The Morning Jolt

Law & the Courts

Barr’s Critics Should Reconsider

Attorney General William Barr speaks at an event announcing the recipients of the third annual Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Policing, in Washington, D.C., December 3, 2019. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

On the menu today: Attorney General William Barr kept the investigation of Hunter Biden secret until after the election, which blows up a lot of the demonization and criticism of him since he stepped into the Department of Justice; the Food and Drug Administration expects to start jabbing Americans with the Pfizer vaccine early next week; and Time magazine makes its least-defensible selection for newsmaker of the year since . . . well, last year, really.

All of William Barr’s Critics Completely Misjudged Him

Everyone who ever called U.S. attorney general a partisan hack who put President Trump’s personal and political interests ahead of the law, please line up to make a very public apology. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Attorney General William Barr has known about a disparate set of investigations involving Hunter Biden’s business and financial dealings since at least this spring, a person familiar with the matter said, and worked to avoid their public disclosure during the heated election campaign.

Republicans and President Trump have pressed Mr. Barr for months to pursue Mr. Biden, especially as his father, Joe Biden, gained momentum in his ultimately successful bid for president. Mr. Barr has staved off pressure from Republicans in Congress for information into the investigations, the person said, without elaborating on his actions.

Think about how often you heard allegedly well-informed, allegedly astute political talking heads insist that Barr was a “ruthless, relentless political hack and a thug,” “the most dangerous member of the Trump administration,” and accusations that Barr was “interfering in the election” and “weaponizing law enforcement.” Or the number of times you heard Barr was “aiding Trump’s collusion with Putin,” “turning America into a dictatorship,” and “a danger to democracy.” Remember Eric Holder insisting Barr was “unfit to lead the Justice Department”?

Does any of that fit a man who knew that his department was in the early stages of a criminal investigation of the son of the Democratic nominee, and kept it out of the newspapers?

This come after Barr publicly declared that he has “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” infuriating every Trump fan who thinks the election was stolen and undermining the arguments of Trump’s legal team. Now we know Barr kept quiet about the Hunter Biden investigation — even when the Trump campaign was metaphorically screaming at the top of its lungs about Hunter Biden. Barr kept quiet because the Department of Justice is not supposed to influence the outcome of the election — even if that denies a potential advantage to the attorney general’s boss. Barr could have “pulled a Jim Comey” and shaken up the race with a dramatic revelation as Americans were casting their ballots. He chose not to do so.

William Barr is the guy who follows the law and preestablished procedure and the evidence to the truthful conclusion, whether it is good for his side or not, and whether it is what he wants to see or not. Of course, Barr is a conservative Republican, he has a clear viewpoint on what constitutes justice and how law enforcement should operate, and he’s going to have fierce disagreements with liberals. But William Barr is largely the same man, with the same viewpoints, as he was when he was attorney general under George H. W. Bush. He’s always believed in extensive powers of the executive branch. He’s always been comfortable taking an unpopular stance. He didn’t develop these views because of Trump.

Since Barr was appointed, we’ve seen furious Trump critics repeatedly yearn for a figure in Washington who would prioritize truth and justice over a partisan agenda and the whims of the president. They’ve wished for a figure in law enforcement who would publicly contradict the president when he’s factually wrong, and who didn’t see himself as an adjunct member of the president’s reelection campaign. Guess what: They’ve had that guy there all along!

Why did Barr’s critics misjudge him so badly? Because despite their proclamations of open-mindedness, they have a very limited worldview. Despite their confidence in their ability to see a complicated world of nuance and shades of gray, they’re actually pretty Manichaean in their worldview — you’re either a progressive Democratic good guy or you’re aligned with one of history’s greatest monsters. No one is allowed to be merely mistaken or wrong; all of the opposition’s arguments must be made in bad faith and they must be driven by malevolent motives.

Most Democrats and progressive commentators couldn’t accept that Barr could have good-faith disagreements with them on matters of law. Also, “Barr Is Mistaken, But It Is a Good-Faith Mistake” makes for a less dramatic headline than “Bill Barr is setting the stage to interfere in the election” or “Bill Barr, Trump henchman, is sending armed agents to ballot-counting locations.

Every phenomenon on the right that I have criticized in this newsletter in recent weeks still exists on the left on great supply. The desire to tell a dramatic narrative of heroes and villains, to stir up fear and paranoia, to demonize those who disagree, to contend that in every disagreement the very soul and future of the country is at stake, the willingness to leave out inconvenient facts, the inclination to mislead or lie . . .

The Kraken’s not coming, but few people who put their faith in Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani and Lin Wood are going to rethink their decisions and views. Bill Barr wasn’t a partisan hack who prioritized the president’s desires over the law and the truth, but few people who spent the past two years demonizing the attorney general are going to rethink their decisions and views.

Let’s Get Jabbing, America!

It’s not that Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer vaccine was a fait accompli . . . but it was close. Ed Morrissey has a hilarious headline; you can almost picture doctors pressing the vaccination needle against the arm but agreeing to not puncture the skin until the FDA panel gave the final approval.

Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar said regulatory authorization should come within days, and the first immunizations will start Monday or Tuesday.

Moderna’s vaccine is not too far behind, and they’ve said they can make more for the U.S. if the Pfizer vaccine runs out. (The federal government signed a deal for 100 million doses of Pfizer, but remember that it takes two doses to complete, so that will cover 50 million Americans. Pfizer can’t just quickly give the U.S. more, because it has preexisting commitments to other countries.)

There are some questions about the Oxford vaccine. The short version is that it works, but the data suggest one dose was actually more effective at stopping the virus than the originally planned two doses, and that’s as baffling to experienced medical researchers as it is to you and me. This one is probably going to be a little slower to reach patients.

Johnson & Johnson is shrinking the size of its Stage Three test pool from 60,000 to 40,000, which is a response to the prevalence of the virus. The J&J vaccine is a one-dose shot, so that could be a difference-maker as well. Around the world, there are 14 total vaccine candidates in large-scale testing.

Their Time Has Passed Already

I don’t think many people spend a lot of time — no pun intended — thinking about Time magazine’s Person of the Year anymore. A generation ago, the magazine used to firmly insist that the title went to whomever affected the news of the past year the most, for good or ill — meaning Adolf Hitler won in 1938, Joseph Stalin won in 1939 and 1942, and the Ayatollah Khomeini won in 1979. Putting someone such as that on the cover was a statement to readers, and perhaps a warning about the state of the world. But by 2001, the magazine selected Rudy Giuliani over Osama bin Laden, demonstrating that they were willing to bend the rules to avoid offense, controversy, and/or bad newsstand sales.

Now the magazine’s management and staff represents a much more insular and much more progressive worldview and is increasingly selecting groups or trends. Selections in recent years included Greta Thunberg, Jamal Khashoggi, the staff of the Annapolis newspaper The Capital, actress Ashley Judd, and “The Protester.” In 2014, the magazine selected “the Ebola Fighters.”

But this year, “the COVID-19 fighters” didn’t make the cut; the magazine’s selection was Joe Biden and, curiously, Kamala Harris. I’m sorry, the election of Joe Biden is not a bigger and more consequential story than the coronavirus pandemic, and Biden and Kamala Harris did not have more impact on 2020 than the virus, or those who researched treatments and vaccinations, or Patient Zero, for that matter.

One ironic note: The magazine’s cover is apparently the only place you’ll see them close together and not wearing masks for a long while.

ADDENDUM: The president of the United States, on Twitter, shortly before this newsletter was sent off to the editors: “Now that the Biden Administration will be a scandal plagued mess for years to come, it is much easier for the Supreme Court of the United States to follow the Constitution and do what everybody knows has to be done. They must show great Courage & Wisdom. Save the USA!!!”

“Follow the Constitution” apparently means throwing out the certified, and in some cases, twice-counted voting results of roughly 20 million voters in four states and having a quartet of Republican-controlled state legislatures select Trump electors instead of Biden ones.


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