(Reuters) – William Barr did not want the job.
“I had no desire to go into the Trump administration,” Barr, 71, wrote in his new memoir, “One Damn Thing After Another,” adding that “from my point of view, it didn’t matter. any sense”.
He wasn’t wrong.
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After all, he had already been Attorney General once, serving from 1991 to 1993 under President George HW Bush, whom he clearly admired and respected.
In contrast, Barr described Donald Trump as “often rude, pompous and petulant” with a penchant for “erratic selfishness” as well as “pettiness and pointless meanness”. In sum, he wrote, Trump was “not my idea of a president.”
Nor was the prospect of future monetary opportunities a draw. Barr was already rich from a 14-year tenure as general counsel for Verizon Communications and its predecessor GTE and happily performed “a limited amount of high-end legal advice” as an attorney at Kirkland & Ellis.
In addition, he wanted to spend time with his family. One of his three daughters recently battled cancer and he has five grandchildren. His wife, who is not a Trump fan, “didn’t even want me to consider returning to government,” Barr wrote. “Any sacrifice you make will be wasted on this man,” she told him.
This all points to something I’ve long wondered: why did he say yes?
Was it worth giving up his stature as a respected former bar statesman for a job that made him reviled by the left and, ultimately, by Trump and many of his supporters as well? (In a letter last week to NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump called Barr “so lazy and cowardly” and a “big disappointment” among a long list of insults.
Barr’s book does not provide a direct answer. He proudly points to what he sees as his accomplishments as Attorney General, such as battling drug cartels and mounting Big Tech antitrust challenges, including a lawsuit against Google targeting its allegedly illegal market monopolies. search and search advertising.
Other passages, however, are tinged with such bitterness that he seems to regret never having returned to government service, which he compared to “that nightmare you find yourself in in a math class at high school, only it was real”.
Barr’s editor, William Morrow/HarperCollins, did not respond to my request to interview the former AG.
Trump’s media relations office also did not respond to a request for comment. However, the ex-president in his letter to Holt wrote that if Barr’s book “is like him, it will be long, slow and very boring”.
In his memoir, Barr described a fateful meeting with then-incumbent White House counsel Emmet Flood in a small conference room away from Kirkland & Ellis in November 2018 to discuss becoming attorney general.
That Barr was in the running was no surprise. He was eminently qualified, of course, but there was more.
Earlier that year, he wrote an unsolicited 19-page memo about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Barr argued that the obstruction theory Mueller’s justice was “fatally flawed” and “based on a novel and legally untenable reading of the law”.
Barr in his book downplayed the memo, which he said came after a conversation with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein over a “casual lunch” in March 2018.
“The issues were complicated enough that I thought it would be helpful to prepare a written analysis of my concerns,” Barr wrote, as if drafting a 19-page legal memo after lunch was like sending a lengthy memo to thanks.
Still, Barr said he told Flood he wasn’t interested in the job. “It was well known to lawyers that Trump was difficult to deal with. Getting him to accept good advice was like wrestling an alligator,” Barr wrote (because hindsight is 20-20).
He was also pushed back by Trump’s attacks on outgoing attorney Don McGahn and Chief of Staff General John Kelly, which Barr called “bush league behavior.” Serving under someone like that was not my idea of a professional opportunity.
Instead, he said he suggested other candidates, including former attorney general Michael Mukasey, former appeals judge J. Michael Luttig, former assistant attorneys general George Terwilliger, Larry Thompson and Mark Filip and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Despite his stated reluctance, Barr ultimately accepted the nomination. In part, he seems to have been won over by flattering encouragement from “former government colleagues, some senators, business people,” he writes.
Their message: The country “was in a potential crisis and needed experienced people to move forward”.
Indeed, Barr suggested he saw himself as one of the adults in the room, keeping Trump from going off the rails. “It’s an underrated virtue of our system that presidents who get elected by stoking the electorate’s anger must then find experienced, calmer advisers to help them govern,” Barr wrote.
After Trump lost the 2020 election — and Barr makes it clear he found no basis to believe the election was fraudulently “stolen” from the president — it became untenable. Or as Barr told a seething Trump, the president’s legal team “keeps shoveling this crap at the American people. And it’s wrong.”
Yet in a lengthy rant, Barr also made it clear that he was staying in tune with Trump and his supporters on a fundamental level: blaming progressive liberal elites for “throwing a wrecking ball into the country” with their “shrilly bashing of America and contemptuous”. attacks on traditional values.
Barr writes that he “is under no illusions about who is responsible for dividing the country, souring our politics, and weakening and demoralizing our nation. It is the progressive left and its increasingly totalitarian ideals.
He is almost as hostile to the mainstream news media, which he accuses of “producing consensus left-liberal opinion under the guise of objective ‘news'”. (He fails to acknowledge that Fox News could also be anything less than objective.)
In the end, his estrangement with Trump seems more personal than ideological. It’s telling, because as noted in his memoir, one of Barr’s greatest strengths throughout his career has been building personal relationships.
He had no family ties – his father taught English at Columbia University – nor did he go to a particularly prestigious law school. Barr earned his JD as a night student at George Washington University Law School while working as an analyst at the CIA, where he first met Bush.
His skills in making connections and cultivating friendships were essential in reaching the heights of the legal profession. And indeed, Barr in his book goes out of his way to praise by name not only his fellow lawyers, but also the support staff and members of his security department.
This makes his contempt for Trump all the more striking. Nevertheless, this is the relationship he will most likely remember.
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