This week, William Barr will undergo confirmation hearings to determine whether or not he is fit to be the Attorney General of the United States. The People- and the Senate- should oppose him.
By Vincent Vanguard
“...Yet if we treat the presidency as the president, we cannot measure him as though he were the government. Not action as an outcome but his impact on the outcome is the measure of the man. His strength or weakness, then, turns on his personal capacity to influence the conduct of the men who make up government. His influence becomes the mark of leadership. To rate a president according to these rules, one looks into the man’s own capabilities as seeker and as wielder of effective influence upon the other men involved in governing the country....”
-Richard Neustadt Presidential Power
When Neustadt wrote those words in the 1960s, he outlined the correct and incorrect ways for a president to acquire power. Sustainable power is only acquired through negotiating in a way where both sides get something they want, not by ignoring the other side. Gridlock occurs when either side will not negotiate. This work was prescient, for soon after both Johnson and Nixon went about acquiring power incorrectly and it cost them both the presidency. After the Watergate debacle, executive power was curbed and much oversight was given to make sure a president would not overstep their position. So instead of acting in the light, future presidents would have to act in the shadows to get what they want done.
Reagan and his acolytes acted in the shadows even before the presidency. The election of 1980 between Reagan and Carter was, in part, decided by the October Surprise. When the Iran hostage crisis occured, the hostages were held until twenty minutes after the inauguration of Reagan. The conspiracy theory purports that, “the administration rewarded Iran for its participation in the plot by supplying Iran with weapons via Israel and by unblocking Iranian government monetary assets in US banks.” While many investigations occured into this conspiracy, the administration was eventually cleared for lack of evidence. The connection between the Reagan administration and Iran, however, would continue. This connection would eventually prove to be more than a conspiracy theory, with clear evidence that would result in convictions.
The Iran-Contra scandal would devastate the Reagan administration. The extent of unlawful actions that occurred is still not known. What is known is that U.S. operatives illegally sold arms to Iran and illegally used funds to train and arm the Contras in Nicaragua. Bill Moyer’s excellent expose, "The Secret Government" and Gary Webb’s "Dark Alliance" are fantastic resources for more information. According to a follow up to the Walsh report, “After Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh's appointment in December 1986, 14 persons were charged with criminal offenses. Eleven persons were convicted, but two convictions were overturned on appeal. Two persons were pardoned before trial and one case was dismissed when the Bush Administration declined to declassify information necessary for trial. On December 24, 1992, President Bush pardoned Caspar W. Weinberger, Duane R. Clarridge, Clair E. George, Elliott Abrams, Alan D. Fiers, Jr., and Robert C. McFarlane.” And those pardons and overturns were aided by a rising attorney in the Reagan administration.
William Barr came from the private sector to aid the Reagan administration in legal affairs. He served on the domestic policy staff at the Reagan White House from May 3, 1982 to September 5, 1983, with his official title being Deputy Assistant Director for Legal Policy. In 1989 when G.H.W. Bush was elected, William Barr joined the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel as an assistant attorney general. He rose to the position of Deputy Attorney General for the Justice Department in April 1989 and was confirmed as Attorney General of the United States on November 20, 1991, serving under President George H.W. Bush until 1993. Barr was known as a strong defender of Presidential power and wrote advisory opinions justifying the U.S. invasion of Panama and arrest of Manuel Noriega, and a controversial opinion that the F.B.I. could enter onto foreign soil without the consent of the host government to apprehend fugitives wanted by the United States government for terrorism or drug-trafficking. But arguably Barr’s most notorious role was in establishing what one lawyer called, “world's first HIV detention camp.”
The military coup that overthrew Jean-Bertrand Aristide sent many fleeing Haiti. Political violence in Haiti is nothing new. Just as people fleeing said violence sought refugee status in the U.S. is nothing new. In 1981, Baby Doc Duvalier forced thousands to flee, and yet the U.S. signed an agreement to forcibly return refugees to Haiti. This would seem to be in contrast with Article 33 of the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, stating that refoulement of refugees who had a credible fear would be illegal. Yet, of the 24,600 Haitians interdicted by the United States Coast Guard between 1981 and 1991, only eleven people were screened in and brought to the United States for asylum hearings. But the events after Aristide caused 34,000 to flee in about a years time. The international scrutiny forced the Bush administration into action, which fell into the hands of Attorney General William Barr.
A. G. William Barr dictates which refugees have a credible enough fear to enter the U.S.,which would be returned to Haiti, and why some would remain in Guantanamo Bay. Of all the refugees who fled to the U.S., roughly one third would be found to have a credible fear of political violence and allowed to stay. The majority, however, would be returned. According to Ira Kurzban, “A return to Haiti was a near certain death sentence for many of those who fled.” But there would be a special group of people that would be held in Guantanamo Bay without legal aide, those who tested positive for HIV. According to attorney Michael Ratner, “Those who tested HIV-positive were forced to undergo a second interview at Guantanamo Bay and questioned again, facing a higher standard for proving their eligibility for asylum...Attorney General Barr believed that everyone who was HIV-positive should be returned to Haiti.” These actions earned international condemnation. Immigration Equality director Aaron C. Morris called the event, “a stain on United States history.” District Court Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. ruled that" even though they "are neither criminals nor national security risks” ... merely the unfortunate victims of a fatal disease." Even after his actions were proven wrong, Barr would go on to contend his decisions were made with America’s interests and defend his decision in 2001. After G. H. W. Bush was defeated in the 1992 election, Barr went back into private practice, but a new president has considered Barr for the position of attorney general again.
Donald Trump, half way through his first term, has cabinet positions to fill. Trump’s presidency has been unconventional, to say the least. As the Muller probe continues to attempt to prove both collusion and obstruction, former Attorney General William Barr issued a memo stating that Trump acted accordingly with the law. That memo surely got the attention of the Trump administration, which is now considering appointing Barr as Attorney General. As Sadie Gurman wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “If Mr. Barr is confirmed, it would bring together a forceful advocate of executive power with an unorthodox president who has shown a willingness to wield that power in unconventional ways.” Unconventional ways that compare to a former president.
The comparisons between Trump and Nixon are both warranted and overwhelming. As former legal counsel to the Nixon Administration John Dean stated, “For months, the Trump administration and its scandals have carried whiffs of Watergate and drawn comparisons to the characters and crimes of the Nixon era. But this week, history did not just repeat itself, it climbed out of the dustbin and returned in the flesh.” The pardons issued in the wake of Watergate and the Iran-Contra have always been a blight on American democracy. Similarly, we sit with a president all to willing to issue pardons to people found guilty of crimes committed by our judicial system. But where past administrations waited till the very end of their presidency to issue controversial pardons, Trump has handed them out with little regard to their implications; that some are apparently above the law.
The combination of an unconventional president and an all to willing attorney general should amount to a credible fear for the things to come. William Barr’s confirmation hearing is set for January 15th and 16th. If confirmed, Barr will be in charge of the Muller probe. Even if Barr allows Muller autonomy going forward, Barr has shown that he is willing to help pardon people convicted of crimes. Furthermore, as immigration becomes a key issue domestically and abroad, Barr’s record has shown that he would send back the most desperate of people to possible death. Like Nixon and Reagan before him, Trump has shown a willingness to bend rules and lie with impunity. The last thing this country needs is an attorney general who will help bend rules and clean up the mess when and where they are broken.
CALL AND TWEET AT YOUR SENATORS AND DEMAND THEY OPPOSE WILLIAM BARR.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN
SEN. TED CRUZ
#Engage #Educate #Resist