Donald Trump has long used lawyers as mere tools who are around solely to fix his personal problems. So it makes sense that according to his addled thinking, the Department of Justice, a federal government agency full of attorneys, exists to take care of his dirty business and attack his enemies. And Attorney General Bill Barr, Trump’s favorite attack dog, is more than happy to comply.
To Trump, using the DOJ as his own personal—and free—legal team is just a perk of being president. In September, the DOJ moved to intervene in E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against Trump, requesting that they take over his legal representation. As the New York Times pointed out, this “highly unusual legal move” also shields the president “from any embarrassing disclosures in the middle of his campaign for re-election.” Love to have our public money be used to defend and protect a man credibly accused of rape! And just this week, we have two more examples of Barr’s DOJ meddling where it should not and using the resources of the federal government to massage Trump’s ego.
On Tuesday, the DOJ sued Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, Melania’s former BFF and aide who wrote a tell-all memoir full of embarrassing details about the First Lady. The DOJ’s suspect rationale is that Winston Wolkoff broke an NDA she signed, though, as the Washington Post noted, experts “called the suit an abuse of the Justice Department’s resources to punish a presidential critic, saying the agreement to restrict information other than classified data is unenforceable.” Yesterday also brought us the news that Barr, who has shown he is more than willing to use the agency he runs to conduct unwarranted and politically motivated investigations of Trump’s political opponents, quietly shelved the “unmasking probe” he initiated into supposed Obama-era wrongdoing, after the attorney handling the investigation found—surprise surprise!—there was nothing to the charges.
Even more troubling as we face down the barrel of the election, one in which Trump looks increasingly like he’s losing, is the DOJ’s announcement that the agency is free to investigate election fraud and, as ProPublica put it, “take public investigative steps before the polls close, even if those actions risk affecting the outcome of the election,” weakening long-standing policy of avoiding election interference.
That Barr would abuse his power in service of the president isn’t surprising. As Donald Ayer, a long-time Republican who worked in both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, pointed out in 2019, Barr “for many decades... has had a vision of the president as possessing nearly unchecked powers.” That just so happens to be Trump’s vision too, a terrifying prospect during an election that he has repeatedly sought to discredit.
Trump has never met a norm he didn’t want to blow up. And in Barr, he’s found the perfect partner and enabler in his quest to turn every tentacle of the federal government into his own personal armor.