Bill Barr Refuses to “Comply First, Complain Later” with Congressional Oversight

A number of people have talked about how dangerous — and how outdated — is much of what Attorney General Bill Barr said to a police organization the other day. I’d like to take another approach with his speech: to show what it looks like when you replace “police” with a co-equal branch of government constitutionally empowered to police the Executive. The italicized words below have swapped out the original. I’ve underlined my own additions.

The anti-oversight narrative is fanning disrespect for the law.  In recent years, we have witnessed increasing toleration of the notion that it is somehow okay to resist oversight.

Previously, it was well understood that, regardless of the circumstances, legal resistance is unacceptable because it necessarily leads to a spiral of escalating resistance that endangers the ability of Congress to oversee the Executive.  For that reason, virtually all jurisdictions have made resistance a serious crime.

Not too long ago influential public voices — whether in the media or among community and civic leaders — stressed the need to comply with oversight commands, even if one thinks they are unjust.  “Comply first” and, if you think you have been wronged, “complain later.”

But we don’t hear this much anymore.  Instead, when an incident escalates due to a suspect’s legal resistance to oversight, that fact is usually ignored by the commentary.  Congress’ every action is dissected, but the suspect’s resistance, and the danger it posed, frequently goes without mention.

We need to get back to basics.  We need public voices, in the media and elsewhere, to underscore the need to “Comply first, and, if warranted, complain later.”  This will make everyone safe – the police, suspects, and the community at large.  And those who resist must be prosecuted for that crime.  We must have zero tolerance for resisting police.  This will save lives.


These anti-oversight Attorneys General have tended to emerge in jurisdictions where the nomination process is undermined by an abuse of Vacancy Reform Act.  Frequently, these candidates get rushed through because the incumbent is an entirely unqualified flunky and their confirmations are sometimes accompanied by large infusions of money from outside groups.

Once in office, they have been announcing their refusal to enforce broad swathes of the criminal law.  Most disturbing is that some are refusing to prosecute cases of resisting oversight.

Bill Barr doesn’t believe any average American should ask questions before complying with those empowered to force them to abide by the law.

But his view is entirely different when it comes to his boss complying with the only body — given the OLC memos Barr has reinforced — with the authority to police Executive branch abuses. Indeed, he has (unsurprisingly) refused to enforce contempt citations, and has instead fostered the kind of disrespect for the law he claims to believe in.

41 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    Bill Barr doesn’t believe any average American should ask questions before complying with those empowered to force them to abide by the law.

    I haven’t seen any official statistics or anything, but my WAG is that “failure to comply” charges have skyrocketed over the last 5 years generally, and especially in the last 2.

    Maybe after Barr leaves the AG post, he can be the head of a police union somewhere. He seems as if he’d be a perfect fit.

  2. Ruthie says:

    This exercise is interesting, of course – but also totally unsurprising. Entire books could be written about the hypocrisy of the right, and Bill Barr in particular.

    • Americana says:

      I’m wondering how many of the individuals in this saga are going to merit biographies of their own rather than merely being in the myriad Trump biographies that will be written. AG Barr would seems to merit one of his own based on the smarminess of his applying for the job of Attorney General by writing a pre-employment essay on the unitary presidency knowing he was attempting to supplant AG Sessions as well as what rear-guard actions he’s since undertaken on behalf of Trump.

  3. Savage Librarian says:

    It would be great if somebody would pay for a full page ad in the NYT and Washington Post and offer to print this there. Maybe WSJ, too.

    In the USA, nobody is above the law. Ain’t that so, Bilk Barr?!!

    • Americana says:

      There are a few reasons I think Trump is trying to persuade some of his acolytes to run for office in specific states. Pushing individuals like Lewandowski is Trump strategizing and attempting to protect himself from impeachment during his second term (should a second term come to pass… aarrrghhhh…) as well as trying to gain enough additional seats in the Senate so he’ll be able to pass even more horrifying legislation than he’s done during his 1st term. Trump may also feel having such a rabid proponent as Lewandowski out running round New Hampshire spouting “Keep America Great!” is another way to keep the Trump fire stoked there. Since New Hampshire was one of the states that tried (and failed) to pass a bill requiring presidential candidates to provide 5 years’ worth of tax return to be on the ballot, Trump is going to want to have Lewandowski there spouting as much of a pro-Trump message as Lewandowski can when Trump isn’t available to spout his BS himself. Trump knows where his status is tenuous. Let’s make sure Lewandowski’s campaign goes nowhere.

  4. OldTulsaDude says:

    IANAL but Bill Barr’s notions about executive power seem to include an all-encompassing claim of executive privilege as a 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

  5. dwfreeman says:

    You know what Bill Barr is like, he’s like the captain of a Coast Guard search vessel pretending to represent certain US values while guided by perpetual emergency response to every White House shipwreck in Trump’s castaway presidency.

    In short, he is Trump’s firstmate, Roy Cohn’s ghost, a man he counted as mentor and legal protector, but in the end discarded just like he does anyone whose life no longer supports Donald’s in a meaningful way.

    Barr took on the Epstein case like he was charging the legal beachhead on Normandy, after canceling an earlier Florida landing date. Imperiled by the past, a father figure connection to Epstein’s rise to infamy, Barr chums in waters where others fear to fish even with a perfect storm of controversy on the horizon.

    And why? Because he’s fished there before. He’s a Bush Family Iran Contra protector, or pardoner.

    • Democritus says:

      I’ve read that he snuck into Cohn’s funeral after abandoning him to AIDS, and he just stood in the back.

      Everyone at the funeral of course knew he had abandoned Cohn.

      And scene. But I do wonder what he was thinking there, and if he is even capable of thinking nowadays.

  6. Jenny says:

    Trump-Appointed Federal Prosecutor Launches Extraordinary Attack On Philly DA Larry Krasner
    William McSwain issued the inflammatory statement hours after a drug suspect shot and wounded six Philadelphia police officers.

    Roy Austin, a former Obama administration official, said Barr’s speech was “an interesting attack coming from a Republican whose party once seemed to believe in local rule and autonomy.”

    “If the people elect prosecutors to change the way things have always been done, who is Barr to criticize?” he asked.

    • Democritus says:

      That attacks, for nothing other than a diversion to try to make this the Democrats fault so maybe they can’t point out the horrors of mass shootings, made me nauseous, literally. Just fucking disgusting.

      We need some god damned gun control.

    • Americana says:

      Exactly. This Greenland gambit by Trump and Putin likely has its seeds in their private discussions (such as at the Helsinki summit) of which we can never read transcripts. What the ultimate strategic plan is leaves little to guess work. Russia has its 3 advanced military bases in the Arctic w/the U.S. as a buffer in Greenland.

      This strategic initiative by Putin also has the benefit of being a potential boon for the American oil/gas industry as the Arctic sea floor becomes accessible to exploration so this initiative is easily sold to Americans behind the front it’s merely a pro-fossil fuels business move. It’d be interesting to know if this plan was ever discussed around Rex Tillerson when he was SOS and if Tillerson warned Trump to maintain distance from Putin just because of Putin’s pushing such initiatives.

      • P J Evans says:

        The entire Greenland thing (and anyone who thinks it’s for real) should be pointed at with lots of loud laughter, because Greenland belongs to Denmark and isn’t for sale to anyone.

        • Americana says:

          Of course Greenland isn’t for sale and so Trump is unlikely to be able to purchase it. (Doh.) But Trump has every reason to push for purchasing Greenland given Putin’s arctic military buildup and the inevitable drop in American oil production other than in ANWAR.

          Trump is harkening back to when the U.S. wanted to buy Greenland in the years after WW II because we’d built strategic bases there. Trump is nothing if not a repeater of international foreign policy initiatives championed by others in the past in hopes of gaining some fame for himself.

          Greenland has been a financial burden to Denmark for decades. Now that the reduction in the seasonal sea ice is going to permit the exploitation of the ocean’s natural resources there, Denmark may find itself w/a goldmine. Trump wants to exploit both a possible goldmine as well as potentially accommodate a strategic request from Putin that’s tied to seeking detente if not an alliance w/the U.S.

          More relevant is that Trump is seeking to make his mark in as many different ways as possible right now in order to bolster his credibility for a second term. He’s tried to gain a Nobel Peace Prize for himself. He’s getting himself a Space Force branch of the military. And he’s trying to get himself a 21st c. Louisiana Purchase via Greenland. Will it happen? NOPE, highly unlikely but it’s good to look at Trump’s initiatives from all angles to try to figure out why he’s doing what he’s doing.

        • orionATL says:

          thanks, p.j.

          i was thinking somebody owned it, maybe iceland.

          our prez is an off-the-wall ignoramus. the world is not new york city; you can’t just go out and make an offer for greenland.

    • bmaz says:

      Well Tim, your first comment here is not a very good start. No, failing to appear and testify pursuant to a lawfully issued subpoena is most certainly NOT “complying”. If you want to see the idiot in this thread, go look in a mirror.

  7. bmaz says:

    Y’all are going to be SHOCKED to hear that the Medical Examiner in NY has conclusively ruled the Epstein death to be caused by self inflicted suicide by hanging.

  8. mospeck says:

    Terrible great stuff, ew. As was your previous on don mcgahn is not the most critical witness.
    >security..highlights ..authority which goes to the core of separation of powers.. abuse of the Vacancy Reform Act >in his appointments to lead the CFB, DOJ, DOD, and ODNI..abuse of security clearances

    Just a spec-
    in the next Admin. This after we rid ourselves out from under this thing, and go back to normal order.
    Hesitate to say it, but really could picture you as ODNI.
    Civil Liberties vs. the NatSec. Yikes. Who in their right mind would want that job?
    Do think that you’d need to bring back a spook like Sue for your number 2 :)

  9. Tom says:

    Bill Barr’s concepts of law and justice are punitive, contradictory, and weighted on the side of the state, not the individual citizen. According to Barr, citizens are supposed to submit to the law even when they disagree with it. Yet as quoted in an August 8th Talking Points Memo story, Barr also expresses support for fictional law enforcement figures (e.g., “Dirty Harry” Callaghan as played by Clint Eastwood) who break the law and dispense vigilante justice when they believe the law is not serving the inherent sense of justice that Barr thinks is “hardwired” into every person. So citizens are to be bound by the law but agents of the law are not.

    It would be good to hear AG Barr express whatever sentiments of inherent justice he may feel on behalf of Crystal Mason of Texas, the black mother of three children facing five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election, unaware that her name had been removed from the voter rolls because of a previous conviction for tax fraud.

  10. skua says:

    What the officers of the law are saying is an unfair witch-hunt and I’m entitled to protect myself by pushing back.

    Monkey see, monkey do. On you Barr.

  11. dwfreeman says:

    It’s now official. Barr has become Trump’s go-to right hand legal man, his trusty, back-pocket Roy Cohn. And his department has assumed this mantle of direction with the kind of creative Trump legal defense consideration that got Barr the AG job in the first place.

    He left no doubt about this after DoJ filed an Aug. 6 amicus brief defending Trump’s position attempting to shield him from answering subpoenas seeking his cooperation with ongoing House Oversight Committee reviews of his office.

    The committee filed a subpoena in April seeking eight years of financial records from Mazars USA, Trump’s accounting service. Trump’s personal lawyers, not from the DoJ — which traditionally has played no role and taken an independent position on legal matters of this kind — have been fighting the records demand since it was issued.

    Under the constitution, Congress has broad authority to investigate the president. And the Supreme Court has recognized that authority by holding that the judiciary must honor any subpoena with a “legitimate legislative purpose.”

    Trump’s lawyers argue that the subpoena lacks such purpose and is essentially an attempt to legally harass Trump. In its brief, DoJ makes a similar claim insisting the subpoena is designed to torment the president by examining his finances for political gain.

    That issue was overruled in May, when US District Judge Amit Mehta noted that the committee had submitted a memorandum detailing a variety of legitimate reasons for the subpoena including efforts to consider possible legal, ethics and policy reforms in addition to House passage of a resolution aimed directly at the president. After the ruling, Trump’s legal team then immediately appealed to US District Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, which has already taken oral arguments in the case.

    So, why did the DoJ bother to step in now? Other than to back Trump and help prolong committee efforts to investigate him, there is no legitimate legal mission for getting involved in the case. The arguments it raises are psuedo-constitutional questions at best with no real foundation.

    Basically it wants the court to overturn legal precedent by having judiciary determine whether individual committee members are properly motivated in their subpoena effort not “impermissably attempting to interfere with or harass the “Head of the Executive Branch.” Toward that end, the brief calls for a “searching evaluation” of their motives.

    While offering no legal backing for joining the case and not questioning one aspect of federal law it might challenge, DoJ’s brief strangely argues that Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings memorandum is somehow insufficient because it failed to gain ratification by a vote of the full House.

    However, the Supreme Court has never required such a bar or made such a determination. It has never held that a committee’s subpoena is invalid until ratified by a full chamber. And even if that were true, the full House approved the Mazars subpoena that the memorandum supports.

    Ignoring that, DoJ makes the claim that that vote didn’t count because it wasn’t specific enough; that the vote itself was only part of general authorization for pending or future investigation, not specifically for the Maza
    Yet, there’s more. The DoJ contends that the House cannot investigate the president under its impeachment authority. What? Or, more to the point, Why, you might wonder increduously?

    Because, the brief insists, you can’t assert impeachment authority until you actually invoke its name to unwrap its intent. In other words, the House’s constitutional power to impeach lies dormant until somebody declares the intention to actually use the word to make it happen.

    You might wonder who has to utter this impactful word to grant this authority, whether it can come from any House member, only the House speaker or maybe a gaggle of lawmakers or a committee chairman, perhaps a committee of the whole shouting in unison. The brief doesn’t offer an answer on this, because there is no legal finding available justifying the contention.

    Beyond this, it gets stranger, because in addition, the brief contends that even if the committee had a legitimate legislative intent in writing new legal reforms for the presidency in terms of ethical conflict of interest and/or emolument questions about policy intent (already acted on with passage of HR 1 this session), such proposals don’t deserve legitimacy because they are probably illegal on their face.

    That is so, the brief claims, because the Constitution bars Congress from forcing the president to divest from conflicts of interest. Meaning, Congress can’t investigate Trump to force him to abide by ethical reforms because the reforms themselves would be legislatively unconstitutional.

    Pretty neat circular argument. But it sort of raises the question, what role does congress really play in executive branch oversight?

    I mean if it can’t get cooperation from the White House and can’t then can’t issue a subpoena without legislative intent, and it is barred from looking into a president’s actions in connection with potential ethical and policy reforms for his his office — short of impeachment unless you clearly invoke impeachment’s name– then those actions are preemptively deemed unconstitutional? Is this what Barr and DoJ are ultimately suggesting here?

    And why is the department involved in this legal cat fight anyway? Trump has an army of legal help. Barr like he has since becoming AG, has inserted himself whenever and however possible as Trump’s legal pickpocket. And like Trump he needs to go.

    I say impeach him for abuse of power and see how DoJ responds to that.

  12. bmaz says:

    “Invoking impeachment’s name” is not sufficient to my eye. There should be, at the least, a resolution opening a formal impeachment inquiry voted out of HJC.

  13. orionATL says:

    i will leave it to others to argue about the details of impeachment in the house. whatever those, the process wends its way forward.

    as for the true grounds for both impeachment and removing the president, fundamentally they are these:

    1. the president lies continuously and thereby misinforms the citizens of the nation.

    2. the president routinely engages in the rhetoric of fascism. i am being literal/historical here, not figurative. our president’s rhetoric routinely features:

    – violence (directly or by implication) speaking covertly to those numerous outlaw white male “brotherhoods” who glorify violence in the name of national salvation or racial purity;

    – racial purity (directly or by implication) in the form of the threat immigrants present (‘nativism’ these days), thereby triggering the deep-seated emotional response all humans have to threats to their culture;

    – national greatness, particularly as a return from a prior state of national weakness;

    – the betrayal of the nation by any individual or group who criticizes the president or his policies;

    – the extensive use of propaganda in speaking and communiques, enhanced by use of digital technology to infect citizens individually, independent of traditional print or electronic media communications that have been propagandized;

    3. this president lacks the emotional competence and balance required of a president, an individual who is perforce in an extremely stressful position of power. the president’s emotional instability is a serious danger to the nation.

    4. the president has repeatedly refused to accept the balance-of-power structure that is the basis of our american government (as clearly established in the constitution). he has repeatedly refused to acknowledge and accept the powers of the judiciary when they thwart his wishes; he refuses to accept the powers of the Congress when its laws thwart his wishes, or when it engages in its right to evaluate his performance. in these ways, the president seeks to make himself the only, or the master, political power in the nation – that is, its dictator.

    5. the president does not accept personal responsibility for a decision he has made or a failure for which he is responsible. he continuously points attention to scapegoats.

    the problem would be to turn these unacceptable behaviors of president trump into specific useable, investigatable charges in an impeachment document.

  14. JamesJoyce says:

    Barr wants Miestenguizen…

    Pound sand Pelham…

    Mr. Barr is no emperor yet he is a complete hypocrite naked and:

    I wonder is he is actually afraid of the pending collision?

    I’d say yes…

  15. Dew says:

    What I’m most worried about Barr is his defiance of law. It only works for him when he can twist it. Add the willingness of the GOP to now to Trump and thus my ultimate fear….Tump makes himself a dictator! Who’s to STOP him? Impeachment won’t work with the GOP votes. Who’s going to physically remove him when all of his admin. protect and agree with him completely get rid of the Dems? We are at a scary point. Its happened elsewhere and Trump has cheered them on in envy. If he does relinquish the seat or changes the rules to stay…then what. Barr will defend him as will the GOP. It’s very scary to think of.

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