Bill Barr Ratf*cks DOJ ... No, This Is A New One! For Trump's Pal Turkey!
Bill Barr is the most dangerous man in DC. Maybe Trump is a demented aberration whose despotic demands result from a lethal cocktail of egomania and tertiary syphilis. But the attorney general, formerly known as a "serious person," insists that there is no law but the president, that the executive can defy both congressional and judicial oversight, and that he has the right to use the Justice Department to prosecute his enemies and to protect his friends. Which is such a gross insult to an independent legal system that former DOJ employees are slamming the fire alarm demanding Barr's resignation before he does any more damage to the department he leads.
This weekend, more than 1,100 former DOJ employees signed a letter demanding Barr's resignation and calling on current DOJ employees "to report future abuses to the Inspector General, the Office of Professional Responsibility, and Congress; to refuse to carry out directives that are inconsistent with their oaths of office; to withdraw from cases that involve such directives or other misconduct; and, if necessary, to resign and report publicly — in a manner consistent with professional ethics — to the American people the reasons for their resignation."
Donald Ayer, deputy attorney general under George H.W. Bush, authored an editorial demanding Barr's resignation or impeachment before his "root-and-branch attack on the core principles that have guided our justice system" turns us into "a banana republic where all are subject to the whims of a dictatorial president and his henchmen." Not to put too fine a point on it, the people who know how the DOJ is supposed to work are freakin the fuck out.
And every day more news comes out about Barr's assault on our independent legal system. CNN reported Saturday that, in response to persistent lobbying by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump ordered Barr to disappear the case against Turkey's Halkbank for money laundering and violating US sanctions on Iran.
Before Barr's confirmation, Rudy Giuliani had already tried to cut the legs out from under the Halkbank case by getting the State Department to let the main witness against the bank, gold trader Reza Zarrab, go back to Turkey. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused to intervene with the DOJ in Zarrab's prosecution because he deemed the request highly inappropriate. Because it was! So Halkbank took a more direct approach, hiring super-lobbyist Brian Ballard, who vice-chaired Trump's inaugural committee and serves as an unofficial conduit to the White House. Bloomberg News reports that Halkbank paid Ballard Partners $780,000 for a year of outreach to the Trump administration trying to get the SDNY off its back.
Before his election, Trump himself acknowledged in an interview with Breitbart that "I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It's a tremendously successful job. It's called Trump Towers — two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it's two." Indeed, as NBC points out, Ivanka Trump's Turkish business partner, Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, now heads up the Turkish-American Business Council, which has extensive dealings with the Trump administration and spends lavishly at the Trump Hotel in DC.
But Bill Barr never met a Republican conflict of interest he couldn't ignore. So instead of saying, "Sorry, Mr. President, we can't have a separate system of justice for Friends of Trump, that is not how DOJ goes," he said, "I'll get right on that, Your Excellency."
Which is no surprise, since we're talking about a guy who sabotaged the prosecutions of Trump's pals Roger Stone and Mike Flynn and launched a dozen investigations to prove some kind of Obama Deep State plot to frame Russia for hacking our elections and put "wire tapps" in Trump's ass. But it is a perfect illustration of how proximity to Trump works as a get-out-of-jail-free card in Bill Barr's DOJ.
Hey, remember that funny time when Barr told John Bolton that he was just dying of discomfort because Trump's inappropriate promises to foreign leaders "had created the appearance that he had undue influence over what would typically be independent inquiries" into Chinese and Turkish companies? Apparently, he got over it.
According to CNN, the only reason Ballard and Halkbank's efforts failed was that the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, refused to play ball. At the very moment the Trump administration was pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and ramping up sanctions on that country, Bill Barr was leaning on the DOJ to let Turkish sanctions-busting bygones be bygones, because no harm, no foul, right?
Berman, who may be the only decent Trump appointee at the DOJ, wouldn't dump the case. But note that the Halkbank indictment only dropped on October 15, 2019, the day after Trump got pissed and sanctioned Turkey for attacking our Kurdish allies in Syria. So embarrassing after Trump promised that Erdogan would never do such a thing!
Interesting timing, huh? Almost like Berman was sitting on that indictment, which was, by the way, undated, and was somehow prevented from releasing it until the very moment it would be politically advantageous for his boss's boss. Also interesting timing: Ballard and Halkbank parted ways on October 16, when it became clear that the lobbyist couldn't deliver the goods. Or maybe Ballard just got too busy answering subpoenas from SDNY about its relationship with Rudy Giuliani and Lev Parnas, who had planned to throw $100,000/month at them to lobby the Trump administration to drop charges against Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash.
Oh, hey, isn't SDNY also looking into Trump's inauguration committee, which Ballard chaired? It is. So weird we haven't heard anything about that investigation in a while!
So, anyway, Joe Biden tried to fight Ukrainian corruption, and is now being investigated for it by Bill Barr's Justice Department. But Donald Trump, who has an actual conflict of interest in Turkey, leaned on the DOJ to go easy on that country after his pro bono lawyer and the guy who steers millions of dollars in donations to Trump's electoral efforts lobbied him. But there's nothing to see here and the Justice Department runs like a well oiled machine.
Just kidding! Impeach the motherfuckers, both of them!
And PS, Trump lifted those sanctions on Turkey after just ten days. Because of course he did.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.