William Barr
William Barr, US Attorney General Image Credit: Ador T Bustamante/Gulf News

In the West, where the jury system is used to determine guilt or innocence, there is an understanding that nothing should be said or done that might sway the panel one way or another. And inevitable, when the more sensational or monumental trials are over, media outlets carry details reports usually headlined “What the Jury Didn’t Hear.” It usually details previous or similar crimes committed by the convicted person, or incriminating statements he or she may have made but have been ruled inadmissible.

Now that US Attorney General William Barr has resigned from his position and the formal tenure of the Trump administration is about one month away, no doubt there will be a lot of media outlets lining up stories and detailed coverage of what may or may not be going on behind the closed doors in the White House. And make no mistake, Barr was very much present behind those closed doors. As a top legal adviser and a long-standing ally of President Donald Trump, he had an open door to the Oval Office, its innermost people, issues and files. Over the past three years Barr has proven himself adept at interfering or not — literally as the case may be — in how justice was administered or not against some the president’s allies or enemies. And yes, it is that stark. The solid line of separation that is supposed to exist between politics and jurisprudence became very pixelated indeed under Barr’s watch.

Whether or not there was Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, who knew what and when, was supposed to have been determined once and for all by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. That long-running sage that was supposed to provide a definitive version of events resulted in a perfectly stage-management climax all of Barr’s doing. If the original report were to have teeth, those were expertly removed and a fresh set inserted before the Mueller report made the public domain. The Republican candidate in 2016 could not have chosen more astutely than Barr, a man whose belief in the candidate remained unshaken — until last week when he said that there was evidence that all of the allegations of election fraud in the 2020 had come to nothing. Loyalty, it seems, has its limits, and no sooner than Barr uttered those words than came an announcement that he was to leave the AG’s office before Christmas.

Barr took over Justice when the office was already mired in political controversy. Trumps initial pick as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, stood aside after months of barbed criticism over his recusal in the Russia investigation, allowing the Mueller investigation to go ahead.

The 70-year-old Barr earned his undergraduate degree in government from Columbia University in 1971, and followed that up two years later with a Master’s in government and China from Columbia. He followed that up with four years working with the Central Intelligence Agency.

The law degree came in 1977 from George Washington University and he clerked for US Court of Appeals Judge Malcolm Wiley. Then came a stint at the White House, working on the domestic policy of President Ronald Reagan between 1982 and 1983 — before a six-year stint in the law firm of Shaw, Pitman, Potts & Trowbridge. He left to become assistant AG in the office of George Bush senior, and was unanimously named AG in 1991.

Make no mistake, Barr did have an impressive record in cracking down on the bad guys back then. He was key to the prosecution of Manuel Noriega, who was convicted of racketeering in 1992 and has since become a staple in Netflix narco dramas, the 1988 bombing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, and the collapse of the US Savings and Loan banks.

And with the clock winding down now on the Trump presidency, the issue of pardons is in focus. Perhaps the most controversial element of his tenure involved another Special Counsel’s investigation into the Iran-Contra deal, where profits from illegal arms sales to Iran were funnelled to aid anti-Communist rebel activities in Nicaragua. Bob Woodward of the Washington Post wrote that Barr had an itchy finger when it came to his desire to fire Walsh, and almost acted on it when Reagan’s defence secretary, Caspar Weinberger, was indicted for his role in the secretive Cold War scheme.

Bush, who had been the director general of the CIA, pardoned five in the Iran-Contra affair — all on the recommendation of Barr. His absence now from the inner circle of the White House may be critical when it comes to who receives twilight presidential pardon — and why.

On February 14, 2019, Barr was confirmed by the Senate in a vote that fell largely along party lines. He was sworn in hours later, becoming the second person in US history to serve twice as Attorney General.

On a personal note, he has been married to Christine Moynihan since 1973. The couple have three daughters, all lawyers, with daughter Mary Daly working in the Justice Department as head of opioid enforcement, implementing President Trump’s legal efforts to stem the crisis.

One of Barr’s last acts in office was to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the tax affairs of Hunter Biden. The business dealings of the president-elect’s son had long been the focus of the Oval Office. With President Trump becoming only the third US leader to be impeached over, could there possible be an element of reprisal in Barr’s decision. Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine did, after all, focus President Trump’s attention on the east European nation. Certainly, Barr’s departure now marks a turning point, one where the orthodox separation of powers will be restored. For the rest? Well, let’s just say the jury’s out.