Bill Barr's pride gets in the way: Trump's top lackey just blew up his own redemption tour

He's still with him

By Heather Digby Parton

Published March 9, 2022 10:01AM (EST)
Updated March 10, 2022 3:04PM (EST)
Former US Attorney General Bill Barr (Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
Former US Attorney General Bill Barr (Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

At the end of 2020 I thought I had written my last piece about former attorney general William Barr. I had followed his two-year tenure very closely and wrote about it often, always dismayed by what was obviously a very arrogant man who was suffering from a terminal case of Fox News Brain Rot. He would have been more to be pitied than censured if it weren't for the fact that he was running interference for the most powerful man in the country. Now Barr has published the obligatory tell-all about his time in the Trump administration, called "One Damn Thing After Another," and I am compelled to write about him one more time.

Barr's overweening egotism, so flamboyantly displayed in his new book and accompanying promotional appearances, is second only to Donald Trump himself. He has said repeatedly on his book tour that he doesn't care what people think of him and I believe him. After all, when you think as highly of yourself as he does, approbation from others is totally unnecessary.

His book discusses his happy life growing up in New York City in a conservative family and attending Columbia University before briefly joining the CIA while in law school at night. He eventually joined the Department of Justice and was named George H. W Bush's Attorney General at the young age of 41. He is mostly remembered in that assignment for pushing the president to pardon the parties involved in the Iran Contra scandal — which Bush did on Christmas Eve 1992, eerily foreshadowing what was to come 30 years later.

He spent the next couple of decades cashing in handsomely, as so many do, and obviously spent a lot of time immersed in right-wing media which nurtured his cultural grievances. By the time Donald Trump became president, Barr was spouting off about Hillary Clinton and "Uranium One" and writing letters to the White House expressing his dismay that the Democrats and the Deep State were in cahoots to destroy the president with the Russiagate investigation. Of course, Barr is too sophisticated to let the cat out of the bag by publicly using those catchphrases but it's clear nonetheless that he is a true believer of the Lou Dobbs/Sean Hannity variety.

In his book, Barr rails against everything and everyone to the left of Ted Cruz, writing that Barack Obama is a "left-wing agitator [who] throttled the economy, degraded the culture and frittered away U.S. strength and credibility in foreign affairs" and claims that Critical Race Theory is "at bottom, essentially the materialist philosophy of Marxism, substituting racial antagonism for class antagonism." He carries on about left-wing "Maoism" and "militant secularism" declaring that there is a "mounting effort to affirmatively indoctrinate children with the secular progressive belief system — a new official secular ideology." He knows who the enemy is, righteously proclaiming that he is "under no illusion about who is responsible for dividing the country, embittering our politics and weakening and demoralizing our nation --- it is the progressive left and their increasingly totalitarian ideals."

You might wonder why a man with such staunch views about morality and secularism would eagerly seek out a libertine TV star with five kids by three different wives but to Bill Barr, the country was careening toward a constitutional crisis by trying to restrain President Trump from doing anything he damn well pleased. Barr, you see, believes in the near infallibility of the executive branch and Trump believes in the infallibility of Trump so it made a lot of sense for them to join forces.

Barr goes to incredible lengths to excuse Trump's crude and ignorant behavior as president portraying him as a sort of unruly teenager whose "madcap rhetoric" and "imprecise comments" would get him into scrapes. Sure, he has an "imprecise and discursive speaking style" which includes "flights of gross hyperbole" but he's really an entertainer and everyone knew his words weren't meant to be taken literally. (He even approvingly quotes that fatuous Salena Zito quote that "the press takes him literally but not seriously and the people take him seriously but not literally" in the same breath.) This is bizarre coming from the man who takes himself and his politics as seriously as an undertaker.

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Barr adamantly denies that he served more as Trump's personal lawyer than as the independent Attorney General but gives the game away when he repeats something he told Trump during the famous meeting in which he said all the vote fraud claims were "bullshit." He writes that he told Trump, "'No, Mr. President, I don't hate you,' I said. 'You know I sacrificed a lot personally to come in to help you when I thought you were being wronged.'"

RELATED: Bill Barr admits Trump attempted to strong arm Ukrainians into investigating Joe Biden

Of course, it was obvious from the beginning that he saw his mission to protect Trump from the alleged depredations of the "swamp" that was out to get him. His mischaracterization of the Mueller report and eagerness to launch Trump's "investigate the investigators" vendetta. He overruled the Justice Department prosecutors to recommend a lighter sentence and dropped the charges against Trump's loony former National Security adviser Michael Flynn even after he had pleaded guilty. He claims that he was simply ensuring that the department was meting out equal justice but strangely, those were the only two people he found in the whole country who deserved that intervention.

Barr claims that Trump did a terrific job as president, "pursuing sound, conservative policies" up until the election at which point he seems to have abruptly turned into some kind of unrecognizable Mr. Hyde, who "cared only about one thing: himself. Country and principle took second place." Barr goes on to write that "after the election he was beyond restraint. He would only listen to a few sycophants who told him what he wanted to hear. Reasoning with him was hopeless."

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It's remotely possible that Barr did not remember that Trump had said back in 2016 that he would only accept the results of the election if he won? But he knows very well that Trump was telegraphing his plan to contest the election in 2020 if he did not win --- he was helping him set it up. He personally cast doubts on the mail-in ballots, inanely suggesting that they were subject to foreign interference. Trump had been hedging his bets for months, suggesting it was rigged long before any votes were cast.

It's tempting to see this book as Barr's attempt at redemption but it really doesn't come off that way. Barr truly believes he has had a stellar career, topped off by his exemplary service to the nation as the Attorney General who acted with integrity when the president suffered a breakdown and refused to accept his loss. He describes Trump at that moment as "out of touch with reality." I would suggest Trump isn't the only one.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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