Is Bill Barr the New Michael Cohen? | Opinion

Michael Cohen was Donald Trump's fixer, until he got caught, pleaded guilty, and went to prison. Now Bill Barr has taken the job.

Unfortunately, Bill Barr already had a job—as Attorney General of the United States, our nation's top law enforcement official. And we must not let him do both jobs at once.

Even before entering the White House, President Trump had a long record of using his personal lawyers to punish or silence his enemies and protect his friends. When Michael Cohen was Donald Trump's personal attorney, he used various illicit tactics to carry out his boss' wishes. And he has confessed to them: intimidation, bribery, lying, cronyism, and abusing the legal system.

It was reprehensible, but Cohen has taken responsibility for his actions and now is paying the price. Meanwhile, Barr seems to be carrying out similar orders but deploying weapons more powerful than Cohen could've dreamed of: the power and authority of the U.S. Justice Department.

The parallels between fixers past and present are starkly appalling.

President Trump ordered Cohen to get a restraining order against Stormy Daniels to try to stop her from revealing his infidelities. Barr just did the same thing for President Trump regarding John Bolton's book, going to court to repress stories of Trump's incompetence and misconduct.

Cohen tried to bury damaging information about Donald Trump, arranging for the National Enquirer to "catch and kill" a story about another of the President's alleged infidelities and threatening lawsuits against anyone who would disclose the President's grades or SAT scores. Barr steadfastly argues in court against the release of the Trump tax returns, which could shed light on how much Trump profited from his 2017 tax law and who his financial benefactors are.

Cohen threatened Donald Trump's perceived enemies, saying he would do "f-ing disgusting" things to reporters investigating whether Ivana Trump made rape allegations against the President. Barr has actually carried out disgusting missions against perceived opponents of the President, ordering the use of tear gas to forcibly clear peaceful protesters when the President wanted to stage a photo op at St. John's Church near the White House.

And Cohen was directed to lie to Congress to minimize Trump's contacts with Russia during the 2016 campaign, later explaining that he did so to be consistent with Trump's "political messaging" and "out of loyalty" to Trump. Before the Mueller report was made public, Barr actively deceived the public about President Trump's contacts with Russia. He's gone so far that a federal judge called Barr's statements about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry into Russian influence "distorted" and "misleading" and deplored his "lack of candor."

Barr also asserted that the report by the independent Department of Justice Inspector General on the FBI's Russia inquiry showed the probe was launched "on the thinnest of suspicions." In fact, the Inspector General concluded the inquiry was justified and the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously supported the Intelligence Community's assessment that Russia actively worked to undercut American democracy.

The Attorney General's use of Cohen's tactics continued as he stated that Geoffrey Berman—the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who reportedly had been investigating the President's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani as well as other serious allegations related to Trump—had chosen to step down. This was false. When Barr proved unable to buy Berman off with a no-show Justice Department job where he could "build a book of business" to exploit after returning to the private sector, and after his lie about Berman's resignation was exposed, Trump simply fired him.

Sometimes the fix is years in the making. Back in 2017, Trump pressured then-FBI Director James Comey to abandon the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn; Comey refused, and Trump soon fired him. This May, even after Flynn had pleaded to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in 2016, Barr's Justice Department moved to dismiss the case against him.

After Trump tweeted angrily about federal prosecutors' recommended sentence for Roger Stone – the longtime Trump confidante and self-proclaimed dirty trickster convicted of seven felonies involving his interference in Mueller's investigation – Barr's Justice Department suddenly recommended a lesser sentence, spurring several career prosecutors to resign from the case. And now Trump has commuted Stone's sentence anyway.

The fixes go on and on. The rule of law remains under assault by the man who is supposed to be its top defender.

And in a blinding supernova of irony, Cohen the ex-fixer on Monday sued Barr the new fixer, claiming the Justice Department only took him back into custody as retaliation because he's writing a book about his exploits with Trump.

After many delays and much stonewalling, Barr finally is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, July 28. He will be expected to explain in detail why he has put President Trump's personal and political needs above the interests of the American people and our justice system.

Unless he can provide us with valid rationales for his actions – beyond the self-serving excuses he has provided publicly so far – we must assume the Attorney General has been reduced to the role of an underworld fixer for Donald Trump, which has terrible implications for the health of our democracy and for Americans' faith in government.

In a normal time, Barr's dereliction of duty would justify impeachment. Whether he's impeached or not, Congress must keep vigorously exercising oversight and Justice Department employees must keep coming forward to provide strong accountability.

It's a sad commentary that the only difference between Cohen and the Attorney General of the United States is that the bill for services no longer is sent to Donald Trump—now it's paid by you, the taxpayer.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) serves on the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees. Follow him on Twitter at @RepSwalwell.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.


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