Attorney General William Barr is emerging as the most influential figure in the second half of President Trump’s term, the New York Times reports, citing the presidential order that intelligence agencies cooperate with Barr in determining the origins of the special counsel investigation on Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Barr is “the closest thing we have to Dick Cheney,” said Charles Cooper, a former DOJ official, citing President George W. Bush’s powerful vice president. “He is a strong-willed man with a forceful personality” and “well-formed, deeply studied views.” Former national security officials and ideological moderates have a different view, seeing someone who has glossed over Trump’s misdeeds, smeared his investigators and positioned himself to declassify information for political gain. “It is shocking how much he has echoed the president’s own statements,” said Mary McCord, who led Justice’s national security division during the Obama-Trump transition. “I thought he was an institutionalist who would protect the department from political influence. But it seems like everything he has done so far has counseled in the opposite direction.”
The Times concludes, “He is neither as apolitical as his defenders claim, nor as partisan as his detractors fear. Instead, he is a complex figure whom the right cannot count on to be a Trumpland hero and whom the left cannot dismiss as nothing more than a political hack.” Paul Cappuccio, an adviser to Barr when he served as attorney general in the 1990s, says Barr is not a factotum for Trump. Harvard law Prof. Jack Goldsmith, a conservative former DOJ official who has criticized Trump, calls Barr “not someone inclined to harm our national security bureaucracy.” Barr’s goals are to serve as a firewall between DOJ and the White House and to keep the crisis unleashed by Robert Mueller’s probe from weakening the presidency.