(1) The essential, fundamental first fact in any discussion of Bill Barr is obviously this: He is Donald Trump’s handpicked attorney general.
And we know what Trump wanted in his AG, because he told us so often. Trump thinks the attorney general’s prime directive should to protect him, Donald Trump … to be, in Trump’s words, “my Roy Cohn,” a fixer and a shield. The president fired Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, precisely because he wasn’t Roy Cohn. He never forgave Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation and railed at him for opening the door to and then refusing to shut down the Mueller probe.
This brings us to the second obvious reality here: All of Trump’s efforts to obstruct this investigation played out in plain sight and in real time as Trump fired his FBI director, dangled pardons, attacked witnesses, threatened and humiliated his attorney general. These things didn’t happen in darkened alleys, or in whispered conversations picked up by wiretaps. They were broadcast on Twitter and played out under klieg likes.
There was no secret or subtlety about Trump’s endgame; no one could have been under any illusions about what was expected of a Trumpian AG, especially after he installed a hack like Matthew Whitaker in the role of acting attorney general. Whitaker’s only conceivable qualification was his servility.