Las Vegas Sun

June 26, 2019

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Sun editorial:

Attorney general’s search for a thumb on the scale ends at his own hand

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Evan Vucci / AP

President Donald Trump talks with Attorney General William Barr during the 38th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in Washington.

With his vow to determine whether federal law enforcement personnel “put their thumb on the scale,” Attorney General William Barr sent a couple of unmistakable messages to the American people he’s supposed to be serving.

One, he thinks they’re dumb enough not to believe their own eyes. Two, they don’t matter to him — he’s focused on one person only, and that’s President Donald Trump.

Oh, there’s a thumb on the scale, all right. It’s Barr’s, and he’s been pressing down with all of his considerable weight to help Trump conceal his actions and duck accountability.

He’s fighting against testifying in Congress to the point of exposing himself to a possible contempt charge. He’s aiding the White House’s efforts to shield the unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He went all-in for Trump with his sanitized and misleading four-page summary of the report. He’s become such a disciple for Trump’s political agenda that he uses the president’s language and adopted pages from his playbook, like appearing on Fox News but avoiding other media.

“In Barr, Trump has found his champion and advocate,” read the headline of an Associated Press analysis piece from this past weekend.

Quite accurate. But it’s not good at all.

It would be one thing if the role of the attorney general were to serve as the president’s personal lawyer.

It’s not. The AG is supposed to serve all Americans, not just the one who happens to be occupying the Oval Office.

Yes, the AG is a member of the president’s Cabinet, but his or her primary responsibility is to enforce the nation’s laws and help maintain the justice system’s integrity. It’s a balancing act.

But Barr has repeatedly proven that he’s tilting the Justice Department in favor of the president, not the American people.

He’s merely become one of the many bobblehead drones in Trump’s administration, who carry out the president’s whims without question regardless of their consequences.

Barr’s “thumb” comment was like a sleight-of-hand move from a third-rate magic show, aimed at diverting the audience’s attention away from his own actions.

If there had been a “thumb on the scale” against Trump during the early goings of the investigation, then why would former FBI Director James Comey have announced the reopening of the Clinton email investigation days before the election — and, let’s recall, right after Trump imploded in his disastrous final debate with Clinton? If anybody was being disadvantaged as part of some government operation, it was Clinton.

But in any event, Barr is doing exactly what he putatively decries by going all-in for Trump.

He’s shown that he’s not about to follow the example of his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, by letting little things like integrity, morality and sense of duty cloud his thinking. Sessions balanced his responsibility to the American people by recusing himself from the Mueller investigation, and look where it got him.

Barr, on the other hand, seems to seek Trump’s approval like a hunting dog seeks pats on the head. He hit the ground running by not only defending Trump’s outrageous emergency declaration for border wall funding but by publicly supporting it, and he’s been at it ever since.

Now, he’s reached out to a number of officials — CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and at least one U.S. attorney — to lay the groundwork for his investigation into whether “spying” was going on during the early goings of the Russia probe.

Apparently, his campaign for Trump’s affection has paid off. The AP reported that Trump has told “close confidants that he ‘finally’ had ‘my attorney general.’ ”

“My” attorney general. That characterization would be highly disturbing regardless of whether it were made by a Republican or Democratic president.

But coming from a would-be autocrat who has displayed contempt for the oversight powers of Congress and the courts, it’s an especially bright red flag.

This attorney general must be watched very closely.