Who Is?
S4 E14

Who Is William Barr? Narrated by Jamie Lee

William Barr is the top law enforcement official of our country, he plays the bagpipes, he thinks Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, and he believes the Mueller report—which specifically said did not exonerate the president—exonerated the president.
William Pelham Barr was born in 1950 in New York City to a mother and father who both taught at Columbia University on the Upper West Side, the same school Barr graduated from in 1973, with a masters degree in government and Chinese studies.
After graduating, Barr worked in the Chinese unit for the CIA by day and attended classes at the George Washington University’s law school by night. He graduated in 1977 and left the agency for a clerkship with a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In the early eighties, Barr served on the domestic policy staff in the Reagan administration before being tapped by George H.W. Bush to Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel. It was in this post that Barr exercised his “summarize-and-redact-muscle,” the same muscle he’d go on to use for “Home Alone 2” cameo star, Donald J. Trump.
Under George H.W. Bush, Barr wrote and tried to hide a very controversial legal opinion, seemingly suggesting that the U.S. could unilaterally—without the go ahead from international governments—send its FBI agents to overthrow a foreign leader from power. Barr was asked to hand over the legal memo containing the rationale for allowing something like this. He declined and instead offered a 13-page document that summarized “the principal conclusions.” But when Congress eventually obtained the full memo in 1991, it was discovered that his summary left out some of the conclusions in the full memo, which is bad. Ryan Goodman, a former Defense Department special counsel, wrote that Barr’s summary ”omitted some of the most consequential and incendiary conclusions from the actual opinion. And there was evidently no justifiable reason for having withheld those parts from Congress or the public.”
The Reagan and Bush administrations were also accused of funneling billions of dollars in loans to Sadam Hussein, in what was termed “Iraq-Gate.” Barr was accused of protecting the president by refusing a congressional request to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the matter. Reports at the time paint a harrowing image of Barr. The New York Times columnist William Safire called Barr “the Coverup-General.”
In 2017, Barr wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post titled “Trump Made The Right Call On Comey.” Barr also reportedly believed that there was more reason to investigate Hillary Clinton than the guy he wanted a job from. In June 2018, as if Barr didn’t already have the gig, he sent an unsolicited memo to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein In the memo, called “Mueller’s ‘Obstruction’ Theory,” Barr—in 19 pages—basically laid the groundwork for the argument that Mueller might be investigating a made up a crime.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller handed his report over to Barr in March 2019 after a nearly 2-year investigation surrounding Russia’s election interference and whether it colluded with Donald Trump. Eight Americans once affiliated with the Trump campaign or administration, 25 Russians, three Russian companies, and two others were charged in the investigation. Just two days after Mueller turned in his more than 400-page report, it was reduced to just four pages of Barr’s famous “principal conclusions.”
After Barr released his four-page summary of Mueller’s findings, Mueller wrote him a letter, expressing concern that Barr had mischaracterized his report, because Barr was totally that kid in class who lied about reading the book. And Mueller went further when he spoke to the public for the first time after roughly two years of silence. Barr seemingly believed, because Mueller didn’t charge Trump with obstruction, the president was exonerated. But really, under the Justice Department rules, you cannot indict a sitting president. It has to go to Congress.
The special counsel investigation reported 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice involving the president, including Trump’s failed attempt to fire Mueller. And in so many words, Mueller hinted at the possibility of an impeachment inquiry by Congress stating, “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
While Barr’s days of protecting past, current, and possibly future presidents seem to be far from over, one thing’s for certain: No one, not Barr, or the President of the United States is above the law. We think.