “Indeed, given our national faith and trust in a rule of law no one can subvert, it is not too strong to say that Bill Barr is un-American. And now, from his perch as attorney general, he is in the midst of a root-and-branch attack on the core principles that have guided our justice system, and especially our Department of Justice, since the 1970s.”
To deal with such an attorney general, Ayer argued, the people must demand his resignation. And if he won’t resign, he should be impeached.
Ayer listed the series of events that have made Barr’s critics so vocal, after many had been hopeful about his appointment, including:
- His “public whitewashing of Robert Mueller’s report”
- His accusation that the FBI was “spying” on the Trump campaign
- Trump’s mentioning of Rudy Giuliani and Barr in tandem in his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
- Barr’s initiation of a “second, largely redundant investigation of the FBI Russia probe”
- And, “worst of all,” Barr’s intervention in the cases of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn
“The fundamental problem is that he does not believe in the central tenet of our system of government—that no person is above the law,” Ayer wrote.
He argued that Barr’s view of the presidency is extremely expansive and virtually fulfills Richard Nixon’s famous claim that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” But he goes even further, Ayer said, because Barr believes that the president shouldn’t even be significantly constrained by Congress or the courts.
Ayer argued that to get to this view, Barr accepts a warped view of history that misrepresents the intentions of the Constitution’s framers and the constraints previous presidents have dealt with.
“For whatever twisted reasons, he believes that the president should be above the law, and he has as his foil in pursuit of that goal a president who, uniquely in our history, actually aspires to that status. And Barr has acted repeatedly on those beliefs in ways that are more damaging at every turn. Presently he is moving forward with active misuse of the criminal sanction, as one more tool of the president’s personal interests,” Ayer wrote.