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New York, NY, Jan. 9, 2020 – The New York City Bar Association has sent a letter to Congressional leaders, urging them “to commence formal inquiries into a pattern of conduct by Attorney General William P. Barr that threatens public confidence in the fair and impartial administration of justice.”

The letter asserts that in several extended public statements during the past few months, Mr. Barr has disregarded “bedrock obligations for government lawyers,” including “to avoid even the appearance of partiality and impropriety, and to avoid manifesting bias, prejudice, or partisanship in the exercise of official responsibilities.”

These statements include an October speech at the University of Notre Dame, now posted on the Department of Justice’s website, in which Mr. Barr stated that “the Founding generation . . . believed that the Judeo-Christian moral system corresponds to the true nature of man” and that “Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct.” Expressing his view that “Judeo-Christian values . . . have made this country great”—while simultaneously rejecting the moral basis of secularism and, by implication, other religions (and atheism) as “an inversion of Christian morality,” Mr. Barr vowed to place the Department of Justice “at the forefront” of efforts to resist “forces of secularization.”

In a November speech at the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention, Mr. Barr charged that “opponents of the Trump presidency’s policies” have been “engaged in the systematic shredding of norms and the undermining of the rule of law” and referred to what he called a “progressive holy war,” characterized by the use of “any means necessary to gain momentary advantage.” By contrast, Mr. Barr proclaimed, conservatives “tend to have more scruple over their political tactics” and are “more genuinely committed to the rule of law.” 

In December – following earlier remarks at a Fraternal Order of Police gathering in which he criticized District Attorneys from “large cities” who “style themselves as ‘social justice’ reformers, who spend their time undercutting the police, letting criminals off the hook, and refusing to enforce the law,” and “an increasingly vocal minority” that “regularly attacks the police and advances a narrative that it is the police that are the bad guys”  and “automatically start[s] screaming for the officers’ scalps, regardless of the facts” following “a confrontation involving the use of force by police”– Mr. Barr warned at a DOJ awards ceremony that “the American people have to . . . start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves,” and “if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.” While Mr. Barr did not specify which “communities” were at risk of seeing decreased police protection because they lack respect for law enforcement, and notwithstanding his later denial that he had suggested that people should not criticize police officers and his assertion that he had merely been referring to the high rates of job vacancies in police agencies throughout the country, “his comment was understood by some observers, not unreasonably, as being directed toward members of communities of color protesting excessive use of force by police,” the letter states.

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In a December television interview, the letter states, Mr. Barr “publicly rejected” the DOJ’s Inspector General’s finding of no improper political motivation in the FBI’s commencement of a counterintelligence investigation into alleged ties between the Trump-Pence campaign and Russian officials in 2016. The letter says that Mr. Barr asserted instead “that a separate ongoing investigation into the FBI’s actions that he personally had directed would likely reach a different conclusion. Although that second investigation (which is being supervised by a different DOJ official) is not yet complete, Mr. Barr nevertheless openly discussed his opinions about the likely outcome of that investigation. In a separate statement the previous day, Mr. Barr asserted that the FBI’s factual predicate was ‘insufficient to justify’ its investigation and that the FBI may have acted in ‘bad faith’ in commencing that investigation.” The letter draws a parallel with Mr. Barr’s “earlier mischaracterizations of the Mueller Report, prior to his release of a redacted version of it, in which Mr. Barr claimed the special counsel had found insufficient evidence of any obstruction of justice by President Trump—a material mischaracterization of the Mueller Report and a proposition rejected by more than 1,000 former federal prosecutors based on the facts set forth in the Mueller Report.”

According to the letter, “Mr. Barr’s conduct appears to run afoul of the ‘very special obligations’ that he himself professed to recognize during his 1991 and 2019 Senate confirmation hearings. During the 1991 hearing, Mr. Barr recognized that the Attorney General ‘holds in trust the fair and impartial administration of justice’ and bears responsibility ‘to enforce the law evenhandedly and with integrity.’ He also noted that the Attorney General ‘must ensure that the administration of justice . . . is above and away from politics,’ and that ‘[n]othing could be more destructive of our system of government, of the rule of law, or the Department of Justice as an institution, than any toleration of political interference with the enforcement of the law.’ In 2019, Mr. Barr further explained that the Department of Justice must be a ‘place[] in the government where the rule of law – not politics – holds sway, and where they [the American people] will be treated fairly based solely on the facts and an even-handed application of the law.’”

The letter concludes: “For the reasons stated above, we have significant concerns about the propriety of Mr. Barr’s recent actions and statements. We urge Congress to exercise its constitutional obligations by expeditiously commencing formal inquiries into Mr. Barr’s conduct.”

The letter is signed by New York City Bar Association President Roger Juan Maldonado and the Chair of the Association’s Task Force on the Rule of Law, Stephen L. Kass, and is addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, with a copy to other government officials, including Mr. Barr. 

The full letter is available here: http://bit.ly/2QAjsoF

(The City Bar’s previous statement calling for Mr. Barr to recuse himself from DOJ review of the Ukraine matter, is available here: http://bit.ly/2JiSspI)

About the Association
The mission of the New York City Bar Association, which was founded in 1870 and has 24,000 members, is to equip and mobilize a diverse legal profession to practice with excellence, promote reform of the law, and uphold the rule of law and access to justice in support of a fair society and the public interest in our community, our nation, and throughout the world. www.nycbar.org