Trump's Berman disaster suggests William Barr is not so smart after all | Lloyd Green

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Maybe Bill Barr isn’t that smart. With less than 150 days to th.....her havoc.

Maybe Bill Barr isn’t that smart. With less than 150 days to the election, Roy Cohn 2.0 emerged from his scrum with Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the southern district of New York (SDNY), looking the worse for wear. In less than 24 hours, Barr placed Donald Trump in more jeopardy than he was when their brawl with Berman began late on Friday night.

Instead of replacing Berman in the near term with a Trump loyalist, the US attorney for New Jersey, and in the long haul with Jay Clayton, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Audrey Strauss, a career prosecutor, will lead the “sovereign” district until a Trump nominee clears the Senate.

The SDNY, remember, has investigated and prosecuted close allies of the president.

For Trump and his attorney general, replacing Berman with Strauss is like jumping from frying pan to fire. If the dynamic duo had a difficult time taming Berman, a Trump contributor and a former partner of Rudy Giuliani, reining in Strauss will prove even tougher.

Already, Lindsey Graham is heaping praise on Strauss, calling her “highly competent, highly capable” and lauding her for possessing “the knowledge and experience to hit the ground running”. That is not good news for the White House. Graham chairs the Senate judiciary committee.

As a younger lawyer, Strauss bested the real Roy Cohn in a mob prosecution. Back in the day, Cohn was Trump’s personal lawyer. Like Cohn, Barr attended Horace Mann for high school and Columbia for college.

Clayton’s shot at the SDNY appears to be evaporating. From the looks of things, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, New York’s Democratic senators, will be given the right to spike his nomination. They have already vowed to nix his bid, if Graham is to be believed. Clayton is a savvy corporate lawyer, not a litigator. Being a federal prosecutor calls for hands-on courtroom experience.

To be sure, the relationship between the SDNY and the Trump has been fractious. Its prosecutors indicted Michael Cohen, another Trump lawyer, and treated the president as an unindicted co-conspirator. Also, the SDNY went at Giuliani’s clients, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas. Proximity to power did not immunize the pair.

At the same time, word is that Giuliani’s business ventures may be receiving a proctological exam from the SDNY, which he led himself before he was New York mayor. For the president and Barr, targeting Giuliani may have been a bridge too far. But now they have to worry about Strauss. Sometimes the devil you know is safer.

Even if Rudy is left untouched, the latest episode will add another coat of mire to Barr’s reputation. Being this president’s stooge comes with a price. Like Rick Wilson says, everything Trump touches dies.

This weekend, Barr was caught in a massive lie. On Friday, he told the world in writing that Berman would be resigning. Berman had promised no such thing. Think of a seven-year old getting busted for raiding the cake batter.

Then on Saturday, Barr claimed Trump had fired Berman. Perhaps yes, maybe not. Whatever.

On his way to Tulsa, the president punted on whether he ordered Berman’s dismissal. The delegator-in-chief told the cameras that was a matter left for Barr. In the end, Berman resigned after Strauss’s selection was assured.

This was far from Barr’s first battle with the truth or the law. Already, he has mischaracterized the Mueller report, interfered with the sentencing of Roger Stone and dropped the prosecution of Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, despite the general’s guilty plea.

Practically speaking, Barr preaches law and order for the many but appears to show little concern for the rule of law when it applies to the privileged few. Back at Horace Mann, he reportedly boycotted a school carnival because its proceeds went to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. When peaceful protest stood to impinge on Trump’s staged walk to St John’s in Washington earlier this month, the attorney general nodded at the use of flash-bangs and pepper spray.

The judiciary too appears worried and distrustful of Trump’s AG. Earlier this spring, Barr earned the ire of Reggie Walton, a George W Bush appointee to the federal bench. Walton “seriously” questioned the attorney general’s integrity and credibility. His opinion deployed words like “distorted” and “misleading” to drive the point across, not language generally associated with the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

Barely two months later, John Gleeson, a former federal judge appointed by the court to review the justice department’s decision to drop the Flynn case, leveled a similar charge. His brief used the word “corrupt” nine times, and accused Main Justice of “gross abuse of prosecutorial power”. By this measure, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, attorneys general during the Obama-years, look awesome.

Once before, in 1992, Barr served as attorney general, and emerged as a reliable spear-catcher for a beleaguered George HW Bush. But as Bush’s re-election bid was tanking, Barr witnessed the Los Angeles riots, resisted congressional oversight and defined what the law was. It didn’t end well.

Faced with congressional demands for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate possible administration improprieties in the run-up to the Gulf war, Barr declined. Instead, he offered absolution by bandying about such phrases as “not a crime”, “simply not criminal in any way”, “nothing illegal” and “far from being a crime”. After Bush lost the election, Barr successfully pressed for a series of pardons for Reagan administration officials stemming from the Iran-Contra scandal.

Right now, the president is trailing Joe Biden. His Tulsa rally looks like a bust. There were empty seats galore, and members of Trump’s advance team tested positive for Covid-19. Barr may again be pushed out the door by his countrymen – but not before he and his boss wreak further havoc.

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