The Justice Department celebrates its 150th anniversary this month, but agency veterans worry that President Donald Trump has demolished the norms that were supposed to insulate prosecutions from politics, reports NPR. At the center of the debate is Attorney General William Barr, who’s scheduled to testify Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Barr has become a lightning rod for critics who argue he’s not an independent officer as the boss of the Justice Department should be, but acting too much like a sympathetic counselor for the president. In recent weeks, lawyers in Washington have pushed the bar association to investigate the attorney general.
Barr’s fans said the Justice Department is lucky to have him at the helm during a difficult time. Longtime watchers of government and law said the environment today echoes the most chaotic period in DOJ’s modern history. During the 1970s Watergate scandal, one of President Richard Nixon’s attorneys general, Elliot Richardson, quit after the White House was tampering with a special prosecutor. After that debacle, Republicans and Democrats agreed that presidents shouldn’t use the Justice Department to go after their enemies — or reward their friends. Now, Trump is criticized for commuting the sentence of his longtime adviser Roger Stone, the early prison release of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort; and abandoning the case against his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Those moves have led thousands of Justice Department veterans to demand that Barr resign or face investigation himself. For his part, Barr has said the president has never talked to him about a specific criminal case. He told NPR he’s doing his job, not systematically protecting the president. Asked about the allegations that he has overseen a pattern of special treatment in the cases involving Trump’s friends, Barr said “there is no such pattern.”