William Barr succeeded in leaving the Attorney General’s office largely on his terms. President Donald Trump heaped praise on Barr in announcing his exit, and the attorney general returned the favor, blurring the fact that he had been all but pushed out, the New York Times reports. The orchestrated farewell reflected how Barr navigated his tenure running a Justice Department for a president who viewed it as hostile toward him. Barr’s work was largely defined by the perception he set aside the department’s independence to advance the president’s political and personal interests, by undermining its own investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign and by playing up fears of voter fraud. At the end of his tenure, Barr’s reversal on voter fraud broke from the president and he saw no need for a special counsel to investigate President-elect Joe Biden’s son Hunter.
Historians will debate whether Barr, 70, was trying to preserve his reputation. Barr’s allies say he simply followed his instincts, honed by his maximalist view of executive power, and was untroubled by perceptions he was serving Trump’s agenda. “Bill Barr will be inexorably tied to Donald Trump,” said political scientist Nancy Baker, who interviewed Barr for an oral history project at the University of Virginia Miller Center. Barr was passionate about issues including expanding religious freedoms and supporting Native American reservations and tribal law enforcement offices. He continued his Bush-era fight against drugs, violent crime and what he called politically motivated prosecutions. That work was eclipsed by the Russia investigation, which he and Trump believed was an abuse of FBI power. “He had a vigilante attitude toward the Russia investigation — ‘I alone will fix this,’” said New York Law School Prof. Rebecca Roiphe, who studies the legal profession.