One of many valid ways of looking at this evening’s developments is see the opportunity for a fun parlor game: trying to figure out what in the world Bill Barr is doing.
Barr has been acting as Trump’s meat puppet. He has repeatedly lied his ass off in public. And he has either lied under oath to Congress, or gone within about one millimeter of committing perjury in his congressional testimony. What he may have done in private, we don’t know at this point.
One theoretical explanation is that Barr does not know what he is doing and does not grasp the consequences of what he is doing. Despite the news tonight, I believe that explanation is highly implausible. It might apply to fifth-raters like Sarah Sanders or Kellyanne Conway. But Barr’s experience and accomplishments prove he knows how to think ahead three steps in the chess game. Hell, he can probably think ahead twenty-four steps in the chess game.
A second theoretical explanation is that, blinded by the glory of a second gig as Attorney General of the United States, and covetous of the money and career advancement that might come from high government service, Barr has simply sold out. This is unpersuasive. Barr has all the money he will ever need, his resume needs no burnishing, and he risks going down in the history books with the likes of Aaron Burr and John Mitchell. Seeking money and prestige as an explanation for Barr’s bizarre conduct just does not cut the mustard.
A third theoretical explanation is that he has just swallowed the Kook-Aid and joined the Cult of Trump. I regard this as slightly less unlikely than the first or second explanations, but it’s certainly not consistent with his background and associations.
The fourth possibility is that he sought the post of Attorney General so that he could achieve some as-yet-publicly-unidentified goal. That, to keep his position as Attorney General, he has to appear to the world, and appear to Donald Trump, to be Trump’s shameless meat puppet. And that that is exactly the role he is playing—pretty much to the point of parody—in order to keep his job and thus to have some chance to achieve whatever it is he returned to Washington to achieve.
Barr is not stupid. He understands that, to keep your job under Trump, you have to kiss Trump’s ass effusively and you have to kiss your own reputation goodbye. And he has made a clear choice to do just that.
He does not grit his teeth and kiss the ring, like General Mattis and others. Oh, no. He goes into full-throated prevarication and shameless neglect of duties.
I’ll go even a little further. Barr’s act is so comically bad at actually doing anything to protect Trump that it may go beyond parody. It may approach sabotage.