| USA TODAY
Barr: Federal task force made almost 1,500 arrests
Attorney General William Barr says federal officers working alongside local police in the initiative known as “Operation Legend” have helped make nearly 1,500 arrests, including dozens for homicides and other violent crimes. (Aug. 19)
Attorney General William Barr defended his turbulent tenure at the Justice Department Wednesday, claiming that his personal involvement in criminal cases is expressly authorized by presidential appointment and Senate confirmation as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
While repeatedly castigated for shielding President Donald Trump and his allies from legal jeopardy, Barr did not refer to specific cases. But he asserted that career prosecutors can “sometimes become headhunters.”
“I see it every day,” the attorney general said in an address at Hillsdale College.
In the past year, Barr has overruled line prosecutors by recommending a lighter sentence for Trump political adviser Roger Stone, while he has also sought to drop the prosecution of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Both cases were brought by former Justice special counsel Robert Mueller who headed the nearly two-year investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Justice abruptly abandoned the Flynn case in May, after the retired Army general pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts a Russian ambassador. The trial judge continues to challenge the department’s action. In the Stone case,
Barr recommended a lighter sentence for the political operative over the objections of prosecutors following Stone’s conviction for lying to Congress and obstruction. Trump ultimately granted his friend clemency, saving Stone from a prison sentence of slightly more than three years.
“The men and women who have ultimate authority in the Justice Department are thus the ones on whom our elected officials have conferred that responsibility,” Barr said. “That blessing by the two political branches of government gives these officials democratic legitimacy that career officials simply do not possess.
“The same process that produces these officials also holds them accountable,” the attorney general said. “Line prosecutors, by contrast, are generally part of the permanent bureaucracy. They do not have the political legitimacy to be the public face of tough decisions and they lack the political buy-in necessary to publicly defend those decisions.”
In both the Stone and Flynn cases, Justice lawyers withdrew from the prosecutions following Barr’s intervention.
“Our system works best when leavened by judgment, discretion, proportionality, and consideration of alternative sanctions — all the things that supervisors provide,” the attorney general said. “Cases must be supervised by someone who does not have a narrow focus, but who is broad-gauged and pursuing a general agenda…
“In short, the attorney general, senior (Justice) officials, and U.S. attorneys are indeed political. But they are political in a good and necessary sense,” he said. “And because I am ultimately accountable for every decision the department makes, I have an obligation to ensure we make the correct ones. The attorney general, the assistant attorneys general, and the U.S. attorneys are not figureheads. They are supervisors. Their job is to supervise. Anything less is an abdication.”
Barr repeatedly took aim at career prosecutors, once asserting that the Justice Department has “sometimes acted more like a trade association for federal prosecutors than the administrator of a fair system of justice based on clear and sensible legal rules.”
“In case after case, we have advanced and defended hyper-aggressive extensions of the criminal law,” he said. “This is wrong and we must stop doing it. The rule of law requires that the law be clear, that it be communicated to the public, and that we respect its limits. We are the Department of Justice, not the Department of Prosecution.”
Barr, who has repeatedly defended Trump despite damaging findings in the Mueller report of the president’s attempts to obstruct that investigation, referred Wednesday to a “criminalization” of the political system.
“The criminal law is supposed to be reserved for the most egregious misconduct — conduct so bad that our society has decided it requires serious punishment, including being locked away,” he said. “These tools are not built to resolve political disputes.”