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Has William Barr gone full MAGA?

Atty. Gen. William Barr
Atty. Gen. William Barr speaks at the National Sheriffs Assn. Winter Legislative and Technology Conference in Washington on Feb. 10.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

A long, long time ago, just after Democrats had been swept into power in the House and none of us realized just how much we’d miss the recently fired Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, the L.A. Times Editorial Board urged the Senate to “confirm William Barr, even though it requires a leap of faith.” That leap of faith was on the question of whether Barr would protect Justice Department special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and make the contents of his report public.

If only anyone knew how long of a jump we’d need.

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Since then, the attorney general has misled the public about the conclusions of the Mueller report before releasing most of its contents, alleged that the Trump campaign was the target of “spying,” appointed a U.S. attorney to examine the origins of the Russia investigation and most recently undermined his own prosecutors who recommended a seven- to nine-year prison sentence for former Trump advisor Roger Stone. Here’s what the editorial board says now about the attorney general it reluctantly supported for confirmation two years ago:

“The Justice Department said officials made the decision to change the sentencing recommendation before Trump’s tweet, and Trump himself said Tuesday that ‘I have not been involved in it at all.’ But skepticism is understandable, given Trump’s demonstrated disrespect for the impartial administration of justice and his past actions, including his documented efforts to impede the investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

“That is why the Justice Department’s inspector general must investigate this episode and why Atty. Gen. William Barr needs to be open about the chain of events when he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee next month.

“On Wednesday, Trump congratulated Barr ‘for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.’ The burden is on Barr to prove that the Justice Department wasn’t doing the president’s bidding.”

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The Justice Department’s independence has been massacred. Columnist Virginia Heffernan was much more unsparing in her criticism than the editorial board, saying that this episode “confirmed Barr as nothing but a butler to the squalling Trump, adding to his cover-up of the true contents of the Mueller report, which, guess what, did not exonerate the president.” Readers have been similarly strident in response to the latest Trump administration scandal.

That feeling when a week-old editorial seems like it was written a year ago: Days after Trump was acquitted in his Senate impeachment trial, the editorial board lamented the hyper-partisanship that took root long before this president took office. Since then, it’s safe to say that concerns over worsening tribalism in politics have given way to fears of outright corruption of the Justice Department after impeachment. L.A. Times

It’s easy to forget there’s a presidential campaign going on several of them, to be more accurate. Sen. Bernie Sanders may be heading into South Carolina and Nevada atop the crowded Democratic field with two victories (or near-victories, depending on how you tally the results in Iowa), but editorial writer Scott Martelle points out an important caveat: The “moderates” in the Democratic primary together received a much larger share of votes in New Hampshire than the self-identified democratic socialist. L.A. Times

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What’s the best medicine for heart disease? Being rich. Common killers like Alzheimer’s and many forms of cancer still lack effective treatments; not so with heart disease, but medications that fight high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes aren’t reaching people who live in certain ZIP codes or below certain income levels. “Not only must clinicians advocate for patients at their bedsides; they need to put pressure on elected officials to expand access to healthcare,” writes cardiologist Haider Warraich. “A healthy heart should be a right, not a privilege.” L.A. Times

Liberals, stop mocking Trump it emboldens him, makes his supporters feel attacked and reduces your effectiveness at fighting his policies, writes Barry Glassner. He proposes a different line of attack: “Instead of an unflattering photo of the president, use a clip of his son Eric proclaiming in an interview last fall that ‘the government saves a fortune’ when his father stays at one of his own properties. ‘We charge them, like 50 bucks,’ he said. Juxtapose that with a headline from the Washington Post last week: ‘Secret Service has paid rates as high as $650 a night for rooms at Trump’s properties.’” L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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