Barr was confirmed as Attorney General on February 14, 2019, by a 54–45 near party-line vote, with Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) as the three Democrats to vote Yea. Republicans Rand Paul (R-KY) voted No and Richard Burr (R-NC) did not vote. Later that day, Barr was sworn-in as the nation's 85th Attorney General by Chief Justice John Roberts in a ceremony at the White House. He is the first person to be appointed to a second non-consecutive term as Attorney General since John J. Crittenden in 1850.
Barr was born in New York City in 1950. His father, Donald Barr, taught English literature at Columbia University before becoming headmaster of the Dalton School in Manhattan and later the Hackley School in Tarrytown, New York, both members of the Ivy Preparatory School League. Barr's mother, Mary Margaret (née Ahern), also taught at Columbia. Barr's father was Jewish and raised in Judaism but later converted to Christianity and joined the Catholic Church. His mother is of Irish ancestry. Barr was raised as a Catholic. Barr was the second of four sons, and his younger brother Stephen Barr is a professor of physics at the University of Delaware.
William Pelham Barr (born May 23, 1950) is an American attorney and government official and the 77th and 85th United States Attorney General. Barr's second stint in the post began in February 2019 during the Donald Trump administration. He previously served as the 77th Attorney General from 1991 to 1993 during the George H. W. Bush administration.
In 1992, Barr authored a report, The Case for More Incarceration, which argued for an increase in the United States incarceration rate, the creation of a national program to construct more prisons, and the abolition of parole release. Barr argued that incarceration reduced crime, pointing to crime and incarceration rates in 1960, 1970, 1980 and 1990. A 1999 criminology study criticized Barr's analysis, saying "so complex an issue as the relationship between crime and punishment cannot be addressed through so simplistic an analysis as a negative correlation between the two very aggregated time series of crime rates and incarceration rates." University of Minnesota criminologist Michael Tonry said the data in Barr's report was deceptively presented; if Barr had chosen five-year intervals, then the data would not have supported Barr's argument, and if Barr had chosen to look at violent crime specifically (as opposed to all crimes as a category), then the data would not have supported his argument.
Barr grew up on New York City's Upper West Side. As a child he attended a Catholic grammar school, Corpus Christi School, and then the non-sectarian Horace Mann School. After high school, he attended Columbia University, where he majored in government and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1971. He did two additional years of graduate study at Columbia, receiving an Master of Arts in government and Chinese studies in 1973. Barr then moved to Washington, D.C., to work as an intelligence analyst while taking evening law school classes at George Washington University, graduating in 1977 with a Juris Doctor with highest honors.
After graduating from law school in 1977, Barr spent one year as a law clerk to Judge Malcolm Wilkey of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He then joined the law firm of Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge (now Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman) from 1978 to 1982 and again from 1983 to 1989, after serving as Deputy Assistant Director for Legal Policy on the domestic policy staff at the Reagan White House from May 1982 to September 1983.
In late 1992, Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh, who had been chosen to investigate the Iran–Contra affair, found documents in the possession of Reagan's former defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, which Walsh said was "evidence of a conspiracy among the highest-ranking Reagan Administration officials to lie to Congress and the American public." Weinberger was set to stand trial on felony charges on January 5, 1993. His "indictment said Mr. Weinberger's notes contradicted Mr. Bush's assertions that he had only a fragmentary knowledge of the arms secretly sold to Iran in 1985 and 1986 in exchange for American hostages in Lebanon." According to Walsh, then-president Bush might have been called as a witness.
Barr is a longtime proponent of the unitary executive theory of nearly unfettered presidential authority over the executive branch of the U.S. government. In 1989, Barr, as the head of the OLC, justified the U.S. invasion of Panama to arrest Manuel Noriega. As deputy attorney general, Barr authorized an FBI operation in 1991 which freed hostages at the Talladega federal prison. An influential advocate for tougher criminal justice policies, Barr as attorney general in 1992 authored the report The Case for More Incarceration, where he argued for an increase in the United States incarceration rate. Under Barr's advice, President George H. W. Bush in 1992 pardoned six officials involved in the Iran–Contra affair.
In 1989, at the beginning of his administration, President George H. W. Bush appointed Barr to the U.S. Department of Justice as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), an office which functions as the legal advisor for the President and executive agencies. Barr was known as a strong defender of presidential power. He wrote an advisory opinion justifying the U.S. invasion of Panama and arrest of Manuel Noriega. He wrote legal justifications for the practice of rendition, so that the FBI could enter onto foreign soil without the consent of the host government to apprehend fugitives wanted by the United States government for terrorism or drug-trafficking. Barr declined a congressional request for the full 1989 opinion, but instead provided a document that "summarizes the principal conclusions". Congress subpoenaed the opinion, and its public release after Barr's departure from the Justice Department showed he had omitted significant findings in the opinion from his summary document.
In May 1990, Barr was appointed Deputy Attorney General, the official responsible for day-to-day management of the Department. According to media reports, Barr was generally praised for his professional management of the Department.
From 1973 to 1977, Barr was employed by the Central Intelligence Agency during his schooling years. He then served as a law clerk to judge Malcolm Richard Wilkey. In the 1980s, Barr worked for the law firm Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge, sandwiching a year's work in the White House of the Ronald Reagan administration dealing with legal policies. Before becoming Attorney General in 1991, Barr held numerous other posts within the Department of Justice, including leading the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and serving as Deputy Attorney General. From 1994 to 2008, Barr did corporate legal work for GTE and its successor company Verizon Communications, which made him a multimillionaire. From 2009 to 2018, Barr served on the board of directors for Time Warner.
In 1991, Barr said he believed the framers of the Constitution did not originally intend to create a right to abortion, that Roe v. Wade was thus wrongly decided, and that abortion should be a "legitimate issue for state legislators". In contrast, Barr said during his 1991 confirmation hearings that Roe was "the law of the land" and that he did not have "fixed or settled views" on the subject.
During August 1991, when then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh resigned to campaign for the Senate, Barr was named Acting Attorney General. Three days after Barr accepted that position, 121 Cuban inmates, awaiting deportation to Cuba, seized nine hostages at the Talladega federal prison. He directed the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team to assault the prison, which resulted in rescuing all hostages without loss of life.
In October 1991, Barr appointed then-retired Democratic Chicago judge Nicholas Bua as special counsel in the Inslaw scandal. Bua's 1993 report found the Department of Justice guilty of no wrongdoing in the matter.
Barr enjoyed a "sterling reputation" among Republican and Democratic politicians alike. His two-day confirmation hearing was "unusually placid", and he was received well by both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Asked whether he thought a constitutional right to privacy included the right to an abortion, Barr responded that he believed the Constitution was not originally intended to create a right to abortion; that Roe v. Wade was thus wrongly decided; and that abortion should be a "legitimate issue for state legislators". "Barr also said at the hearings that Roe v. Wade was 'the law of the land' and claimed he did not have 'fixed or settled views' on abortion." Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Joe Biden, though disagreeing with Barr, responded that it was the "first candid answer" he had heard from a nominee on a question that witnesses would normally evade; Biden hailed Barr as "a throwback to the days when we actually had attorneys general that would talk to you." Barr was approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee, was confirmed by voice vote by the full Senate, and was sworn in as Attorney General on November 26, 1991.
In 1992 He was awarded the Honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LL.D) by George Washington University.
In 1992, Barr launched a surveillance program to gather records of innocent Americans' international phone calls. The DoJ inspector general concluded that this program had been launched without a review of its legality. According to USA Today, the program "provided a blueprint for far broader phone-data surveillance the government launched after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."
In October 1992, Barr appointed then retired New Jersey federal judge Frederick B. Lacey to investigate the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency handling of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL) Iraqgate scandal. The appointment came after Democrats called for a special prosecutor during the scandal fearing a "cover-up" by the administration. House Banking Committee Chairman Henry B. González called for Barr's resignation, citing "repeated, clear failures and obstruction" by the Department of Justice in allegedly delaying an investigation of the BNL-Iraqgate case. González also called for an independent special counsel investigation.
On December 24, 1992, during his final month in office, Bush, on the advice of Barr, pardoned Weinberger, along with five other administration officials who had been found guilty on charges relating to the Iran–Contra affair. Barr was consulted extensively regarding the pardons, and especially advocated for pardoning Weinberger.
Upon leaving the DOJ in 1993, Barr was appointed by Virginia Governor George Allen to co-chair a commission to implement tougher criminal justice policies and abolish parole in the state. Barr has been described as a "leader of the parole-abolition campaign" in Virginia.
In 1994, Barr became Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the telecommunications company GTE Corporation, where he served for 14 years. During his corporate tenure, Barr directed a successful litigation campaign by the local telephone industry to achieve deregulation by scuttling a series of FCC rules, personally arguing several cases in the federal courts of appeals and the Supreme Court. In 2000, when GTE merged with Bell Atlantic to become Verizon Communications, Barr became the general counsel and executive vice president of Verizon until he retired in 2008. Barr became a multimillionaire from working in GTE and Verizon.
In March 1998, Barr lambasted the Clinton administration for criticizing Independent Counsel Ken Starr's investigation of the Whitewater controversy, which had shifted towards an investigation of an alleged affair between Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Barr said the criticism appeared "to have the improper purpose of influencing and impeding an ongoing criminal investigation and intimidating possible jurors, witnesses and even investigators."
Walsh complained about the move insinuating that Bush on Barr's advice had used the pardons to avoid testifying and stating that: "The Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed." In 2003, he wrote an account of the investigation in his book, Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up.
In 2009, Barr was briefly of counsel to the firm Kirkland & Ellis. From 2010 until 2017, he advised corporations on government enforcement matters and regulatory litigation; he rejoined Kirkland and Ellis in 2017.
In July 2019, the House of Representatives voted 230-198 to hold Barr (and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross) in criminal contempt of Congress, after they failed to produce documents as April 2019 congressional subpoenas mandated. The documents, on the planned (and eventually scrapped) citizenship question in the 2020 census, were withheld due to a "deliberative process" and "attorney-client communications", according to the Justice Department. President Trump also asserted executive privilege over the documents to withhold them from Congress. Only once prior has a sitting Cabinet member been held in criminal contempt of Congress (Eric Holder in 2012). The House instructed the Justice Department to prosecute Barr, but the Department refused.
In 2017, Barr said there was "nothing inherently wrong" with Donald Trump's calls for investigating Hillary Clinton while the two were both running for president. Barr added that an investigation into an alleged Uranium One controversy was more warranted than looking into whether Trump conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 elections. Barr also said in 2017 that he didn't think "all this stuff" about incarcerating or prosecuting Hillary Clinton was appropriate to say, but added that "there are things that should be investigated that haven't been investigated," although the FBI began investigating the Clinton Foundation and the related Uranium One matter in 2015, followed by investigations by Republican congressional committees.
Additionally in February 2020, Barr declared that there would be a review of the criminal case of Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor to Trump, who had pled guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russian ambassador. Flynn later attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, and had not been sentenced yet. Barr chose St. Louis' chief federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Jensen, to conduct the review. Jensen himself was nominated by Trump for the St. Louis position. Trump had publicly called for the charges to be dropped against Flynn. In late April or early May, Jensen recommended to Barr that the charges be dropped.
Barr was publicly critical of the special counsel investigation. In 2017, he faulted Mueller for hiring prosecutors who have contributed to Democratic politicians, saying that his team should have had more "balance," and characterized the obstruction of justice investigation as "asinine" and that it was "taking on the look of an entirely political operation to overthrow the president."
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) financially assists Republicans in their Senate election contests; in the seven years from 2009 to 2016, Barr gave six donations to the NRSC totaling $85,400. In a five-month period from October 2018 to February 2019, Barr donated five times (around $10,000 every month) for a total of $51,000. When Barr started donating more frequently to the NRSC, it was uncertain whether then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions would remain in his job. Barr continued donating even after Sessions resigned, and after Trump nominated Barr for Attorney General. The donations stopped after Barr was confirmed by the Senate as Attorney General. NRSC refunded Barr $30,000 before his confirmation. Previously in 2017, Barr had said he felt "prosecutors who make political contributions are identifying fairly strongly with a political party".
In February 2017, Barr argued Trump was justified in firing Acting Attorney General Sally Yates over her refusal to defend Executive Order 13769.
On December 7, 2018, President Donald Trump announced Barr's nomination to succeed Jeff Sessions. Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman reported that Trump had sought Barr as chief defense lawyer for Trump regarding the special counsel investigation headed by Robert Mueller after Barr made three positions known. First, Barr supported Trump's firing of Comey on May 9, 2017. Second, he questioned the appointments of some of Mueller's prosecutors due to political donations they had made to the Clinton campaign. Third, he alleged there were conflicts of interest of two appointees to the Special Counsel Team, Jennie Rhee and Bruce Ohr.
Also in May 2019, Barr appointed John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to oversee a DOJ probe into the origins of the FBI investigation into Russian interference. The origins of the probe were already being investigated by the Justice Department's inspector general and by U.S. attorney John Huber, who was appointed in 2018 by Jeff Sessions. Democrats criticized the decision, with Sen. Patrick Leahy saying, "Ordering a 3rd meritless investigation at the request of Trump is beneath the office he holds." Trump ordered the intelligence community to cooperate with Barr's inquiry and granted Barr unprecedented full authority to declassify any intelligence information related to the matter.
In June 2018, Barr sent an unsolicited 20-page memo to senior Justice Department officials. He also provided copies to members of Trump's legal team and discussed it with some of them. In his memo, Barr argued that the Special Counsel should not be investigating Trump for obstruction of justice because Trump's actions, such as firing FBI Director James Comey, were within his powers as head of the executive branch. He characterized the obstruction investigation as "fatally misconceived" and "grossly irresponsible" and "potentially disastrous" to the executive branch. The day after the existence of the memo became known, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said "our decisions are informed by our knowledge of the actual facts of the case, which Mr. Barr didn't have." Democrats later characterized the memo as Barr's "job application" for the Attorney General position.
Upon taking office, Barr refused calls to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation, despite his June 2018 memo arguing that the special counsel had no right to investigate Trump.
As Deputy Attorney General, Barr – together with others at the Department of Justice – successfully led the effort for the withdrawal of a proposed Department of Health and Human Services rule that would have allowed people with HIV/AIDS into the United States. He also advocated the use of Guantanamo Bay to prevent Haitian refugees and HIV infected individuals from claiming asylum in the United States. According to Vox in December 2018, Barr supported an aggressive "law and order" agenda on immigration as Attorney General in the Bush Administration.
Barr became attorney general for the second time in 2019. During his ongoing term, he has received criticism for his handling of various challenges, including his mischaracterized summary and selective redaction of the Mueller report, interventions in the guilty convictions and sentences of former Trump advisors Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, and allegations of political interference in the removal of Geoffrey Berman from his Southern District of New York attorney position.
On January 14, 2019, a day before Barr's confirmation hearing for Attorney General, Barr sent written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the eventual final Mueller report, saying "it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel's work ... For that reason, my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law."
In February 2019, as their father awaited Senate confirmation for his appointment as Attorney General, Mary left her post at the Department of Justice as the Trump Administration's point woman on the opioid crisis. Her husband, however, continued to work in the Justice Department's National Security Division. Around the same time Mary left the Department of Justice, Tyler McGaughey, the husband of her youngest sister, left the U.S. Attorney's office in Alexandria, Virginia, to join the White House Counsel's office.
In April 2019, Barr stirred controversy by saying he thought "spying did occur" against the Trump 2016 presidential campaign. The remark echoed unsubstantiated claims made by Trump and his supporters that the Trump campaign had been unfairly targeted or spied on by the FBI; Trump described it as an "attempted coup." There is no evidence that government officials engaged in "spying" on the Trump campaign. Barr later said he was not sure what spying had occurred and he did clarify what he meant by "spying". He also said he had no evidence of wrong-doing. Democrats criticized Barr's statement as "incendiary", saying the statement was intended to please Trump and that the statement lacked credibility following Barr's misrepresentation of the Mueller report in March 2019. Barr said he thought there was not "any pejorative connotation at all" to the term spying. At the time, Barr said he would not launch an investigation into the origins of the FBI probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
On March 22, 2019, Mueller concluded his special counsel investigation and gave the final report to Barr. On March 24, Barr wrote a four-page letter to Congress describing what he said were the report's principal conclusions: first, that the Special Counsel did not establish conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia's efforts to interfere with the 2016 election; and second, that the Special Counsel made no decision as to whether to prosecute Trump for obstruction of justice, quoting "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein themselves concluded that the evidence did not establish obstruction of justice beyond reasonable doubt, and made the decision not to press the charge; "Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense."
The Department of Justice released a redacted version of the special counsel's report in the morning of April 18, 2019. After the release of the full report, fact-checkers and news outlets characterized Barr's initial letter as a deliberate mischaracterization of the Mueller Report and its conclusions. The New York Times reported instances in which the Barr letter omitted information and quoted sentence fragments out of context in ways that significantly altered the Mueller findings, including:
During May 1, 2019, testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr stated he accepted Mueller's interpretation of the law that was applied in the Report. However, in a May 30 CBS News interview, Barr said he had applied his own interpretation of the law and took the position that obstruction laws cannot apply to presidents who abuse their official powers to impede an investigation for a corrupt reason. Barr elaborated: "As a matter of law ... we didn't agree with the legal analysis - a lot of the legal analysis in the report. It did not reflect the views of the department".
On May 1, 2019, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told the House Oversight Committee that Barr had instructed Justice Department official John Gore to refuse a subpoena to testify in front of the committee. The committee subpoenaed Gore over the Trump administration's efforts to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 United States Census. The reason for the refusal was that the committee's decision to not allow a Justice Department lawyer to accompany Gore during testimony violated "the confidentiality interests of the Executive Branch" (though a separate room was permitted). In early June the House Oversight Committee moved to hold Barr in contempt of congress for defying a subpoena regarding the efforts to add a citizenship question to the census. Two days after the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Barr likened his own experience at the Justice Department to the experience of the paratroopers who landed in Sainte-Mère-Église on D-Day.
In May 2019, Barr asserted, "Government power was used to spy on American citizens". Barr did not identify the specific actions prior to the 2016 election that he considered spying. After broadcasting some of Barr's remarks, Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy, a Trump loyalist, falsely asserted that FISA was designed "so that the United States could surveil people in other countries and it's very disturbing if they use the laws that are supposed to apply to people from other countries to spy on Americans illegally." The same day, Trump said his campaign was "conclusively spied on", characterized the purported spying as "treason", and called for "long jail sentences."
In May 2019, three months into his tenure as Attorney General, the Associated Press characterized Barr as a champion and advocate for Trump. Barr had enthusiastically supported Trump's political agenda, misrepresented aspects of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, repeated Trump's talking point that those investigating Trump had engaged in "spying", defied congressional subpoenas, and refused to give Congress an unredacted version of the Mueller report.
On May 8, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to hold Barr in contempt of congress for failing to comply with a subpoena which requested the full and unredacted Mueller Report. The matter then fell to the House of Representatives at-large for a contempt of Congress vote. The Justice Department took the position that disclosure of the unredacted Mueller Report would require the department to violate "the law, court rules and court orders" as well as grand jury secrecy rules.
Also in July 2019, Barr reportedly made the decision to not bring federal civil rights charges against New York policeman Daniel Pantaleo for causing the death of Eric Garner. In so doing, he overruled the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, which advocated charging Pantaleo, instead agreeing with Justice Department prosecutors from New York.
On July 25, 2019, Barr announced that the United States federal government would resume its use of capital punishment under his leadership, after nearly two decades without an execution. Barr ordered the Department of Justice to adopt a new lethal injection protocol, consisting of a single drug (pentobarbital), and ordered execution dates to be set for five inmates in December 2019 and January 2020.
On July 25, 2019, Barr reinstated the death penalty for federal crimes.
In September 2019, Barr was reported to have been contacting foreign governments to ask for help in this inquiry, including personally traveling to the United Kingdom and Italy to seek information. At Barr's request Trump phoned the prime minister of Australia to request his cooperation. Barr sought information related to a conspiracy theory that had circulated among Trump allies in conservative media asserting Joseph Mifsud was a Western intelligence operative who was allegedly directed to entrap Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos in order to establish a false predicate for the FBI to open an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. On October 2, 2019, Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch Trump supporter and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to the leaders of Britain, Australia and Italy, asserting as fact that both Mifsud and Australian diplomat Alexander Downer had been directed to contact Papadopoulos. Joe Hockey, the Australian ambassador to the United States, sharply rejected Graham's characterization of Downer. A former Italian government official told The Washington Post in October 2019 that during a meeting the previous month, Italian intelligence services told Barr they had "no connections, no activities, no interference" in the matter; Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte later affirmed this. One British official with knowledge of Barr's requests observed, "it is like nothing we have come across before, they are basically asking, in quite robust terms, for help in doing a hatchet job on their own intelligence services." The Washington Post reported on November 22, 2019 that the Justice Department inspector general had aggressively investigated the allegation that Mifsud had been directed to entrap Papadopoulos, but found it was without merit. The Post also reported the inspector general found the opening of the FBI's Crossfire Hurricane investigation was legally and factually predicated. The Post subsequently reported in December 2019 that Barr disagreed with the inspector general's conclusion that there was adequate evidence for the FBI to open its investigation. The Post also reported in December 2019 that the inspector general asked Durham and several American intelligence agencies if there was evidence of a setup by American intelligence, but they replied there was none.
On October 24, 2019, two sources told The New York Times that the Durham inquiry had been elevated to a criminal investigation. The Times reported on November 22 that the Justice Department inspector general had made a criminal referral to Durham regarding Kevin Clinesmith, a low-level FBI attorney who had altered an email during the process of acquiring a wiretap warrant renewal on Carter Page, and that referral appeared to be at least part of the reason Durham's investigation was elevated to criminal status. Barr rejected criticism by Democrats in Congress that the transitioned investigation was designed to provide support to Trump during his impeachment inquiry in the Trump-Ukraine scandal.
In November 2019, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded his investigation into the origins of the 2016 Russia probe, concluding that the investigation was not tainted by "political bias or improper motivation", and that the initial information gathered "was sufficient to predicate the investigation" given the "low threshold" for opening an investigation. Barr rejected the conclusions of the report, declaring that the investigation was started "on the thinnest of suspicions that, in [his] view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken." This also contradicted FBI director Chris Wray, who interpreted Horowitz's findings as the investigation having "appropriate predication and authorization".
In December 2019, Barr claimed in an interview with NBC News that the Russia investigation was "completely baseless" and said he believed the FBI's investigation may have been conducted in "bad faith". Barr also refused to refute the debunked conspiracy theory of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election during the interview. In a subsequent interview on Fox News, Barr asserted, "the president bore the burden of probably one of the greatest conspiracy theories — baseless conspiracy theories — in American political history," despite the recent inspector general report debunking several conspiracy theories Trump and his allies had promoted.
In December 2019, Barr said that communities that do not show the "respect and support that law enforcement deserves ... might find themselves without the police protection they need."
In December 2019, Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Patrick J. Leahy asked the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate Barr for approving an illegal surveillance program without legal analysis.
In a December 2019 opinion piece, former FBI director, CIA director and federal judge William Webster wrote of "a dire threat to the rule of law in the country I love." Webster asserted that "the integrity of the institutions that protect our civil order are, tragically, under assault," writing that "aspersions cast upon [FBI employees] by the president and my longtime friend, Attorney General William P. Barr, are troubling in the extreme." Since 2005, Webster had served as the chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.
On December 11, 2019, former Attorney General Eric Holder, who had served under President Obama, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post claiming William Barr is "unfit to be attorney general" for his "naked partisan[ship]", "attempts to vilify the president's critics", his attacks on the inspector general and his comments on ongoing investigations.
Under Barr's leadership, the Justice Department changed its position on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Previously the department took the position that the individual mandate provision was unconstitutional, but could be severed from the whole healthcare law. On March 25, the department updated its position to argue that the entire law is unconstitutional. On May 2, the department conducted a filing with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to nullify the entire law, arguing that the removal of the provision on individual mandate results in the entire law becoming unconstitutional. As of that day, President Donald Trump has promised to produce a replacement health insurance plan only after he wins reelection in 2020.
In January 2020, Barr prohibited the start of counterintelligence investigations related to presidential campaigns unless both the Attorney General and head of the FBI signed off on those investigations.
In February 2020, President Trump directly referenced Barr in the Justice Department's intercession in recommending a lighter sentence for Trump's associate and old friend Roger Stone. Trump's tweet stated: "Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought." Initially, four career prosecutors had recommended that Stone serve a jail term of between seven to nine years. A Trump tweet followed: "Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!" - after which the Department recommended an unspecified jail term. The Department claimed that this later decision was made without consulting the White House. The prosecutors resigned from the case as a result, with one choosing to leave the Department.
In February 2020, Senator Lindsey Graham stated that the Justice Department "is receiving information coming out of the Ukraine from" Rudy Giuliani, a personal lawyer to president Donald Trump. Graham had learnt from Barr that "they've created a process that Rudy could give information and they would see if it's verified". A day later, Barr confirmed Graham's account, stating that he had "established an intake process" for information on Ukraine, including from Giuliani, while citing an "obligation to have an open door" policy on receiving information. Giuliani has claimed to have information of improprieties regarding Ukraine for Joe Biden (a former vice president, later a 2020 presidential candidate) and his son Hunter Biden. Giuliani himself is reportedly being investigated by the Justice Department, with two of his associates having been arrested.
In March 2020, Reggie Walton, a federal district judge originally appointed by President George W. Bush, criticized Barr's characterizations of the Mueller report as "distorted" and "misleading". Walton made his comments while presiding over a lawsuit on whether the Mueller report should be released without redactions. As Walton saw it, Barr's "lack of candor" undermined Barr's "credibility and, in turn, the department's" arguments before the court. Walton had concerns that Barr may have made a "calculated attempt to influence public discourse" in favor of President Trump by establishing "a one-sided narrative" about the report contrary to the report's findings. Walton questioned if the report's redactions were actually "self-serving" to avoid conflict with Barr's statements, and if the Justice Department used "post-hoc rationalizations" to defend Barr. Thus, Walton decided to personally review the redacted material to check if the redactions were justified.
Barr defended Trump's April 2020 firing of intelligence community inspector general Michael K. Atkinson. Atkinson was the inspector general who sought to get the Trump administration to the disclose the Ukraine scandal whistleblower complaint to Congress. In defense of the firing, Barr allegedly made numerous false claims about Atkinson's actions during his tenure.
The Justice Department announced in May 2020 that the charges against Flynn would be dropped, with Jensen stating that Barr had agreed with his recommendation. Shortly after, Barr was asked in a media interview if given that Flynn "admitted lying to the FBI. Does the fact remain that he lied?" Barr replied that "people sometimes plead to things that turn out not to be crimes ... the Department of Justice is not persuaded that this was material to any legitimate counterintelligence investigation. So it was not a crime." Barr denied that he was carrying out the president's agenda on this case, stating that he was "doing the law's bidding". He also said that from this case, he wanted to show Americans that "there's only one standard of justice", instead of two standards of justice.
On May 18, 2020, Barr commented on prior investigations into potential collusion between Trump and Russia stating: "What happened to the president in the 2016 election and throughout the first two years of his administration was abhorrent...it was a grave injustice and it was unprecedented in American history...the law enforcement and intelligence apparatus of this country were involved in advancing a false and utterly baseless Russian collusion narrative against this president".
In June 2020, amid the George Floyd protests against racism and police brutality, Barr said he rejected "that the law enforcement system is systemically racist."
In early June 2020, according to reporting by The Washington Post and Fox News, Barr personally ordered that the streets around Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C. should be cleared so that Trump, Barr and other administration officials could stage a photo op in front of St. John's Church. At the time, the streets were occupied by peaceful protesters as part of the George Floyd protests in Washington, D.C. Barr's order resulted in federal law enforcement officers rushing protesters, and employing smoke canisters, pepper balls, riot shields, and batons against the protesters. Barr reacted to the incident by falsely claiming that pepper balls (used by law enforcement on protesters) were not chemical irritants (pepper balls contain pelargonic acid vanillylamide, a chemical irritant; while the product's manufacturer, and the Justice Department, both consider pepper balls a chemical irritant).
In mid-June 2020, in a Friday night news dump, Barr announced that Geoffrey Berman, the court-appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), "is stepping down". Berman's office had been investigating both Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Trump's inaugural committee, as well as conducting a wider investigation into Trump's company and his associates after successfully prosecuting Michael Cohen, another personal lawyer of Trump. CNN also reported that Berman had prosecuted Halkbank despite Barr's attempt to try to avoid charges for the Turkish state-owned bank, after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan requested Trump to help drop the charges.
In the spring of 2019, Barr reportedly attempted to undermine the conviction of Trump fixer Michael Cohen for campaign finance violations, detailed The New York Times in June 2020. Barr reportedly raised doubts multiple times about the validity of the charges against Cohen, including requesting the Office of Legal Counsel to draft a memo with legal arguments which could have helped Cohen's case. Barr's efforts were reportedly stemmed by the prosecutors of the Southern District of New York. Ultimately, Cohen's conviction was not changed.
Law professors and faculty from George Washington University Law School, Attorney General William Barr's alma mater, said in a letter on June 23, 2020 he has "failed to fulfill his oath of office to 'support and defend the Constitution of the United States.' " In a statement signed by 65 faculty and professors from the law school, the group wrote that Barr's actions as attorney general "have undermined the rule of law, breached constitutional norms, and damaged the integrity and traditional independence of his office and of the Department of Justice."