The big loser from Robert Mueller's statement yesterday about the Trump-Russia investigation appears to be Attorney General William Barr, The special counsel, in announcing his resignation and closing his office, made it clear Barr lied to the public in summaries of the Mueller Report -- and absolved Donald Trump on obstruction of justice in a way that was not supported by the evidence.
Even right-wing Fox News blasted Barr in the wake of Mueller's statements. And Andrew Kreig, of the Justice Integrity Project, has a timely and insightful piece that shows, in many respects, history is repeating itself as Barr acts as a protector and fixer for Trump. From the Kreig piece, titled "Trump Found His Roy Cohn In Deep State Fixer Bill Barr":
In protecting President Trump, Attorney General William Barr is meeting the president’s demand for a loyal legal fixer in the radical right mold of the canny, connected and immoral Roy Cohn.
That is the not-so-hidden backstory of the radical gutting of American constitutional government now under way to expand and cover up Team Trump's corruption.
The synergy between Barr's ugly past as a CIA-trained strategist implicated in massive drug, arms and financial crime cover-ups decades ago makes his current alliance with Trump far more dangerous for United States democracy than Cohn's long-ago relationships with the big-talking hotelier Trump of the early 1980s, or even with Cohn's own 1950s mentor, the red-baiting Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy.
Some see Barr as a conservative "institutionalist" committed to a "rule of law" at the Justice Department. Others increasingly regard him as the president's puppet and defender against other law enforcers. We argue in this column that his track record shows a pattern of cynical manipulation of law and rhetoric to enhance the power of the already powerful.
Many of today's Trump-related headlines, Kreig reports, have their roots in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s:
We must note at the outset the shocking failure of society's watchdogs during recent years to refresh public recollection about Iran-Contra.
That's especially harmful when so many of the malefactors are still prominent. These include Barr, the recent National Rifle Association President Oliver North and Presidential Special Envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams.
Barr, who was U.S. attorney general from 1991 to 1993 as he protected President George H.W. Bush from corruption investigations, had sought the Trump post with a unsolicited 19-page memo to the Justice Department last year arguing for expanded presidential immunities.
Not surprisingly, the embattled Trump then chose Barr to replace Trump's first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who had angered the president by failing to protect him from the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller into claims of 2016 Trump presidential campaign wrongdoing and cover up.
Barr went on to lie at news conferences in spinning his redacted version of Mueller's 448-page report before anyone in Congress or the public could see it.
Trump's move last week to give Barr unprecedented power to declassify U.S. intelligence -- in an apparent effort to show the Trump campaign was the victim of unlawful spying in 2016 -- is particularly troubling, Kreig writes:
Trump's designation of new powers for Barr is an invitation for Team Trump to cherry pick information to argue that Trump is the victim of "spying" and other unfair practices during the 2016 campaign. Scant rebuttal is possible because Team Trump controls much of the classified documentation and has vowed minimal cooperation with Congress or other oversight bodies.
The rest of the public can safely assume -- based on past practices and the indictment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on May 23 on spy charges for releasing classified documents -- that Team Trump will try to use Barr to thwart independent investigations of the classified materials at issue.
As Barr seems to morph into a modern-day Roy Cohn, it raises this question: Just how seedy was Roy Cohn? Kreig provides plenty of insight:
Cohn became prominent as a federal prosecutor in the early 1950s and then as Sen. McCarthy's chief counsel from 1953-54 as the senator crusaded against supposed Communist and other leftist threats against major U.S. institutions, including the Army, State Department and Hollywood. The blustering McCarthy and his aide Cohn intimidated officials in Washington by inflaming right-wing anger until the Senate censured the hard-drinking McCarthy. He died soon afterward as a lonely, forlorn figure, according to his friend, the liberal Washington Merry-Go-Round columnist Jack Anderson.
As for Cohn, his legal brilliance, ruthless tactics and diverse alliances enabled him to work in private practice as a radical right political operative with such ostensibly different institutions as FBI leaders, organized crime, the Catholic Church and big business.
|Roy Cohn and Donald Trump|
Among other notable Cohn clients were media mogul Rupert Murdoch, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and GOP political operative Roger Stone, who became a close friend of both Cohn and Trump.
Cohn also represented Donald Trump and his father Fred Trump. Trump credited Cohn with teaching him to litigate fiercely and exhaust the resources of opponents, even including the federal government on occasion, by increasing pain for them in any way possible. . . .
Cohn, who was ultra-right wing politically, was also a closeted but active homosexual, according to widespread reporting through the decades that illustrates his hypocrisy. Cohn had also been disbarred for fraud at the end of his career despite his legendary legal ability and high-level connections, including representation of seemingly eminent officials and institutions, including church leaders.
Why is the current investigative focus on Trump's finances? It involves his long-time ties to organized crime, including unsavory characters like Roy Cohn:
Money-laundering is a key skill for all major crime operations because the money has to re-enter the financial system without triggering scrutiny. Condos and casinos are especially popular as conduits.
This helps explain much of the current investigative focus on Trump's financial records as well as his mob connections regarded as relevant to Trump's construction projects, casino gambling and colossal bankruptcies. Major biographies focused on such topics include Trump by Wayne Barrett (1992), TrumpNation by Timothy O'Brien (2005); The Truth About Trump by Michael D'Antonio (2015); and The Making of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston (2016), fleshed out by innumerable investigative and tabloid reports. Russian, Asian and European mobsters would replace the Italian-American hoodlums in Trump's orbit during more recent decades . . .
How do the careers of Roy Cohn and William Barr intersect? Writes Kreig:
One common denominator for those that Barr and Cohn have defended is, of course, the sinister business and crimes of Donald J. Trump.
More generally, both Barr and Cohn have extensive track records in hiding such crimes as massive money-laundering and tax fraud, which typically (and we can strongly suspect in Trump's situation also) involve income derived from foreign-born mobsters and their dope dealing, arms smuggling, massive financial frauds and corrupt relationships with high-ranking officials. . . .
Mob assistance to the CIA for repeated assassination attempts against Cuba's leader Fidel Castro would inevitably require the assistance of fixers both in the private sector and in government. The late Air Force Col. Fletcher Prouty, the top Defense Department liaison to the CIA for covert operations, entitled his breakthrough 1973 memoir The Secret Team to show how what he called "The High Cabal" of U.S. and U.K. oligarchs deploy operatives widely and covertly to manage events and information flow.
Roy Cohn and Bill Barr are part of this tradition. A distress signal is surely warranted at this point.