Today Attorney General William Barr is scheduled to testify before Congress. Meanwhile, less than a week ago, 27 nonpartisan members of the DC legal establishment, including four former presidents of the DC Bar, filed a disciplinary complaint for systematic violations of the canons of ethics by Mr. Barr. The 27 elite attorneys included Phil Lacovara, former Watergate Prosecutor and the United States’ winning Supreme Court advocate in United States v Nixon.
In a comprehensive, carefully researched “bill of particulars,” the 37-page ethics complaint lays out a 16-month pattern and practice of “conduct unbecoming a member of the bar” during Barr’s tenure under President Donald Trump. The complaint asserts that William Barr has consistently represented Donald Trump’s personal and political interests at the expense of his client, the United States, and in conflict with his duty to uphold the rule of law. [Baron and Aftergut played a part in supporting the complaint.]
As iconic ethics professor Stephen Gillers has written: “We don’t have an attorney general now. We have another lawyer for the president.”
Mr. Barr’s alleged professional misconduct included misrepresentation of fact and law in Senate testimony, official pronouncements distorting the Mueller report, and blatant misrepresentations in publicly attacking an inspector general’s report on the FBI’s 2016 election interference investigation, while failing to present the true picture painted by the IG.
To quote the complaint, as Mr. Barr’s ultimate client, we the people have been receiving “the half-truth, the whole half-truth, and nothing but the half-truth.”
And more graphically, Mr. Barr betrayed his lawyer’s oath to uphold the Constitution when he oversaw the un-American assault on peaceful demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights in Lafayette Square.
Establishment lawyers are not in the habit of seeking discipline of their colleagues. They do so only in the most extraordinary circumstances. The credentials of the signers demonstrate the seriousness of the allegations. While Mr. Barr’s day of reckoning may be distant, it speaks volumes that so many bar leaders felt compelled to act to protect the justice system.
Any other lawyer committing the acts alleged against the attorney general would be investigated and disciplined. The establishment figures of the DC Bar who filed this complaint were insisting that the country’s top legal official is not above the law or the rules of professional responsibility.
Members of Congress questioning Mr. Barr should carefully read the complaint and ask the attorney general to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution and address the complaint’s charges without evasion.
The lessons here also apply to safeguarding our election process. The legal profession and the public must be alert to whether Vanity Fair is right that “Bill Barr is Running An October Surprise Factory”—a pre-election release of investigative pronouncements by his hand-picked prosecutor, John Durham, about Obama administration members.
The Justice Department has a proud tradition of avoiding indictments or other actions within six months of an election in order to avoid tipping the scales with inflammatory charges. Mr. Barr seems poised to disregard that tradition in a manner that fits the pattern laid bare in Wednesday’s bar complaint: serving Mr. Trump’s partisan interests at the expense of fairness in our legal system.
Such conduct is exactly what 27 leaders of the DC bar are seeking to deter during a critical time when the Justice Department should remain scrupulously neutral.