For nearly a year and a half, Attorney General William Barr has abetted the president’s attempts to politicize the Department of Justice. His shocking defense of the use of force on peaceful protesters last week — and his evidence-free claims that the protest was violent — are yet another instance of his prioritization of President Donald Trump’s political interests over the mission of his agency and office.
American Oversight sued the Department of Justice on Thursday for records that could shed light on Barr’s tenure in office, which began in February 2019 and has been marked by his repeated problematic interventions into politically charged cases and investigations. His March 2019 misrepresentations about the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference were just the beginning. Since then, he has launched an investigation into the origins of the Mueller probe, created a separate “intake process” for handling information on Joe Biden’s family gathered by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, and intervened in the criminal cases against Trump allies Michael Flynn and Roger Stone.
The public deserves to know more about Barr’s actions, and in April of this year, American Oversight filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Justice Department for the attorney general’s calendars, visitor logs and text messages. The department’s failure to respond to these requests has prompted Thursday’s lawsuit.
Records previously obtained by American Oversight through FOIA litigation revealed that in the spring of 2019 — immediately after Mueller completed his report — Barr had multiple meetings and calls with U.S. Attorney John Durham, the federal prosecutor he had appointed to examine the Russia investigation. “[T]he frequency of their face-to-face meetings during this critical time — while Mueller’s office wrapped up its work — raised questions for several former Justice Department lawyers who learned of Barr’s meetings this week,” wrote CNN in its report on the documents. Calendars and visitor logs could provide further valuable information on whom Barr has been meeting with.
American Oversight also obtained records showing that when Barr sent a memo to the Justice Department in 2018 — while still a private citizen — outlining his criticism of the Russia investigation, that memo was sent via text message to then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That memo had prompted calls for Barr to recuse himself from overseeing Mueller’s work, which he refused to do, and his use of text messaging to send a PDF indicates that Barr may use that medium in a way many would use email. Our request for Barr’s official text messages could shed important light on how he has run the department.
On Wednesday, more than 1,250 former Justice Department employees called on the department’s inspector general to investigate Barr’s involvement in the order to use chemical irritants and mounted officers to push peaceful protesters back from Lafayette Square near the White House on June 1. Last month, thousands of former department officials signed an open letter heavily criticizing Barr’s role in dismissing criminal charges against former National Security Adviser Flynn, and just two months before that, more than 1,100 former officials called on Barr to resign over the decision to reverse the sentencing recommendations for Stone.
American Oversight will continue to investigate Barr’s concerning leadership at the Justice Department. The full complaint is available here.
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