…Barr warned, a “wrong-headed and atavistic” focus on legislative and judicial oversight has “smothered” the president’s traditional and proper authority. It is telling—and perhaps most significant—that Barr was particularly worried about subpoenas and oversight…
…When Barr argues for a maximalist, unaccountable unitary executive, he is not simply articulating a matter of theory or principle—he is defending himself from an investigation into his own work, especially his direct involvement in the Ukraine bribery-and-extortion plot.
In the July 25 call records with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump mentioned Barr five times, usually in tandem with Rudy Giuliani, as a key player in the president’s apparent bribery and extortion conspiracy. One particularly chilling passage: “Well, [Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch is] going to go through some things. I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.”
Barr’s own potential criminal jeopardy deepens with each day of new testimony. The criticisms of his handling of the Mueller report—that the attorney general was acting as the president’s personal lawyer—were prelude, and mild compared to the allegations now. The powers and protections he claims for Trump, in the name of skewed history and partisan analysis, are the powers and protections he needs to justify his own actions.
To attack the speech as a speech is to grant Barr the terms he would prefer. Barr’s words and theories are intellectually dishonest and inappropriate for any federal official, but the problem isn’t merely that his political self-expression is disagreeable. It’s that his remarks are the defensive tactics of an unindicted co-conspirator desperate for attention and clinging to power.
And so, as a politician in a political struggle, he sought to rally a gathering of his allies around their shared partisan mythology, or victimology. He is a criminal suspect, Trump’s fixer and enforcer, cloaking himself as both savior and martyr. Even though he probably sincerely believes in this Manichean culture war, he seems to have chosen the time, place, and vituperative manner to provoke an attack from “the Resistance” and “secularists” on his religio-political ideas. He is not only trying to distract. He also setting a trap to shift the debate from his alleged criminal involvement to his culture war terms.
But this trap can be flipped against him by emphasizing the speech’s legal content: His extreme-executive attack on congressional subpoenas clearly lines up with his conflict of interest as a likely criminal subject of those investigations…