In Barr, Trump has found his champion
President Donald Trump could only be delighted to have his attorney general in El Salvador, dealing with his biggest issue: illegal immigration. Yet Barr did even better for his boss. In interviews from the Central American country, he’s been offering cryptic comments suggesting the Russia probe unfairly targeted Trump.
More and more, Barr’s becoming Trump’s favourite lawyer. He’s not only enthusiastically embracing Trump’s political agenda, he’s also gone all-in by casting special counsel Robert Mueller’s report as vindication for Trump and hinting that the real wrongdoing was committed by those who launched the investigation.
Serving as attorney general is traditionally a balancing act, carrying out the president’s agenda as a member of the Cabinet while also trying to avoid political bias in enforcing the nation’s laws. As a nominee, Barr cast himself as above the political fray. But as attorney general, he’s turned out much as Democrats feared.
He’s defied subpoenas from Congress and a House panel has voted to hold him in contempt. He provided the White House with the legal case for not giving lawmakers an unredacted version of Mueller’s report. And this week, he baited House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asking her during a Capitol Hill event if she brought her handcuffs to arrest him.
All the while, Trump has cheered him on.
After attending a Trump law-enforcement speech in the Capitol –where he encountered Pelosi – Barr flew to El Salvador for meetings on some of Trump’s biggest talking points: the MS-13 street gang and illegal immigration.
Barr toured a jail outside San Salvador – as a crew from Trump’s favourite television network, Fox News, followed alongside – and held a news conference to tout collaboration between US and Central American officials that led to the indictments of thousands of gang members “who otherwise might have reached the US”.
Just a month after taking office in February, Barr was defending Trump in an Oval Office ceremony, as the president issued his first veto, rejecting Congress’ efforts to block an emergency declaration to fund his border wall. Barr declared that Trump’s national emergency was “clearly authorised under the law”.
Then he went further.
“And from the standpoint of protecting the American people, it’s imperative,” Barr said.
Trump handed Barr the signed veto. Afterward, he told advisers that he was impressed that Barr stepped forward to not only legally validate the wall, but support it.
That moment, according to four White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing, began to solidify Barr’s loyalty in the president’s mind. Trump had spent months raging at his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the Russia probe, which ultimately led to Mueller’s appointment.