On Saturday, writing for Politico, Brennan Center for Justice fellow Victoria Bassetti and former House impeachment counsel Norm Eisen laid out the necessary steps to fix the problems at the Justice Department in the wake of Attorney General William Barr’s political rampages.
“Barr’s testimony demonstrated a singular blend of real pugnacity and feigned world-weariness as he defended his 18 months in office,” wrote Bassetti and Eisen. “Barr has tried to muzzle Trump’s critics, protect his friends, hide information from Congress and investigate those who investigated the president. He has also — much like [Roy] Cohn and [Michael] Cohen — worked as a PR agent, spinning negative information in Trump’s favor, and even using federal agents to violently clear a path through protesters before a presidential photo op.”
As a consequence of this, they wrote, “the Department of Justice is going to have to come to a larger reckoning at some point, instituting or welcoming stronger safeguards against manipulation and misuse and shoring up ethical standards.”
One step, they wrote, is to make the Office of Legal Counsel — which has spent the Trump years writing partisan memos to bolster the president’s legal position — truly independent. Another is to give more authority to the DOJ inspector general to investigate misconduct by the attorney general, which they note is “backed by several Republican senators,” and to make the department’s ethics recommendations — like their basis for recommending various officials recuse from certain cases — more transparent. Yet another is to increase congressional oversight and improve the process for confirming departmental nominees.
“In the case of Barr, Trump’s instinct for finding fixers has served his agenda well,” concluded Bassetti and Eisen. “But it has devastated the once-proud Department of Justice. Restoring the department’s reputation will take sustained work long after Barr departs and Trump is once more cruising the back streets of the Tri-State area for representation.”
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