Some people have suggested that Barr always chooses the weaselly action that will most benefit his personal career ambitions, that he weaseled his way into a job by being a sycophant and turned rat once it became clear that Trump’s attempts to cling to power were doomed.
I don’t buy it. A more generous theory is that Barr is a sincere and passionate defender of executive power, which is to say he believes that Trump (or any president) could fire James Comey, Robert Mueller—whoever they want—and not obstruct justice. It’s certainly possible for an intellectually honest conservative to hold this (albeit controversial and expansive) view and still respect the Constitution, the rule of law, the legitimacy of elections, and the peaceful transfer of power. In this regard, Barr isn’t flipping on Trump—he’s being consistent with regard to his philosophy.
This theory happens to dovetail with other recent developments. Last week, in response to all three of Trump’s SCOTUS appointees rejecting Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s effort to invalidate elections in four key states, Never Trump conservative writer David French wrote a piece titled, “How the Conservative Legal Movement Stopped Trump’s Attempts to Overturn the Election.” In it, French argued that “the culture, philosophy, and incentives of the conservative legal movement are all aligned against the president.” French concedes that there are plenty of conservative lawyers who do not adhere to this culture or respond to these incentives, but he correctly notes that, “While a member of Congress believes he risks his career if he doesn’t embrace Trump’s conspiracies, a conservative lawyer in private practice risks his professional reputation (and thus his ability to progress through the highest ranks of his profession) if he does.”