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Sep 17 2020

Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news media and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Pondering the Pundits”.

Neal K. Katyal and Joshua A. Geltzer: This Is How Bad It’s Gotten at the Justice Department
The authors are law professors at Georgetown.

When civil servants resign, skeptics often ask what difference one person really can make by leaving. The answer is: a lot.

In his time as the head of the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr has alienated many federal prosecutors. The latest appears to be Nora Dannehy, a longtime prosecutor who has resigned from the department, where she was part of a team looking into the Russia investigation.

We don’t know for sure exactly what happened; she isn’t talking, nor is Mr. Barr. But The Hartford Courant, which broke the story, reported that Ms. Dannehy’s colleagues said that she departed because of Mr. Barr’s politicization — in particular, because Mr. Barr is evidently eager to break drastically with past practice and issue an incomplete report intended to help President Trump in his re-election efforts. [..]

When civil servants resign, skeptics often ask what difference one person really can make by leaving. The answer is simple: a lot. Ms. Dannehy’s departure isn’t just likely a major assertion of integrity by her; it’s also a big problem for Mr. Barr — and therefore for Mr. Trump.

Greg Sargent: Trump is losing control of his own propaganda

A fiendishly clever scheme to hoodwink the public goes awry.

President Trump is sometimes said to possess an almost mystical level of control over the news cycle and the public narrative, an otherworldly dominance that is usually depicted with well-worn phrases like “Trump is flooding the media zone” or “Trump thrives on chaos” or “Trump’s distractions are working for him.”

But if Trump ever did possess such paranormal powers, the real story of the moment is that he’s losing control of them, and they are now operating against him.

The battle over the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine perfectly captures this emerging dynamic. It’s now becoming a major issue in the presidential race, but not on the terms Trump originally intended. [..]

The obvious game plan here is to create the impression that a solution is right around the corner, due to Trump’s stupendous leadership, even if it ends up not materializing, and rely on credulous media to amplify the message in the run-up to the election.

But why would the public believe anything the White House says about this, let alone trust Trump to manage the fiendishly complex rollout process that will follow, after seeing him explicitly declare that he should be believed over his own scientists, and after we’ve seen so much other naked subversion of the public interest to Trump’s political needs?

Amanda Marcotte: Right-wing talk about “sedition” and the Insurrection Act has one purpose: Stealing the election

Barr and other Trump allies are lining up excuses to use force against pro-democracy protests after Election Day

There has been a ton of news about Bill Barr — official title, “Attorney General of the United States;” actual job, Donald Trump’s capo — crawling across cable news chyrons in recent days, so much so that it’s hard to keep track of it all. There’s that thing he said about quarantine restrictions being nearly as bad as slavery. And the thing where he whined about the Justice Department staffers that’s more interested in enforcing the law than protecting Trump’s political power. And where he compared such people to preschool children, for having the temerity to question his decisions.

All that is bad, but probably the worst news this week is a report from the New York Times that “Barr told federal prosecutors in a call last week that they should consider charging rioters and others who had committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition.”

He also asked federal prosecutors “to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for weeks this summer.”

This is especially alarming in light of Barr’s assertion, in the same speech where he made offensive comments about his own staff and about slavery, that he believes he has “virtually unchecked discretion” in determining what cases to prosecute.

Barr was talking about cases stemming from the protests in various cities over the summer. Although the vast majority of those protests were peaceful, there were a few incidents of violence and looting, though absolutely no evidence of plots to overthrow the U.S. government (which is what “sedition” means). Barr’s eagerness to overreact, however, is another alarming sign that he is exploring ways to assist Trump’s public and obvious plans to do whatever he can to steal the presidential election.

Dahlia Lithwick: Bill Barr Would Like to Undermine Your Faith in the Election

The attorney general cannot stop making evidence-free claims about threats to the election.

Bill Barr is on yet another one of his charm offenses. Well, you can’t really call it charming—but it is most certainly offensive. [..]

But even as his dedicated employees race for the exits, Bill Barr trundles on, offering up a coy new interview with the Washington Post this week that characterized him as “lumbering and generously jowled,” a sort of Yogi Bear for the unitary executive set. He also did a friendly sit-down with the Chicago Tribune on Friday, in which he chuckled with John Kass about steakhouses, Chicago crime bosses, and re-upped his entirely imaginary claims about the perils of mail-in voting. And then there was this barnstormer appearance on CNN, when he assured Americans that their votes would be stolen. America’s lawyer is hard at work at the critical task of freaking out the electorate.

In recent days, Barr appears to have inched away from his earlier claims that voting by mail was uniquely susceptible to foreign election tampering. Having pressed that particular hypothesis in early June in an interview with the New York Times, then in a July House Judiciary Committee hearing (a hearing in which he also testified he had no reason to believe the election would be rigged), he parroted the president’s unfounded talking points about foreign interference for just mail-in ballots. Barr was asked about it again this month by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who requested some basis for his now-frequent claims that “a foreign country could send thousands of fake ballots, thousands of fake ballots to people, and it might be impossible to detect.” Barr replied, “I’m basing that—as I’ve said repeatedly, I’m basing that on logic.” Barr continues to insist then that foreign counterfeiting of mail-in ballots is a legitimate threat for which he has no evidence or proof.

Carissa Byrne Hessick: Bill Barr’s Argument for a Political DOJ Is Very Convenient for Bill Barr

His comparison of career prosecutors to preschoolers was not only insulting—it’s also deeply self-serving.

In a speech at Hillsdale College Wednesday, Attorney General Bill Barr insulted career prosecutors at the Department of Justice while once again taking aim at the prosecutions arising out of the Russia investigation.

Barr drew an analogy between career prosecutors and preschoolers, saying, “Devolving all authority down to the most junior officials does not even make sense as a matter of basic management. … Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it’s no way to run a federal agency.” The insulting comparison attracted the most attention. But his open disdain for his employees is not simply bad management. The comments are part of his broader argument that the political appointees at the Department of Justice should be making all the important decisions, not the career prosecutors. According to Barr, because he is appointed by the president, he is democratically accountable and so his decisions are more legitimate than the decisions of career prosecutors.

This argument is very convenient for Barr personally. He has taken a lot of heat for interfering in the prosecutions of President Donald Trump’s allies Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, prompting career prosecutors to abruptly resign from the cases. Some have argued his involvement in those cases was highly inappropriate, if not corrupt. It appears that his actions are now the subject of an inspector general investigation. By crafting a vision of the DOJ in which only his decisions are legitimate, Barr can swat away questions about the career prosecutors who resigned in protest of his interference.