Bill Barr turned on Trump after he bungled 'his vision of an autocratic president': ex-Reagan official
Bill Barr (Photo via AFP)

One of the most dramatic defections from former President Donald Trump's inner circle in the final days of his presidency was Attorney General William Barr.

A longtime Trump loyalist whose time controlling the Justice Department was marked by unswerving partisan loyalty to the then-president, including efforts to bury the Russia investigation, investigate those who had investigated Trump, and push a sweeping ideology that the president has virtually unchecked power, Barr suddenly and dramatically seemed to have a change of heart as Trump pushed to overturn the election.

He now routinely criticizes his former boss and those allied with him, calling one of Trump's favorite voter fraud conspiracies "bullsh*t" and even warning Fox News viewers that Trump's Mar-a-Lago classified document stash could be a "serious abuse" of power.

But Barr didn't turn on Trump because he saw the light, argued former Reagan-era DOJ official Donald Ayer for The Atlantic. On the contrary, Barr is the same ideologue for authoritarian presidential power he always was — he just believes Trump is no longer of any use to his ideology.

"Credit for moving the public discussion closer to reality is one thing, but no one should think that Barr is having second thoughts about the awful things he did in office," wrote Ayer. "To the contrary, Barr’s recent trashing of Trump in a manner likely to greatly impair his presidential prospects makes perfect sense when one understands the driving convictions and objectives that have guided him throughout his adult life."

"For all of Barr’s abuses of authority in an effort to keep Trump in office, it became clear to Barr by early December 2020, when zero evidence of serious fraud could be found, that Trump had run out his string. So Barr resigned," wrote Ayer. "Since then, Trump has made things infinitely worse for himself, by engaging in a conspiracy to overturn the election by deception and violence, which culminated in the events of January 6, 2021. Were that not enough, the saga of the Mar-a-Lago documents reveals beyond doubt that Trump illegally retained, and apparently actively resisted returning, a very large number of highly classified documents, with who knows what grave consequences for national security."

In other words, wrote Ayer, it's not that Barr wasn't willing to abuse state power and undermine democracy — after all, he did those things often while Trump was actually running in 2020. It's that he realized Trump was too incompetent to actually carry out his vision — and that the GOP has to replace him with a more capable authoritarian in order to advance his cause.

"Barr has realized that Trump, far from being the indispensable person for the realization of his vision of an autocratic president, has become perhaps the greatest obstacle to its achievement," concluded Ayer. "In a party where Barr’s bizarre ideal of an unfettered president holds tremendous sway, Trump can’t win in the general election, and if nominated he would likely take the banner of autocracy down with him. Barr feels the need to remove Trump from serious consideration so that another standard-bearer for that cause can pick up where Trump left off. Who knows? Perhaps Barr can come back for a third turn as attorney general to finish the job."

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