Barr compared career attorneys who don't want him intervening in Trump's cases to 'preschoolers.'
Attorney General William Barr gave a speech Wednesday night at conservative Hillsdale College in which he admitted that he and senior Justice Department officials "are indeed political" and that the lower-level career attorneys who have been uncomfortable with him intervening in cases to benefit Trump are fit for "a Montessori preschool" but not for the DOJ.
"The men and women who have ultimate authority in the Justice Department are thus the ones on whom our elected officials have conferred that responsibility — by presidential appointment and Senate confirmation. That blessing by the two political branches of government gives these officials democratic legitimacy that career officials simply do not possess," he said.
He added, " ... In short, the attorney general, senior DOJ officials, and U.S. attorneys are indeed political. But they are political in a good and necessary sense."
Barr also chastised FBI agents, some of whom Trump has targeted for their involvement in investigating both himself and his political allies. "These people are agents of the attorney general ... whose agents do you think you are?" according to Washington Post reporter Matt Zapotosky.
Barr has been criticized repeatedly, both by scores of former intelligence and justice officials and his own prosecutors for stepping in to aid Trump in cases involving Trump's allies. As NPR notes, some of Barr's employees have even testified to Congress about issues with political interference at the department.
Barr was especially critical of his prosecutors.
"Name one successful organization where the lowest level employees' decisions are deemed sacrosanct. There aren’t any," he said. "Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it's no way to run a federal agency. Good leaders at the Justice Department — as at any organization — need to trust and support their subordinates. But that does not mean blindly deferring to whatever those subordinates want to do."
On Thursday, in a congressional hearing about possible threats to the United States, FBI Director Christopher Wray pushed back on Barr's comments.
Barr's speech came the same day the Wall Street Journal reported that Barr wanted to employ a rarely used sedition law to charge protesters involved in nationwide unrest over incidents of police brutality, and even contemplated charging the Seattle mayor for letting a police-free zone be set up in her city.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan responded to that report, saying in a statement that Barr's actions are "chilling and the latest abuse of power from the Trump administration."
"This is not a story about me," Durkan said. "It’s about the how this president and his attorney general are willing to subvert the law and use the DOJ for political purposes."
Barr has intervened a number times in DOJ matters on behalf of Trump, angering career prosecutors.
In April 2019, Barr — who months earlier had questioned the legitimacy of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation in a lengthy, unsolicited memo to the Justice Department — lied about Mueller's findings in the nearly two-year-long probe, prior to Mueller's final report being released to the public. The move was seen as an early effort to get good headlines for Trump, whose campaign ties to Russia were outlined in the report, and who the report claimed may have been involved in at least 10 possible instances of obstruction, discovered during the course of the investigation.
Barr also personally intervened in two high-profile prosecutions of Trump allies.
Barr also involved himself in DOJ matters to drop charges against former Trump aide Michael Flynn, even though Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December 2017. That case is now tied up in the courts, as Justice officials work to get it thrown out.
Meanwhile, Barr is currently overseeing a politically motivated investigation into the origins Russia investigation to try to prove Trump's false accusation that former President Barack Obama's administration "spied" on his campaign.
One of the attorneys on the investigation resigned earlier this month over fears Barr is rushing it to be released before the election to try to hurt Trump's rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.