Bill Barr’s Entire DOJ Chased Trump Conspiracy Theories and Plotted Inappropriately

When Bill Barr resigned rather than do the President’s bidding to challenge elections that were perfectly fair, he could have revealed that fact publicly, okayed the indictment of one of the chief purveyors of election conspiracies, Rudy Giuliani, and admitted that the entire basis for undermining the prosecution of Mike Flynn — who had already called for martial law and an election do-over — was based on conspiracy theories spun by the same woman spinning the worst election hoaxes, Sidney Powell.

He didn’t do that.

Instead, he announced his resignation with a page of abject sycophancy that repeated the conspiracy theory that got Barr hired: that the Russian investigation was, “an effort to cripple, if not oust, your Administration with frenzied and baseless accusations of collusion with Russia.”

Even before that, though, Barr launched his letter with an ambiguous statement about the election, one that might be read either as endorsing Trump’s conspiracy theories or debunking them:

I appreciate the opportunity to update you this afternoon on the Department’s review of voter fraud allegations in the 2020 election and how these allegations will continue to be pursued. At a time when the country is so deeply divided, it is incumbent on all levels of government, and all agencies acting within their purview, to do all we can to assure the integrity of elections and promote public confidence in their outcome.

At a moment where he had maximal power to halt Trump’s efforts to overturn an election, then, Barr instead just cowered, resting on the one public statement that there was not sufficient fraud to overturn the election that had gotten him ousted.

Which is to say that to the end, Barr never foreswore the conspiracy theories he adopted in service to Donald Trump.

Now, however, others who also facilitated Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories for years until they, in the final days, didn’t, are seeding stories to suggest that Jeffrey Bossert Clark was in any way unique for doing so.

The story starts with a tale that suggests the top leaders in a DOJ that had broken all norms in service of Donald Trump weren’t, themselves, in the “Trumpist faction” of the Republican Party.

It was New Year’s Eve, but the Justice Department’s top leaders had little to celebrate as they admonished Jeffrey Clark, the acting head of the civil division, for repeatedly pushing them to help President Donald J. Trump undo his electoral loss.

Huddled in the department’s headquarters, they rebuked him for secretly meeting with Mr. Trump, even as the department had rebuffed the president’s outlandish requests for court filings and special counsels, according to six people with knowledge of the meeting. No official would host a news conference to say that federal fraud investigations cast the results in doubt, they told him. No one would send a letter making such claims to Georgia lawmakers.

When the meeting ended not long before midnight, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen thought the matter had been settled, never suspecting that his subordinate would secretly discuss the plan for the letter with Mr. Trump, and very nearly take Mr. Rosen’s job, as part of a plot with the president to wield the department’s power to try to alter the Georgia election outcome.

It was clear that night, though, that Mr. Clark — with his willingness to entertain conspiracy theories about voting booth hacks and election fraud — was not the establishment lawyer they thought him to be. Some senior department leaders had considered him quiet, hard-working and detail-oriented. Others said they knew nothing about him, so low was his profile. He struck neither his fans in the department nor his detractors as being part of the Trumpist faction of the party, according to interviews.

The department’s senior leaders were shocked when Mr. Clark’s machinations came to light. They have spent recent weeks debating how he came to betray Mr. Rosen, his biggest champion at the department, and what blend of ambition and conviction led him to reject the results of the election and embrace Mr. Trump’s claims, despite all evidence to the contrary, including inside the department itself. [my emphasis]

You’ll note that the NYT didn’t explain why it granted six surely very powerful people, mostly lawyers, anonymity to spin this tale?

Buried much deeper in the story, however, after retelling all the ways Clark broke normal procedure while running the Environmental Division, the NYT then explains how he came to be Acting head of the Civil Department and in that role took a number of inexcusable steps that neither Bill Barr nor Jeffrey Rosen objected to (indeed, those may have been the steps that drove Jody Hunt away and won Clark the job).

While Mr. Clark oversaw environmental cases, sometimes working late into the night and personally reviewing briefs, the department’s civil division was in turmoil. Its leader, Jody Hunt, sometimes clashed with the White House Counsel’s Office and, later on, with Attorney General William P. Barr, over how best to defend the administration.

Mr. Hunt resigned with no warning in July, leaving his deputy to run the division while Mr. Barr and Mr. Rosen searched for an acting leader among the department’s thinned-out ranks. Mr. Clark wanted the job, which was a considerable step up in stature, and Mr. Rosen supported the idea even though he was already a division head, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.

After he took the helm of the civil division in September, colleagues began seeing flashes of unusual behavior. Mr. Clark’s name appeared on eyebrow-raising briefs, including what would turn out to be an unsuccessful effort to inject the government into a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Trump by a woman who has said he raped her more than two decades ago. He also signed onto an attempt to use the Justice Department to sue a former friend of the first lady at the time, Melania Trump, for writing a tell-all memoir.

Remember: the currently operative story is that Clark didn’t know Trump until Congressman Scott Perry introduced them, presumably after the election.

It was Mr. Perry, a member of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, who first made Mr. Trump aware that a relatively obscure Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, the acting chief of the civil division, was sympathetic to Mr. Trump’s view that the election had been stolen, according to former administration officials who spoke with Mr. Clark and Mr. Trump.

Mr. Perry introduced the president to Mr. Clark, whose openness to conspiracy theories about election fraud presented Mr. Trump with a welcome change from the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, who stood by the results of the election and had repeatedly resisted the president’s efforts to undo them.

He didn’t get the Civil job because Trump picked him or because he promised to turn DOJ into Trump’s own personal law firm. Someone else must have picked him. That means Clark’s other decisions — one of which he took the day after he was installed and which were “Trumpist” by any definition of the term — had the full approval of the people now suggesting he went rogue later in the year. Indeed, those interventions may have been the entire reason he got picked to run the Civil Division.

Sure, Jeffrey Bossert Clark should be shunned in the respectable legal profession for helping Trump attempt a coup. But so should the men who willfully let DOJ champion Trump’s conspiracy theories for the two years before that.

43 replies
  1. CD54 says:

    How about the IG conducts an anonymous poll inside DOJ about who the “Trump minders” were, and then investigates every interaction with the top 10?

    • joel fisher says:

      10???? WTF; how about all. “Yeah, doc, I want you to remove the 10 largest tumors, the others will take care of themselves.”

      • Duke says:

        If one is placed in a position of responsibility regarding law and order, your personal rights should voluntarily be offered up in support of transparency to verify integrity and ethical adherence to the stated goals of department. The top ten in higher positions have more to lose (way of life and future opportunities) and more to protect (backside). The corrupt have liquid tension loyalty. Exposure to sunlight and the current of wind may leave water-spots but, who wants rust?

        • P J Evans says:

          The existence of “personal rights” isn’t dependent on your job. You may be somewhat limited in what opinions you can express and how you do it, but that’s about as far as most jobs go.

  2. Desider says:

    I don’t know if related to all this craziness with this election vote jostling, but with Barr gone, will there be more investigation of the Russians’ Smartech hack of GOP emails, that may have resulted in quiet extortion/blackmail of various Republican figures? (Corker & Anthony Kennedy’s resignations come to mind as top-of-the-list)

    • BobCon says:

      The problem I have with Kompromat theories is that I think they vastly underestimate the alignment of people like Corker and Kennedy with the Trump project already.

      These people don’t need a big shove in the form of a manila envelope coming over the transom with a thumb drive full of photos and documents.

      All they need is a gentle pat on the back and a modest job offer.

  3. Zinsky says:

    Thank you for reminding me of the hideous obsequiousness of Barr’s resignation letter, although reading it again makes me a little sick to my stomach. Bill Barr has to go down as the worst attorney general in history, having besmirched two presidential administrations. It seems appropriate since he served under the worst president in American history most recently. Barr should be also be disbarred and lose all government benefits, including his (I’m sure) plump retirement benefits.

  4. Mitch Neher says:

    Were they just throwing spaghetti at the wall with multiple coup plots?

    Or was there supposed to be a connection between Clarke’s coup plot and the storming of the Capitol coup plot . . . other than the mere idea of overturning the election results?

    How many different coup plots were there, anyhow??

    • PeterS says:

      Throwing spaghetti? Yep, and the word “flailing” comes to mind. 

      How many coup plots? Depends how you count them I guess. There was the dumb MyPillow martial law plot. As I said at the time, that guy wasn’t going to cause me to lose any sleep (cue “no endorsement of My Pillows implied” joke).

    • What Constitution? says:

      It wasn’t “spaghetti” that was thrown on the walls of the United States Capitol Building. Worth reflecting upon the actual level of fundamental disrepect behind actions like that. Good, though, that those who fomented this are now advocating “unity”….

      • Raven Eye says:

        Makes you wonder if they kept samples for evidence. They should have preserved that crime scene before letting crews clean up.

        • Fran of the North says:

          Interesting. I wonder how much crime scene investigation took place.

          The understandable desire to clean the people’s legislative house may have been corrupted by those looking to cover their own tracks and those of their co-conspirators.

  5. flounder says:

    What I wanted to know when I originally read the NYT story, and is still relevant, is what is Clark and Perry’s connection?

  6. Joseph Andrews says:

    …tell me more about this so-called ‘respectable legal profession’ (!)

    Great narrative in this article: as awful as the former president was (and remains), his enablers are much, much worse.

    All of which suggests a question—is the Federalist Society part of the ‘respectable legal profession’?

    • cavenewt says:

      is the Federalist Society part of the ‘respectable legal profession’?


      I’m currently reading Kurt Andersen’s book Evil Geniuses. The Federalist Society was one of the various long-term strategies hatched by the Business Roundtable (Koch Brothers etc.), along with ALEC, about 60 think tanks, and several colleges, to swing the country back toward a plutocracy. It’s very eye-opening.

  7. BobCon says:

    “He struck neither his fans in the department nor his detractors as being part of the Trumpist faction of the party.”

    It is pretty bad that Benner accepts this unchallenged — the guy was a Federalist Society activist and a George Mason U/Scalia Law School professor. A little more digging would have been smart.

    The Kansas City Star had an excellent backgrounder on Hawley which said that despite his backers saying they had no idea he might drive a coup, the evidence was out in the open going back to his academic years that he was an authoritarian freak.

    Unfortunately, the official press has swallowed the perspective of the mainstream legal community that people like Clark, Barr, Hawley and Kavanaugh can’t possibly be true Trumpists as long as they don’t go to the extremes of Powell and Giuliani. Just like we got fawning op eds from liberals about how we shouldn’t worry and Kavanaugh would be guided by a narrow approach to the law, we get Benner taking coup enablers at their word that Clark’s plot came out of the blue.

    • Chris.EL says:

      Was chomping on tortilla chips and salsa — mulling over Giuliani’s remarks I saw on @popehat (here’s an image)

      and a thought popped up — hey! if that’s the case (Giuliani says oh I’ll get to “…investigate their [Dominion’s] history, finances, and practices fully “…
      so if that’s the case, why (with all the lawsuits Trump has been a party to) hasn’t information along those lines been produced for Trump’s businesses???

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      Benner deserves credit for her original scoop, which illustrated the benefits of having inside access. But BobCon is right: her sources are exploiting their access to NYT’s audience to burnish their own reputations in advance of the truth (their identities) coming out. We see this all over the prestige media now, with Vanity Fair allowing Kash Patel et. al. to reveal their inner virtue and moral compass. Beware the wolf giving quotes under glossy or anonymous cover. He comes forward only to help himself.

  8. harpie says:

    Quinta Jurecic brings up a small [?] semantic [?] issue with the NYT article [but does not eleborate], where at the end it says:

    Others said he mounted an idiosyncratic push to remove the word “acting” from his official title — acting assistant attorney general of the civil division — citing an old department legal opinion from the 1980s. Officials denied his request.

    Jurecic tweets:
    9:16 AM · Jan 25, 2021

    Assistant TO the attorney general

  9. FunnyDiva says:

    Were they all men, though?

    “Sure, Jeffrey Bossert Clark should be shunned in the respectable legal profession for helping Trump attempt a coup. But so should the men who willfully let DOJ champion Trump’s conspiracy theories for the two years before that. ”

    (We’re not really going with “male as default” at EW in the year CE 2021 are we?)

    • Chris.EL says:

      Another excellent piece by *Marcy* telling the tales of the Trump Administration.

      For some time now I’ve been musing over the Trumpista’s ever present attempt to blame all wrongs on the “Deep State.”

      Seems to me that these multiple machinations amount to shuffling around — using Trump-applied or Trump-created deep state “utilities” as cover.

      If it didn’t exist before — Trump put it in and got to work.

      Roger Stone, Manafort, Bannon, Flynn, Kushner and on and on.

    • chicago_bunny says:

      This is the Trump DOJ we’re talking about. “Male as default” seems totally appropriate in that context.

      • Chris.EL says:

        Wouldn’t it be “just desserts” for something — a lawsuit — brought by a sexual assault victim (E. Jean Carroll) by a female attorney (Roberta Kaplan, Esq.) to FINALLY get to sink the proverbial *teeth* into Trump’s ample backside?

        Understand Ms. Kaplan represents more than one of Trump’s victims. According to Washington Post Ms. Kaplan also represents Mary L. Trump!!!
        Trump may profess women appeal to him, but Trump’s cruel and demeaning actions proclaim just the opposite!
        From Dan Abrams’ “Trump’s ‘Gamesmanship’ in E. Jean Carroll Case Smacks of ‘Desperation’ and ‘Fear,’ Her Lawyers Tell a Judge”
        “ADAM KLASFELD DEC 11, 2020 10:48 AM”

        “There is not a single person in the United States — not the president and not anyone else — whose job description includes slandering women they sexually assaulted,” attorney Roberta Kaplan wrote in October. “That should not be a controversial proposition. Remarkably, however, the Justice Department seeks to prove it wrong.”

        Power on! Ms. Kaplan!!

        • AndTheSlithyToves says:

          Saw a YouTube viddy of Mary Trump being interviewed a couple months back, and she was being asked about the E. Jean Carroll lawsuit. Mary seemed pretty confident that Carroll would have her day in court and would be successful. There was something about her comments that made me think Carroll already has a match to that DNA on her clothing.

          • Super Nintendo Chalmers says:

            You only get a partial match on a relative like Mary. It DOES narrow the odds of a match, but since this is a civil case, the standard of proof is much lower.

            • Chris.EL says:

              I’m not a geneticist — it stands to reason that if it is possible to isolate Mary L. Trump’s paternal DNA, certain common characteristic patterns could be evident. (To compare to Ms. Carroll’s evidence.)

              Seems no need to even investigate Trump’s own true sample.

              A preponderance of match could emerge without direct comparison.

              Wouldn’t it be just like Trump to object to that!!!

              Office of Former President BBBBull — SSHH**** is probably being FUNDED BY U.S. TAXPAYERS!!!!

              There is no end to Trump’s greed — the GRIFT continues!

      • AndTheSlithyToves says:

        While no longer at DOJ (she went to Treasury when Daddykins took over as AG), Mary K. Barr Daly was there for some time. Her hubby is still there.
        Don Winslow | twitter
        Bill Barr’s daughter Mary works for the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit. Guess what they do: MONEY LAUNDERING (like say…Deutsche bank)
        And Mary Daly’s husband & Bill Barr’s son in law, Michael Daly, works in the National Security Division of the Justice Department.
        7:50 PM · Feb 7, 2020·Twitter Web Client

  10. timmer says:

    DR EW: Am I so naive in the ways of the “official Press” and Barr’s remaining DOJ hangers on that the information you have ferreted out cannot be provided to Jamie Raskin and the impeachment team?

  11. pdaly says:

    “Remember: the currently operative story is that Clark didn’t know Trump until Congressman Scott Perry introduced them.”

    Harvard is a big place but not that big, especially if trending Republican.

    Just thought I’d point out that:
    Jeffrey Clark graduated from Harvard College in 1989.
    John Yoo graduated from Harvard College in 1989.
    1989 is one year after Kris Kobach graduated (Harvard College ’88) and one year before Viet Dinh graduated (Harvard College ’90).

    No idea if they knew each other in college or whether they’ve made contact or kept in touch after college.

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