Attorney General Bill Barr may be popular inside the Fox News bubble, but among members of the legal profession he ranks somewhere between psoriasis and The Clap.
In October, the New York City Bar Association published an open letter accusing Barr of breaching professional ethics in the Ukraine scandal and calling for him to face sanctions if he failed to recuse himself from the impeachment investigation. In June, George Washington University Law School’s faculty tried to get Barr’s honorary degree from 1992 revoked after he teargassed peaceful protesters so the president could shoot Bible porn in front of a boarded up church.
And now a group of 27 distinguished lawyers has written a letter to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the D.C. Bar urging it to “commence an investigation to determine whether Mr. Barr, who is a member of the DC Bar, should be subject to disciplinary action under the Rules.”
“It has been deeply disturbing to witness Attorney General William Barr persistently acting to undermine the rule of law over the past sixteen months,” former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, founder of Lawyers Defending American Democracy, wrote in Just Security. “The administration of justice depends on lawyers honoring their ethical duties and playing by the rules, so the public can have confidence in the fairness and impartiality of our legal system.”
Harshbarger and his fellow signatories, including four past presidents of the D.C. Bar, accuse the Attorney General of betraying his ethical duty to the American people in service of Donald Trump’s venal, personal ends.
Mr. Barr’s client is the United States, and not the President. Yet, Mr. Barr has consistently made decisions and taken action to serve the personal and political self-interests of President Donald Trump, rather than the interest of the United States.
They charge Barr with four “Counts” of impropriety:
Misrepresenting the findings of the Mueller Report by falsely claiming that it found no grounds to charge the president with obstruction of justice, rather than acknowledging that the memo presented copious evidence of obstruction, but deferred the charging decision to congress as part of its impeachment power;
Falsely implying that the Inspector General’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 and outreach to the Trump campaign was a “witch hunt” which lacked appropriate predication;
Making inappropriate public statements prejudging the outcome of the Durham investigation and denigrating the conduct of FBI agents; and
Violating the First and Fourth Amendment rights of protestors in Lafayette Park by illegally dispersing them for Trump’s Bible-toting photo op.
This is a long, long letter. Even longer than the unsolicited memo Barr sent the president in 2018 explaining how Article II gives the president the right to order the Justice Department to investigate his political enemies, the one that convinced the president to give him Jeff Sessions’s old job.
In some sense this complaint is purely performative — the D.C. Court of Appeals is not going to initiate disbarment proceedings against the sitting Attorney General in the middle of an election. But at the same time, it’s critically important that we as lawyers stand up and protest as Bill Barr burns down the Justice Department, cooks up bogus investigations of Trump’s political enemies, and torpedoes cases against the president’s friend.
As the letter notes:
The DCRPC and Disciplinary Rules reflect the norms and expectations about the conduct of lawyers in our society. Importantly, Mr. Barr, as our chief law enforcement officer, occupies a position that serves as a model for other lawyers, particularly government lawyers. Thus, serious ethical deviations on his part carry enormous consequences for our profession as a whole. Where a lawyer in Mr. Barr’s position has violated the basic standards of honesty, trustworthiness, and other guideposts of ethical conduct governing lawyers, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel is in a unique, independent position to investigate his conduct.
If not us, then who can take a stand and say, “This is not okay?” Because it really, really isn’t.
Letter Re: Professional Responsibility Investigation of William P. Barr
Why 27 Distinguished DC Lawyers Filed a Complaint with Bar Association Against Attorney General Barr (Just Security)
Elizabeth Dye (@5DollarFeminist) lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.