Barr taints justice for Trump

Attorney General William P. Barr’s “slavish obedience” to President Donald Trump, including attacking the validity of millions of absentee ballots now being cast in the 2020 general election, prompted a federal prosecutor, Phillip Halpern, to publicly resign on October 14.

Halpern is the third Department of Justice employee to publicly criticize Barr.

“This career bureaucrat [Barr] seems determined to turn our democracy into an autocracy,” wrote Halpern in a San Diego Union-Tribune column. “There is no other honest explanation for Barr’s parroting of the president’s wild and unsupported conspiracy theories regarding mail-in ballots (which have been contradicted by the president’s handpicked FBI director).”

Halpern and the two other prosecutors, one in Seattle and one in Boston, broke with a longstanding practice by Justice Department lawyers not to publicly discuss internal affairs.

Michael Dion, wrote a letter to The Seattle Times that said Barr had turned the Justice Department “into a shield to protect the president and his henchmen.”

“Barr does these things because his goal is to protect his master, rather than the American people,” Dion wrote.

“William Barr has done the president’s bidding at every turn,”

“For 30 years I have been proud to say I work for the Department of Justice, but the current attorney general has brought shame on the department he purports to lead.” https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/09/24/opinion/barr-dishonors-justice-department/

“I have never seen sitting prosecutors go on the record with concerns about the attorney general,” said Paul Butler, a professor at Georgetown Law who served as a federal prosecutor during Mr. Barr’s earlier tour as attorney general in the George Bush administration. “This is unprecedented.”

Halpern said he would have quit earlier but stayed on because he worried that Barr might have interfered in the prosecution of former Representative Duncan D. Hunter, Republican of California, a Republican who pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to steal campaign funds.

Halpern’s resignation as an assistant U.S. attorney after 36 years at the Department of Justice (DOJ) raises the question of what a politicized DOJ could do to assist Trump’s re-election.

For decades, federal prosecutors have been told not to mount election fraud investigations in the final months before an election for fear they could depress voter turnout or erode confidence in the results. Now, the Justice Department has lifted that prohibition weeks before the presidential election.

The move comes as Trump and Barr have promoted a false narrative that voter fraud is rampant, potentially undermining Americans’ faith in the election.

A Justice Department lawyer in Washington said in a memo to prosecutors on Friday that they could investigate suspicions of election fraud before votes are tabulated.

That reversed a decades-long policy that prohibited inquiries during campaigns from becoming public and possibly “chilling legitimate voting and campaign activities” or “interjecting the investigation itself as an issue” for voters.

The memo creates “an exception to the general non-interference with elections policy” for suspicions of election fraud, particularly misconduct by federal government workers, including postal workers or military employees; both groups transport mail-in ballots.

The exception allows investigators to take overt investigative steps, like questioning witnesses, that were previously off limits in such inquiries until after election results were certified.

Wendy R. Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said she did not believe the justification for altering the policy had merit.

“If they want to deter misconduct that they’re worried about, they can remind people of the law and announce that they’re going to prosecute any violators to the fullest extent of the law,” Weiser said. “That does not require an exception to this longstanding and sensible policy.”

Here’s what Halpern published in the San Diego Union-Tribune:

After 36 years, I’m fleeing what was the U.S. Department of Justice — where I proudly served 19 different attorneys general and six different presidents. For the last three-plus decades, I have respected our leadership regardless of whether we were led by a Republican or a Democrat. I always believed the department’s past leaders were dedicated to the rule of law and the guiding principle that justice is blind. That is a bygone era, but it should not be forgotten.

Maybe I should’ve seen this coming, but like many of my colleagues, I fervently hoped that Attorney General William Barr’s preemptive misrepresentation of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report was an honest mistake or a solitary misstep — rather than a deliberate attempt to conceal potential presidential misconduct.

After all, Barr has never actually investigated, charged or tried a case. He’s a well-trained bureaucrat but has no actual experience as a prosecutor.

Unfortunately, over the last year, Barr’s resentment toward rule-of-law prosecutors became increasingly difficult to ignore, as did his slavish obedience to Donald Trump’s will in his selective meddling with the criminal justice system in the Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Roger Stone cases. In each of these cases, Barr overruled career prosecutors in order to assist the president’s associates and/or friends, who potentially harbor incriminating information. This career bureaucrat seems determined to turn our democracy into an autocracy.

There is no other honest explanation for Barr’s parroting of the president’s wild and unsupported conspiracy theories regarding mail-in ballots (which have been contradicted by the president’s handpicked FBI director) and his support for the president’s sacking of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office used the thinnest of veils to postpone charging the president in a criminal investigation along with Michael Cohen (who pled guilty and directly implicated the president). It took federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein to stop Barr’s unprecedented “retaliatory” demands to silence the president’s former lawyer as a condition for staying out of jail.

Similarly, federal Judge Reggie Walton sharply criticized Barr for a “lack of candor” and federal Judge Emmet G. Sullivan at least temporarily stopped Barr from dismissing all charges against Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, who admitted lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador. Rather than representing the interests of the American public, Barr chooses to act as Trump’s lap dog.

More recently, Barr directed federal officers to use tear gas in Lafayette Park to quell what were, at that time, peaceful protesters. Barr’s assertion the square was not cleared due to the president’s desire for a Bible-carrying photo op is laughable. It is certainly a case that Barr would lose before a jury (again, though, this may not be clear to him due to his unfamiliarity with jury trials).

Barr also turned his back on the rule of law by supporting the president’s selective use of federal troops to assault citizens protesting the killing of George Floyd in Portland, Oregon. Yet he stood silently by when armed right-wing protesters stormed the Michigan state Capitol building to protest the Democratic governor’s public health orders.

Barr’s longest-running politicization of the Justice Department is the Durham investigation — a quixotic pursuit designed to attack the president’s political rivals. Confirming his scorn for honest apolitical prosecutors, Barr refers to some as “headhunters” who pursue “ill-conceived charges against prominent political figures.” It does not appear to be a coincidence that all of these prominent political figures happen to be friends of the president. However, if I’m a headhunter because I charged and convicted disgraced local House members Duncan D. Hunter and Randy “Duke” Cunningham, so be it. It’s a badge that I will wear with honor.

I remained in government service this past year at least partly because I was concerned that the department would interfere with the Hunter prosecution in my absence. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues without such a rationale appear to have started abandoning Barr’s ship. Equally troubling, highly qualified lawyers appear to be unwilling to apply to be federal prosecutors while Barr remains at the helm. Yet, as I leave government service, I take great comfort in the fact that the career people who remain in the Department of Justice are firmly committed to the rule of law, and are some of the most dedicated, ethical and industrious individuals we have in government. At times like these, I take heart in knowing that they are all committed to preserving and rebuilding the Department of Justice that I was privileged to serve.

Halpern was an assistant U.S. attorney for 36 years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.


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