Donald Trump is not the first U.S. president who has chosen William Barr as his attorney general: Barr held the same position under President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s. One of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials who knew Barr under Bush’s presidency was Donald Ayer, who explains why the attorney general is so bad for democracy in a blistering June 30 article for The Atlantic.
The 70-year-old Ayer (who is now in private practice) served as principle deputy solicitor general under the Reagan Administration in the 1980s and went on to serve as deputy attorney general under Bush in 1989 and 1990. In his article, Ayer explains that given Barr’s “prior service as attorney general in the by-the-book, norm-following administration of George H. W. Bush,” many Americans viewed him as “a mature adult dedicated to the rule of law who could be expected to hold the Trump administration to established legal rules.”
But Barr, Ayer stresses, has proved to be a Trump loyalist who has “seen fit to support Trump in his lies and abuses.” Ayer is highly critical of Barr’s response to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report for the Russian investigation.
“The attorney general’s release of a redacted copy of the Mueller report on April 18, including the extensive facts recited in Volume II on the topic of obstruction of justice, produced great consternation,” Ayer asserts. “Many people who had supported Barr’s nomination, because they thought he could be counted on to play straight were perplexed.”
Ayer goes on to explain why, stressing that Barr doesn’t fully embrace the United States government’s system of checks and balances. “For many decades,” Ayer writes, “Barr has had a vision of the president as possessing nearly unchecked powers.”
Ayers adds that “the first few months of” Barr’s “current tenure, and in particular his handling of the Mueller report, suggest” that “he is using the office he holds to advance his extraordinary lifetime project of assigning unchecked power to the president.”
The Founding Fathers of the U.S. government, Ayer emphasizes, did not believe that presidents should enjoy unlimited executive powers. And he concludes his Atlantic article by stressing that Ayers’ view of the executive branch of the federal government is fundamentally at odds with what the Founding Fathers envisioned.
“Trump and his endless assertions of power offer countless opportunities to pick and choose those executive-power claims with the best chance to succeed in court,” Ayer writes. “Thus, in the Trump administration, Barr may have found the ideal setting in which to pursue his life’s work of creating an all-powerful president and frustrating the Founders’ vision of a government of checks and balances.”