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Deputy Attorney General Under George H.W. Bush: Bill Barr Is on a Mission to Install Trump as an ‘Autocrat’



Former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer went after Bill Barr in an extended interview Thursday afternoon on CNN, saying that it is clear that the attorney general is pulling out all of the stops and working overtime to complete his “mission” of installing President Donald Trump as an “autocrat” for the next four years.

Ayer has repeatedly ripped Barr, whether before Congress or in writing, as an attorney general at once catering to authoritarianism and tearing down safeguards against it.

Ayer told CNN’s John King that Barr, his former subordinate at the Department of Justice during the George H.W. Bush presidency, is plainly on a mission to get Trump re-elected. Ayer cited Barr’s comments about FBI “spying on the president’s campaign,” the possible timing of John Durham investigation updates for maximum political impact ahead of the election, and the recent resignation of top Durham aide Nora Dannehy. Dannehy reportedly resigned out of concern that the Durham team was being pressured—and for political reasons—to come up with results before November.

“Perhaps we will have indictments. And [Barr] hopes they will be before the election. And he says that’s okay even though the department has a general policy to avoid impacting elections. Nonetheless, Barr wants us to think something is probably going to happen before the election,” Ayer said. “Now a lot of your viewers may recall and be aware that a prominent person in that investigation, Nora Dannehy, a longtime associate and aide to John Durham himself, who has been, I think, the number two person on that investigation, well, she just quit the department a few days ago. And she hasn’t made a public statement, but a lot of people think it is because they think she’s being leaned on and this thing is going in the wrong direction.”

“Now I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I don’t know why she resigned. But you can see the clouds that are forming, and we know for sure because he tells us about it every week, that Barr wants this to be something we are all very worried about,” he went on. “And then I think he is very much hoping that he will have some trash to announce within the next month or so that will hopefully impact the election.”

“One last thing I want to say about that,” Ayer continued.

“Quickly, please,” King interjected.

“Barr is really on a mission. Barr is on a mission to install the president as an autocrat,” Ayer warned. “And we could have another long talk about the things he has done in order do that. But the one thing that he knows is that project of his which he has believed in for 35, 40 years, that one is going into the garbage if Trump doesn’t get re-elected. So Barr is working full-time to get Donald Trump reelected president and using all the resources he can muster of the Department of Justice in order to do that.”

In June, Ayer told the House Judiciary Committee that he believes Barr “poses the greatest threat, in my lifetime, to our rule of law and to public trust in it.”

“That is because he does not believe in its core principle: that no person is above the law,” he said. “Instead, since taking office, [Barr] has worked to advance his lifelong conviction that the president should hold virtually autocratic powers.”

“That includes immunity from nearly all checks and balances and being able to accord special treatment to himself and his friends,” he said. Ayer also testified that Barr “does regularly lie.”

Months before that hearing, Ayer wrote that Barr was “un-American,” and that he should resign or be impeached. 

The latest criticism from Ayer comes a day after Barr made a number of remarks during a speech at Hillsdale College that sparked backlash. One aspect of the speech that proved controversial was the attorney general’s belittling of line prosecutors as “preschoolers”—in an apparent effort to justify his controversial interventions in high-profile criminal cases involving President Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the president’s longtime confidant Roger Stone.

Last Friday, Barr hammered the left for projecting about power grabs.

“You know liberals project,” Barr said. “All this bullshit about how the president is going to stay in office and seize power? I’ve never heard of any of that crap. I mean, I’m the attorney general. I would think I would have heard about it. They are projecting.”

Ayer, starting in 1977, served under both Republican and Democratic presidents in various highly-placed positions at the DOJ—including Deputy Attorney General, Principal Deputy Solicitor General and United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California. He is currently a retired partner at elite law firm Jones Day.

As deputy attorney general from 1989 to 1990, Ayer was Barr’s boss when Barr headed the White House Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and apparently came away from that experience believing the eventual 77th and 85th attorney general’s philosophy of the law and power was a grave threat.

Colin Kalmbacher contributed to this report.

[Image via CNN screengrab]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.