- The New York City Bar Association asked Congress to investigate US Attorney General William Barr for political bias and violating the rules and ethical guidelines that govern his position.
- In a letter, the organization listed four specific instances over the last four months in which Barr positioned himself and the Justice Department as “political partisans willing to use the levers of government to empower certain groups over others.”
- It also referenced Barr’s mischaracterization of the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in the Russia investigation, as well as his public rejection of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s conclusions in an internal investigation in the origins of the Russia probe.
- “For the reasons stated above, we have significant concerns about the propriety of Mr. Barr’s recent actions and statements,” the letter said. “We urge Congress to exercise its constitutional obligations by expeditiously commencing formal inquiries into Mr. Barr’s conduct.”
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“Mr. Barr’s recent actions and statements position the Attorney General and, by extension, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) as political partisans willing to use the levers of government to empower certain groups over others,” the letter said. “These statements are the latest examples of a broader pattern of conduct that is inconsistent with the role of the Attorney General in our legal and constitutional system and with the norms and standards that govern the fair administration of justice.”
The letter was addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
It went on to lay out several instances over the last few months in which the NYC Bar Association believed Barr “disregarded” his “fundamental obligations” as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer:
- In October, Barr “launched a partisan attack against ‘so called progressives’ for supposedly waging a ‘campaign to destroy the traditional order,'” the letter said. Barr accused these individuals of “marshal[ing] all the force of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values” in order to achieve the “organized destruction” of religion.
- In November, Barr “vilified” progressives and “the Left” during a speech to the conservative Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention. The letter accused Barr of characterizing “the other side” as people who “oppose this President” and doing so in “highly partisan terms.”
- The attorney general accused progressives and the left of launching a “holy war” and using “any means necessary” to engage in “the systematic shredding of norms” and undermine the rule of law.
- Conversely, conservatives “tend to have more scruple over their political tactics” and are more committed to the rule of law, the letter quoted Barr as saying.
- On December 3, Barr slammed progressive and Democratic district attorneys who “style themselves as ‘social justice’ reformers, who spend their time undercutting the police, letting criminals off the hook, and refusing to enforce the law.” He added that progressive DAs “automatically start screaming for the officers’ scalps, regardless of the facts” following confrontations that involve the use of force by police officers.
- A week later, on December 10, Barr did a television interview with NBC News in which he publicly rejected Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s finding that the FBI did not have any improper political motivations when it launched a counterintelligence investigation into links between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government.
- Instead of accepting Horowitz’s conclusions — as several other government officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, did — Barr said a separate investigation he’s conducting into the FBI’s actions will probably reach a different conclusion.
- “Although that second investigation (which is being supervised by a different DOJ official) is not yet complete, Mr. Barr nevertheless openly discussed his opinions about the likely outcome of that investigation,” the letter said. “In a separate statement the previous day, Mr. Barr asserted that the FBI’s factual predicate was ‘insufficient to justify’ its investigation and that the FBI may have acted in ‘bad faith’ in commencing that investigation.”
The NYC Bar Association went on to say the actions highlighted above are consistent with Barr’s mischaracterization of the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report in the Russia probe. The report found insufficient evidence to charge Trump or anyone on his campaign with conspiracy related to Russia’s election meddling, and while it did not come to a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” on whether Trump obstructed justice, Mueller’s team said that if they “had confidence” Trump had not committed a crime, they would have said so.
However, Barr characterized Mueller’s findings as showing “no collusion” between Trump and Russia — a frequent talking point pushed by the president and his allies — and he took it upon himself to exonerate Trump of obstructing justice instead of leaving the matter to Congress, which Mueller’s team said was being constitutionally mandated to come to a decision on the issue.
The NYC Bar Association’s letter emphasized that Barr’s conclusions were roundly rejected by more than 1,000 former federal prosecutors based on the findings in Mueller’s report.
“These public statements by Mr. Barr also contravene the norms applicable to his office and warrant further investigation by Congress as part of an inquiry into Mr. Barr’s conduct as Attorney General more generally,” the letter said.
It added that although the organization won’t take a position on whether Barr violated any of the Rules of Professional Conduct, “at least one leading legal ethics authority has suggested” government lawyers are obligated to be accurate in their public statements and are bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Barr’s actions, the letter said, “appears to run afoul” of these rules and should be investigated by Congress accordingly.
It concluded by saying “Barr has spoken and acted in a manner communicating an impression that he views himself as serving as the Attorney General not for the entire nation, but more narrowly for certain segments of society—whether defined in terms of religion, ideology (his own ‘side,’ to borrow the language of Mr. Barr’s Federalist Society speech) or party affiliation.”