From villain to hero.
Democrats once accused former Attorney General William Barr of lying to Congress and covering up Donald Trump’s corruption. They said he was more interested in serving as the ex-President’s attorney than the nation’s independent top law officer separated from the White House by an invisible wall.
But it is a mark of the extreme choices Trump forces upon those who served him that the ultraconservative career lawyer now finds himself on the same side as his liberal onetime accusers in defending America’s democracy.
With his salty dismissals of the former President’s election fraud lies as “bullshit,” “crazy,” “amateurish” and “total nonsense,” Barr has turned into Trump’s nemesis with his taped testimony to the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.
His gruff bluntness is not just dismembering the ex-President’s fantastical claims that he won the 2020 election. It’s also hacking away at the entire false premise of Trump’s nascent 2024 campaign: that he was cheated out of power and deserves to get his job back.
Should Trump nevertheless win that election, it’s a safe bet that he won’t be calling again on an attorney general who effectively self-selected himself for the job with a withering critique of then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
And Trump has amended his assessment delivered after Barr tormented Democrats in a fiery hearing in May 2019: “He’s an outstanding man. He’s an outstanding legal mind.”
In a post on his inaptly named Truth Social network on Monday, the ex-President claimed Barr lacked the “courage or stamina to go after voter fraud.” As Barr testified to the committee, there was never any evidence of significant fraud.
Trump was ‘detached from reality’
Barr’s second tenure as attorney general — reprising a role he once served for that most conventional of Republican presidents, George H.W. Bush — risked going down in history as that of an enabler of an often-lawless inhabitant of the Oval Office. That perhaps hints at his motivation, at the end of a long Washington career, for trashing Trump’s fraud fantasies under oath to the committee — and apparent relish in doing so.
He has quickly emerged as the most critical witness in televised hearings as the panel makes a case that Trump knew his election lies were false but used them to incite an unprecedented coup to try to stay in power.
After a small part at the first prime-time hearing on Thursday, the former attorney general and his recorded testimony were the star turn on Monday, and he’ll likely be featured later this week when the panel turns to the question of how Trump tried to pressure Justice Department officials to overturn the election.
In video excerpts from the testimony played at Monday’s hearing, Barr painted a graphic picture of a President who had lost the plot — choosing to accept the conspiratorial, evidence-free nonsense about fraud from an allegedly inebriated acolyte like Rudy Giuliani rather than officials who looked into his claims and rejected them.
Like several other former members of the Trump orbit, Barr seemed to be trying to entrench his role for posterity as part of “Team Normal,” as ex-campaign manager Bill Stepien put it in his own recorded testimony. Barr told how he had decided to leave his post early after Trump stopped listening to sense in his final days in office.
“I thought, ‘Boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has lost contact with — he’s become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff,’ ” he testified.
Watching Barr testify behind closed doors, the committee staff must have believed they hit the jackpot in their attempt to lay the blame for the insurrection squarely in the hands of the former President.
That’s because Barr’s frequent role as a shill for an unrestrained President now makes him all the more credible as a witness who can deal a damning blow to Trump. It’s unclear, of course, whether his testimony will have much political impact, especially after he stood by Trump and his questioning of the election system for so long. Millions of Trump supporters long ago accepted the former President’s lies about election fraud, and conservative media and the House GOP have set about discrediting the committee hearings. But a figure as conservative and formerly loyal to Trump as Barr may have at least some resonance among those who liked Trump’s policies but abhorred his behavior.