Thursday, May 30, 2019

In the wake of Robert Mueller statement, AG William Barr takes a beating in the press -- even from Fox News -- as he fills the shoes of former Trump fixer Roy Cohn

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
Cohn . . .  was a member of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society [and] represented three of New York City's most powerful Mafia families. . . . This editor reported on the mob during this era and once interviewed Cohn regarding his representation of Carmine Galante, then head of the Bonanno Mafia Family.

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.


Anonymous said...

I want to thank Roger Shuler for the excellent summary above of my column and mention also to readers how hard it is for someone to distill an 8,000-word report about shocking abuses in the justice system so well and tie it to breaking news, in this case the Robert Mueller press conference yesterday.

More generally and tragically, this material shows that legal abuses are not simply isolated aberrations of the system. Instead, they have demonstrably occurred -- and continue to occur -- at the very top of the federal justice system and regarding the most important types of issues imaginable. A subtext to the history of the Barr cover-ups from the Iran-Contra era involves, for example, the extensive dope and gun-running through the Arkansas Ozarks, with resulting increase in American drug populations as well as vast sums skimmed off to fund corrupt politicians and their organizations.

This is the kind of news that Legal Schnauzer brought readers through the talents of its editor and I'm proud that he chose to excerpt my research for his loyal following here.

Anonymous said...

Roy Cohn must have been one of Karl Rove's heroes.

legalschnauzer said...

Here is a piece from New York Magazine, calling for the impeachment of William Barr:

House Democrats are going to face a difficult decision about launching an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Balanced against the president’s impressive array of misconduct is the fact that several more criminal investigations that may add to the indictment are already underway, and that impeaching the president might jeopardize the reelection of red-state Democratic members. But in the meantime, Attorney General William Barr presents them with a much easier decision. Barr has so thoroughly betrayed the values of his office that voting to impeach and remove him is almost obvious.

legalschnauzer said...

@10:11 --

Thanks for your kind words, Andrew, and your research on a topic that could not be important. As you say, it really is time for a distress signal, and your article provides just what is needed. Now, if Democrats can find a spine, and a few Republicans can find some integrity.

Anonymous said...

Andrew Kreig educated me on how deep this goes, how it's tied to the Bush family and the Reagan admin (even Clinton), how our political arm long has been tied to organized crime. Not sure our democracy can recover from this.

legalschnauzer said...

Here is more from NY Mag:

And while many members of the old Republican political Establishment had recoiled against Trump’s contempt for the rule of law, Barr has shown no signs of having joined them. He met with Trump to discuss serving as his defense lawyer, publicly attacked the Mueller investigation (which risked “taking on the look of an entirely political operation to overthrow the president”), called for more investigations of Hillary Clinton, and circulated a lengthy memo strongly defending Trump against obstruction charges.

The events since Barr’s letter have incinerated whatever remains of his credibility. The famously tight-lipped Mueller team told several news outlets the letter had minimized Trump’s culpability; Barr gave congressional testimony hyping up Trump’s charges of “spying,” even prejudging the outcome of an investigation (“I think there was a failure among a group of leaders [at the FBI] at the upper echelon”); evaded questions as to whether he had shared the Mueller report with the White House; and, it turns out, he’s “had numerous conversations with White House lawyers which aided the president’s legal team,” the New York Times reports. Then he broke precedent by scheduling a press conference to spin the report in advance of its redacted publication.

Anonymous said...

Mueller should have spoken out long before this.

Andrew Kreig said...

The first comment above was from me, not "Anonymous." I didn't "choose the identity" correctly.

Andrew Kreig
Washington, DC

Anonymous said...

It bothers me that Mueller doesn't seem to want to testify before Congress. The American people, through Congress, paid for his investigation. If Congress, on behalf of the American people, wants Mueller to testify, he should show up with bells on -- and it all should be in public.

Anonymous said...

Mueller is off the mark when he says the report speaks for itself. Much of the report has been redacted, so no, it can't speak for itself, not in its entirety. Plus, what about all the background evidence upon which the report is based. Gongress needs to see that, and so does the public.

I detect a tad of arrogance in Mueller's statement, and that bugs me.

Anonymous said...

Iran-Contra connections listed in this report are disturbing. And who was the arms dealer back then who provided/sold the arms-- Adnan Khashoggi, the uncle of Jamal Khashoggi: murdered in a Saudi consulate in Turkey.