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Once again, Attorney General William Barr is getting in trouble with the New York City Bar Association. While in his position he is in charge of the Justice Department and is the top law enforcement official, the Bar Association in urging Congress to launch an inquiry into him and his conduct with regard to fairness and impartiality.
It has not been easy on him in his second go-round as attorney general. After serving under the late President George W. Bush, he was brought back by Donald Trump who pushed out Jeff Sessions after nearly two years as his attorney general and declined to give a permanent position to Matthew Whitaker, who served as acting attorney general between Sessions and Barr. The current attorney general had to contend with former special counsel Robert Mueller's final report his first few months and received much flak for the way he handled it.
Barr has been beleaguered throughout over what appears to be a lack of impartiality. He's been criticized as acting as Trump's personal attorney instead of the attorney general. The New York City Bar Association believes his conduct threatens the public's confidence in the "fair and impartial administration of justice."
"Mr. Barr's recent actions and statements position the Attorney General and, by extension, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), as political partisans willing to use the levers of government to empower certain groups over others," reads a letter the Bar Association sent to congressional leaders.
Roger Juan Maldonado, president of the group, and chairman Stephen Kass sent the letter on behalf of the New York City Bar Association to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). They explained in the letter that Barr's actions violated the "bedrock" obligation that government attorneys had as a way to avoid "even the appearance of partiality."
The association also criticized Barr back in October for his involvement in the DOJ's review of the whistleblower complaint that touched off the impeachment inquiry. The Bar and Democrats urged Barr to recuse himself.
Listed in the letter were four public statements Barr made that the Bar specifically found troubling. This included:
A statement at the University of Notre Dame on October 11 when he vowed to put the DOJ "at the forefront" of the effort to fight the "forces of secularization to drive religious viewpoints from the public square and to impinge upon the free exercise of our faith."
Barr's statement on November 15 at Federalist Society's National Lawyer's Convention, where he said "the left" is engaged in the "systematic shredding of norms and the undermining of the rule of law."
Another statement made on December 3 at the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in Policing that people who don't give the proper respect and support to law enforcement could find themselves "without the police protection they need."
A December 10 statement and interview where he rejected the Inspector General's finding that the FBI did not investigate Donald Trump's 2016 campaign improperly and was not motivated by politics.
The letter shares that Barr's comments "reinforce a broader pattern of conduct" that appeared to show his partiality in his understanding of his position.
"In a troubling number of instances," reads the letter, "Mr. Barr has spoken and acted in a manner communicating an impression that he views himself as serving as the attorney general, not for the entire nation but more narrowly for certain segments of society,"
It does not say in the letter whether Barr violated the Rules of Professional conduct but does say his comments were contrary to his comments about his role during his Senate confirmation hearing last year. He said then that the DOJ must be a place that cannot be swayed by politics and where everyone gets fair treatment based on facts and an "even-handed application of the law."
"For the reasons stated above, we have significant concerns about the propriety of Mr. Barr's recent actions and statements," read the Bar Association's letter. "We urge Congress to exercise its constitutional obligations by expeditiously commencing formal inquiries into Mr. Barr's conduct."
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