Bill Barr 1991: The DOJ cannot tolerate political interference with the enforcement of the law

To repeat the question I asked yesterday, does POTUS have any idea who he’s appointed here?

If the order comes to fire Mueller, is there good reason to believe Barr would carry it out?

If the order comes to not release Mueller’s report to the public, is there good reason to believe he would carry that out?

Maybe he would, notwithstanding his sonorous words about illicit political interference. Barr is a man who “has long advanced a vision of sweeping presidential powers,” as the NYT put it. The fear among Trump critics was that POTUS would try to replace Sessions with an out-and-out political crony who’d do his bidding come what may. Think “Attorney General Sean Hannity.” Barr ain’t that. He’s not going to drop the axe on Mueller just because Trump’s a political patron to whom absolute personal loyalty is owed.

But he might drop the axe on Mueller because he subscribes to a strong-form version of the unitary executive theory as a constitutional matter and believes it’s not the place of a principal officer to refuse a lawful order from the president. Mueller works for the executive branch, doesn’t he? Trump leads the executive branch, doesn’t he? Well, then by what right should Barr refuse an order to fire the special counsel?

And if the president turns around and “asks” the DOJ to investigate his political enemies for crimes they’ve committed, by what right should Barr object? In fact, he’s commented on that before in the context of Trump calling for Hillary to be prosecuted:

“There is nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation,” Mr. Barr told The New York Times last year. “Although an investigation shouldn’t be launched just because a president wants it, the ultimate question is whether the matter warrants investigation.”

“Mr. Barr said he sees more basis for investigating the [Clinton] uranium deal than any supposed collusion between Mr. Trump and Russia,” the Times reported last year. No wonder Trump likes him. Ask yourself: Who would Trump’s ideal candidate for AG be? It’s not a Hannity-type, as that would backfire by making it easy to delegitimize any anti-Mueller actions taken on cronyist grounds. The ideal candidate is an establishmentarian, a man who’s respected for his legal acumen, who’d carry out those same actions on principled grounds and be able to defend the constitutional underpinnings of his decisions from those who disagree. That … may be exactly whom Trump has nominated.

But wait. Before you celebrate Barr as the ultimate MAGA-establishment hybrid warrior, note that some of Trump’s harshest critics in the conservative legal world are quite satisfied with this nomination. And that includes “Mr. Kellyanne Conway.”

Barr is right that Comey deserved to be fired for the way he handled the Clinton matter, Conway went on to say, irrespective of how one might feel about how Trump handled it.

And what about Trump’s other frenemy at the DOJ, Rod Rosenstein? He seems pretty chipper about Barr’s nomination too:

Trumpers and anti-Trumpers are wagering here. Trumpers wager that Barr will be a loyal soldier on Russiagate, albeit out of loyalty to Article II, not to Trump personally. Anti-Trumpers wager that whatever Barr’s beliefs about a strong executive, he’ll draw the line at Trump trying to protect himself from criminal liability by blowing up the probe somehow. We’ll see.