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Group of Attorneys and Law Professors File Ethics Complaint Against A.G. William Barr


WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 23: U.S. Attorney General William Barr attends the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on March 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. With the number of deaths caused by the coronavirus rising and foreseeable economic turmoil, the U.S. Congress continues to work on legislation for the nearly $2 trillion dollar aid package to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A coalition of 27 distinguished legal professionals on Tuesday filed an ethics complaint with the Washington, D.C. Bar Association against Attorney General William Barr which urges the organization’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel to open an investigation into the A.G.  The group alleges that Barr has undermined the rule of law and interfered in the administration of justice.

Former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, one of the document’s authors, described the 36-page complaint as “a meticulously researched legal brief that describes in painstaking detail how Mr. Barr has violated his attorney’s oath of office and rules of professional conduct.”

The complaint is predicated on four particular actions taken by the attorney general, each of which the group claims evinces Barr’s pattern of professional misconduct and exemplifies his breach of duty to the American people.  Here are those four points, as quoted directly from the document:

  1. In absolving the president of criminal liability for obstructing justice upon receiving the Mueller Report last year, Mr. Barr repeatedly engaged in dishonest and deceitful conduct. His Senate defense of his determination of insufficient evidence to prove [Donald] Trump’s obstruction was transparently untenable, as 1000 prosecutors publicly stated.

  2. In abandoning all precedent by attacking an inspector general’s [Crossfire Hurricane] report, Mr. Barr acted in alignment with the president’s narrative that the FBI’s investigation into his campaign was illegitimate. Mr. Barr rested his “beyond unusual” attack on half-truth, mischaracterization and deceptive concealment of facts.

  3. Asked in a televised interview about any FBI misconduct during the investigation of the Trump campaign, Mr. Barr abandoned the rules of his Department and of professional responsibility by publicly maligning the conduct of FBI personnel who are the subject of a criminal investigation; Mr. Barr thereby undermined the fairness of future criminal proceedings involving those individuals. He did so using language that no ethical prosecutor would use in public comments about individuals under investigation.

  4. In overseeing and ordering the unconstitutional attack on citizens peacefully protesting in Lafayette Square, the attorney general violated his lawyer’s oath. With the whole world watching, he demonstrated the starkest, anti-constitutional harm that a conflict of interest can cause.

The group specifically emphasized Barr’s “deception” regarding the Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s conclusion on the opening of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation – the FBI’s probe of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials. While Barr asserted on national TV that the investigation being predicated on information from a friendly foreign government was “very flimsy,” the attorney general withheld “critical facts” concerning corroborating evidence that the IG specifically noted. That evidence included the Russian hacking of servers belonging to the DNC and Clinton campaign, the Wikileaks release of material hacked by Russians, and Russian attempts to hack U.S. state election computers.

“There was nothing inadvertent about Mr. Barr’s misrepresentation. Not only did he avow ‘flimsiness’ on national television, Mr. Barr repeated his allegation in his press statement that day — stating that the FBI launched Crossfire Hurricane ‘on the thinnest of suspicions.’ That statement, according to Georgetown and American University law professors, was also ‘willfully inaccurate’ and ‘a misleading statement, if not a deliberate distortion,’” the group wrote.

In conclusion, the complaint emphasized that Barr’s conduct presented a dire threat the American system of justice that demanded a thorough investigation.

“Serious violation of ethical standards by the Attorney General of the United States erodes public faith in our legal system. Guarding against such a threat is a shared responsibility of members of the American legal profession,” the complaint said.

“That threat is upon us. The grounds described above call out for a disciplinary proceeding to be initiated under DC Bar Rule XI, Section 2(b) governing lawyer misconduct, and for the imposition of appropriate sanctions from among the alternatives in Rule XI, Section 3. We respectfully urge the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to do so.”

Read the full complaint below.

DC Bar Compalint AG by Law&Crime on Scribd

[Image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images.]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.