It’s William Barr’s turn to co-star in another Trump Show cliffhanger.
(You’re going to miss these. It’s okay. You can admit it to this correspondent. It’ll be our secret.)
How many times have we seen this plotline?
The always-aggrieved president becomes frustrated with or angry at a senior aide over something he or she said that contradicted the edicts – however baseless or questionable – from the Oval Office. Then the real games begin.
A junior aide is dispatched to plant a seed of doubt about the boss’s confidence, or lack thereof, in said senior lieutenant so Trump can watch it all be talked about ad nauseam on cable news for a few hours or a few days.
As official Washington wrings its hands about the fate of Secretary X or Y, the president vacillates between elation and anger and even jealousy. At some point, he either tells us all what’s going to happen to the latest target of his emotions – or he keeps the drama going.
Such is the current experience for one William Pelham Barr, America’s 85th attorney general, who committed a cardinal sin in Trump World this week: He told the truth. And that meant contradicting Trump’s month-old claims about a voter fraud scheme by Democrats in a handful of swing states he lost to the now-president-elect, Joe Biden.
“There’s been one assertion that would be systemic fraud, and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results,” Barr told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “And the [Department of Homeland Security] and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that.”
But Barr did not stop there. The suddenly emboldened AG committed another sin: He followed the facts.
Voter fraud claims that have been submitted to the Justice Department were “very particularized to a particular set of circumstances or actors or conduct,” he continued. “They are not systemic allegations. And those have been run down; they are being run down. Some have been broad and potentially cover a few thousand votes. … They have been followed up on.”
The president dispatched outgoing White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany the next day to deliver a tepid – at best – endorsement of Barr. When asked if Trump still has confidence in his AG, she merely said the president was not making a change at the Justice Department.
Then came a late-night report that the president is “livid” with Barr and might throw him off the pirate ship that has been his administration.
So when reporters were summoned to the Oval Office on Thursday for an unrelated event, Trump had once again set himself up as the all-powerful decider of a less powerful man’s fate.
Asked if he still has confidence in Barr, he replied: “Ask me that in a number of weeks from now. They should be looking at all of this fraud. This is not civil. This is criminal stuff. This is very bad criminal stuff.”
Stay tuned, Trump said in so many words, yet again treating the business of running a country more like a reality television show – only this one has gotten stale and predictable, with recycled storylines and a lame-duck star.
The president who is fond of reminding us he is, technically, the country’s chief law enforcement officer wants the world to believe Rudolph Giuliani and Jenna Ellis — his top lawyers, who are heavy on flamboyance but light on facts — have more investigative prowess than the entire Justice Department, which includes the FBI.
“He hasn’t done anything yet. When he looks he’ll see the kind of evidence that right now you are seeing in the Georgia [state] Senate,” Trump told reporters on Thursday. “They are going through hearings right now in the [state] Senate and they are finding tremendous volumes. So [the Justice Department] haven’t looked very hard. Which is a disappointment, to be honest.”
But that’s exactly what Barr did this week: be honest. It might cost him his job – and send a desperate president on a firing spree until he finds a senior official inside the Justice Department willing to do his bidding.
One last cliffhanger. But we know how this Trump Show season finale ends: With Joe Biden, a Bible, and the Oath of Office.