The Corner

Law & the Courts

Bullying Barr

William Barr testifies at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., January 15, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Andrew Cohen writes at Slate that Bill Barr probably won’t make good on his pledge to “stand up to Trump” if necessary as attorney general.

There is far more evidence, from Barr’s decades of public and private work, that tells us he’ll be largely deferential to Trump’s whims and caprices. It’s clear to all that Barr is deeply entrenched as a conservative Republican in the political and legal establishment of Washington, and he acknowledged that he has seen part of his role in the past as supporting the Republican agenda. This despite his pledge, during questioning by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, in which Barr said: “I will not be bullied.”

I didn’t catch much of the hearing. But all I’m getting from this passage is that Barr is a conservative Republican who believes that as attorney general he will be pursuing the Trump administration’s policies within the limits of the law and ethics. He will not allow the president to bully him into disregarding those limits. This tension is theoretically possible for any appointee in any administration, and may be especially likely for an attorney general in this one. But there is no contradiction in what Barr said, and no reason to say that his promise not to let himself be bullied came “despite” his being a Republican.

Otherwise we would have to conclude that being a conservative Republican is a disqualification for serving in a high level in a Republican administration. That conclusion would probably be gratifying to a lot of Slate readers, but doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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