Is He an Actual Toady, or Does He Just Play One on TV?

Generally, it’s a sign of insanity when you see a pattern that has eluded every smart person in the world but yourself. So if you detect a sign of insanity in me, that’s fine. But I still see what I see.

Among the commentariat, the consternation and puzzlement over Barr’s toadying behavior grows from day to day. See supra.

Right now, folks are perseverating, bigly, on how much Barr is going to redact from the Mueller report. The question is important, and the perseveration is understandable.

But as important as the coming redactions may be, of equally great importance is what part of the Mueller report will NOT be redacted. What will we see? And how bad will it be for Trump?

So, here is what I think may have happened. I think Trump got wind of what the redacted Mueller report will look like. I think he threatened to fire Barr’s sorry ass on twitter, and that right speedily, unless Barr would gin up some headlines about the purportedly rotten oranges of the Mueller report. Thus, when the redacted but still bad report comes out, Trump and his minions will be able to jump up and down with distracting claims about rotten oranges.

And I think Barr did what he had to do.

As you know, I also think Barr came back to Washington to do an as yet unidentified Task X. Barr would have known that he had no hope in hell of accomplishing Task X without sticking around for some months. And you cannot stick around Trump for some months without your reputation going to hell.

Sometimes, to get the job done, a good lawyer has to take a bullet.

Strategery

strategery

Incapable of Strategic Thinking

This morning, two Politico writers serve up a lengthy thumb-sucker titled How Trump Conspired with the Freedom Caucus to Shut Down the Government.

If you read it, you will learn nothing that will surprise or shock you. Nevertheless, IMHO, it’s worth a read, just to wallow in the details.

The takeaway is that the President of the United States entirely lacks the mental capacity to engage in strategic thinking.

Think about that.

Think about it really hard.

Can Think Strategically

Also recommended this morning: Sean Wilentz, writing in the The New Yorker, The “Reputational Interests” of William Barr.

Unlike our president, William Barr can, beyond peradventure of doubt, think strategically. In fact, he is probably as incapable of thinking unstrategically as The Donald is lacking in the capacity for strategic thinking.

Please read the Wilentz piece; there’s a lot there, and I won’t try to cherry pick it.

But my takeaway is that Barr is either acting as a shill for The Donald—and an awkward and ineffective shill at that—or he is doing a good job pretending to do so.

As a reality-based thinker, I do my best to follow where the evidence leads me. And I will cheerfully, and without mental reservation, concede that evidence is mounting that Barr is fully on board the Trump train.

Nevertheless, in my view, the evidence at this point is far from conclusive that William Barr—who has spent his career as well-compensated chief towel boy in the plutocratic brothel—is acting straightforwardly and in good faith toward The Donald. Because lots of the plutocrats running the brothel have figured out that The Donald lacks the capacity for strategic thinking—see first recommended article, supra—and is, in consequence, headed straight down the crapper in 2020. I remain of the view that Barr is playing a double game: acting in ways that will simultaneously please The Donald and induce The Donald to act self-destructively, so that he can be replaced with a more malleable useful idiot.

Attorney General Weasel Word

14536155 - long tailed weasel performing a flexible stretch to look behind

William Saletan looks at the Barr letter and calls out ten weasily phrases.

Some of you may think that partisan commentators are just looking for stuff that isn’t really there.

No, ladies and germs, clever, weasily language is what lawyers employ to defend guilty clients.

I know. Been there. Done that.

Let me call your attention in particular to this paragraph from the Saletan post, which addresses much the same issue I wrote about previously:

“Absence of such evidence.” One reason to be suspicious of Barr’s conclusions is that in the course of the letter, he tweaks Mueller’s opinion to look more like his own. Mueller’s report, as excerpted by Barr, says “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.” Barr quotes that line and then, in the same sentence, concludes that “the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction.” But the excerpt from Mueller’s report doesn’t refer to an absence of evidence. It refers to a presence of evidence, and it says this evidence isn’t enough to prove a crime. Throughout the investigation, this has been a standard Republican maneuver: misrepresenting an absence of proof as an absence of evidence. Barr’s use of this maneuver in his letter is a red flag that he’s writing partisan spin.

“Good Morning Mr. President”: A Hypothetical Conversation between Attorney General Barr and The Donald

Barr Adjusts Glaases

This hypothetical presentation is based on the thoughts laid out in the immediately preceding post.

Good morning, Mr. President. I am here to brief you on the Mueller Report and how I intend to handle it.

Before going any further, I want to remind you that you are not my client. My client is the United States of America. But what I have to tell you has grave implications for your own personal interests. Therefore, I urge you to engage qualified personal counsel to advise you on these matters. I will be happy to have a full and candid discussion with your lawyer. I believe that, when all is said and done, your personal lawyer will see your own self-interest the way I see your self-interest. But that is a matter for discussion with him or her.

With that out of the way, Mr. President, I regret to inform you that Mr. Mueller has concluded—and I agree with his conclusions, based on the evidence he has cited—that you have violated the following provisions of the United States Criminal Code. [To be elaborated, though briefly, so that he might possibly understand the presentation.]

Secondly, Mr. President, as you know, it is the policy of the Department of Justice that a sitting president may not be indicted. And it is the policy of the Department of Justice that, where no indictment is brought, prosecutors do not disclose derogatory information about the target of an investigation.

You should know that, as the Attorney General and head of the Justice Department, I have the right to modify those policies, or to authorize an exception to them.

As of this point, it is, however, my intention to adhere to those policies and thus not to disclose to Congress the vast body of evidence pointing toward your commission of a variety of criminal offenses.

But, most importantly, you need to understand—you need to fully grasp—that continued adherence to those policies is not politically or legally sustainable over time. In other words, I can fight a temporary, rearguard action. But in the end, it is overwhelmingly likely that most or all of the evidence cited by Mueller will be made public, one way or another. [Explain as necessary.]

And there is something else of vital importance to your own interests: after you leave office—and however you leave office—you can be prosecuted for committing federal crimes, and you surely will be prosecuted. And, even while you are still president, other jurisdictions, such as New York state, are highly likely to prosecute you for crimes within their jurisdiction.

But the good news, Mr. President, is that right now you have significant leverage that I believe you can successfully use to achieve immunity from any and all criminal prosecution, both for you and your immediate family. That political leverage arises out of the fact that vast numbers of politically influential people—Republican as well as Democrat—would like you to leave office, and to leave office expeditiously.

You have the power to give them what they want in exchange for what you and your family urgently need: immunity from prosecution

If you will agree to negotiate toward that end, then, Mr. President I believe I can work out a deal with all relevant parties that will fully protect you and your family from prosecution for any alleged state or federal crimes that have occurred to date.

Mr. President, you may believe that you can avoid impeachment and achieve reelection, and that by 2025, when you leave office, any criminal exposure will have somehow disappeared. Or you may believe that you can pardon yourself or your family out of this situation.

If such is your belief, and if you plan your affairs based on that belief, then, I am sorry to say, Mr. President, that I will need to seriously consider whether to make an exception to current departmental policy, and to publicly disclose all of the evidence Mueller has found.

But if you work with me toward an immunity agreement, then you and your family can keep your freedom. And you can keep your wealth. And you can very likely keep much of your following—and leverage their trust in you for your future economic gain, throughout the remaining years of your life.

It’s your choice, Mr. President.

Have a nice day. 

No Sport for Dullards

dullard_

Jacqueline Alemany, Power Up: ‘By the Book Bob:’ Prosecutors say Mueller will tightly hug Justice guidelines in report

Ms. Alemany, whoever she may be, gives us what purports to be—and very probably is—a granular look at the problematic procedural issues surrounding the forthcoming Mueller reports. I won’t summarize; if the topic interests you, best read it for yourself. Then, if you are still interested, you may wish to note the following Aardvark observations.

“No Sport for Dullards”

That’s how a law professor of mine described an especially challenging course. And that’s the situation Barr finds himself in, as the new attorney general. Ms. Alemany spells out the balancing judgments Barr will have to make, and the issues he will need to finesse. This is a job for a senior, high powered lawyer. Barr is a senior, high powered lawyer.

Will he do his job in a responsible way? As to all the judgment calls he will need to make, will he in fact exercise good judgment?

Time will tell.

And maybe he will surprise us, by doing the right thing.

It would certainly make a change.

The Presidential Immunity Catch-22

Leakers are leaking that Mueller will abide by Justice Department policy that no matter how many crimes a president may have committed, you can’t prosecute him—at least while he’s still president.*

Meanwhile, there is also a departmental policy—famously violated by Jim Comey in respect of the Clinton email investigation—that if you aren’t going to prosecute, then you don’t publicly disclose derogatory information about the target of your investigation.

And one more thing: it’s pretty much universally understood that, for purposes of impeachment, “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the Constitution calls for a political and moral judgment, not just a narrow criminal law judgment.

Can you hold those three thoughts in your head at the same time?

Good for you.

What conclusions do you draw?

For example, it may occur to you that it’s one thing to say that if a prosecutor investigates and concludes that the target of the investigation did some bad things, but those bad things weren’t actually crimes, then the prosecutor is supposed to just keep his trap shut. But maybe it’s another thing if the investigation shows that the target violated large swaths of the criminal code, but he or she can’t be prosecuted for an arbitrary reason, such as the fact that he or she is the sitting president. Maybe the latter situation calls for an exception, so that the public can learn about all the crimes the sitting president appears to have committed.

And it may occur to you that it’s ironic that an investigation widely understood as examining whether the president is qualified for office based on moral and national security concerns might wind up concealing information of vital relevance to those moral and national security concerns.

Attorney General Barr Addresses President Trump

See my next post for a hypothetical conversation between Barr and Trump. It’s a thought experiment based on the considerations outlined above.

*Let the record reflect my view that this Justice Department “policy” is unwise and legally unfounded. But debating that question is not the point of this post.

Does Anyone Else Think This Might not be a Good Idea?

aliens

Astronomers are asking kids to help them contact aliens

Meanwhile, quells surprise, back on planet earth, just as William Barr assumes office,

Justice Department officials are preparing for the end of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and believe a confidential report could be issued in coming days, according to people familiar with the discussions. …

Regulations call for Mueller to submit to the attorney general a confidential explanation as to why he decided to charge certain individuals, as well as who else he investigated and why he decided not to charge those people. The regulations then call for the attorney general to report to Congress about the investigation.

An adviser to President Trump said there is palpable concern among the president’s inner circle that the report might contain information about Trump and his team that is politically damaging, but not criminal conduct.

Even before he was confirmed by the Senate, Barr had preliminary discussions about the logistics surrounding the conclusion of Mueller’s inquiry, a second person said. At that time, though, Barr had not been briefed on the substance of Mueller’s investigation, so the conversations were limited. …

How detailed either Mueller’s report and the attorney general’s summary of the findings will be is unclear. Lawmakers have demanded that Mueller’s report be made public, but Barr has been noncommittal on that point, saying that he intends to be as forthcoming as the regulations and department practice allow. He has pointed, however, to Justice Department practices that insist on saying little or nothing about conduct that does not lead to criminal charges.

When You’re Smiling, the Whole World Smiles with You

William Barr

We have it on good authority that Mick Mulvaney—the person who would have sacrificed a valuable appendage to be Trump’s chief of staff—has vowed to be the kind of Trump servant who will just let Trump be Trump.

Meanwhile, a usually reliable pundit says, Now We Know Trump Picked William Barr to Shut Down Mueller’s Investigation. Well, in all probability, that was exactly Trump’s thinking. Barr’s gratuitous June, 2018, legal memorandum endorsing presidential obstruction of justice was surely music to the Trumpster’s ears.

And, at a very high level of confidence, I think we may infer that Barr wrote the memo for the precise purpose of pleasing Trump and laying the groundwork for his own nomination to be Attorney General.

But does the memo actually reflect Barr’s opinion? Well, maybe it does. Or maybe it doesn’t. Folks like William Barr seldom write legal memoranda out of a disinterested and generous desire just to share their wisdom with the world. They write legal memoranda to achieve a purpose.

Feel free to call me a conspiratologist, but I still think Barr, backed up by his hubristic buddies at Kirkland & Ellis, and operating in collusion with one or more Republican corporate and financial donors, is coming to Washington to get Trump out of the way. Most probably by organizing a Spiro Agnew-type deal where he resigns in exchange for a binding promise not to prosecute.

Such a denouement will be very difficult to achieve. But a great many of the deals on which K & E works present great challenges. That is why they make buckets of money.

And here, ladies and gentlemen, I detect the fine Italian hand of Kirkland & Ellis.

And, by the way, Mick Mulvaney is coming to the White House to be the Trump Whisperer—and to whisper him into taking the deal Barr will propose.

As I said, call me a conspiratologist. But remember, you heard it here first. And that he who laughs last, laughs best.