A normal attorney general of the United States right now would be focused on protecting the integrity of the fast-approaching November elections. Instead, the attorney general we have — William P. Barr — is intent on doing the opposite: unraveling the government’s efforts to hold accountable those who infected our last presidential election, in 2016, and undermining the integrity of the vote in 2020. It’s so bad that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, who last weekend said it would be a “waste of time” to try to impeach Barr, is now reconsidering. (For the moment, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says impeachment is not happening.)
There are four ways that Barr’s approach to running the Justice Department imperils the vote: He’s letting off the hook those who contributed to interference in the last election; he’s undermining confidence in the government’s ability to protect the coming election; he’s signaling to bad actors that helping President Trump win will garner them special treatment under the law; and he’s spreading disinformation about the potential for voter fraud.
First, Barr is actively undoing work by the very department he oversees to address the counterintelligence threat exposed during the 2016 elections. At the core of Russia’s effort to distort American democracy was its move to obtain influence over a presidential candidate and his team. That’s what the FBI was investigating when it interviewed Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, in January 2017. The criminal charges brought against Flynn for lying during that interview — to which he pleaded guilty twice — affirmed federal law enforcement’s commitment to investigate counterintelligence threats and disrupt them.