Much of last week’s news cycle revolved around the blatant corruption displayed by Attorney General William Barr. After he interfered in the Roger Stone to get the Trump ally’s sentence reduced, apparently at Trump’s behest, four prosecutors resigned from the case in protest. Barr gave a face-saving interview and acted frustrated over the president’s tweets, only for Trump to shoot out a tweet saying that while he didn’t interfere in Stone’s case he has every “legal right” to do so if he chooses. Barr is now slated to testify before Congress about the clearly crooked saga next month and calls for his resignation are building.
Unfortunately for the American people, this is not the first time Barr has prioritized his personal loyalties to the president who appointed him over his duty to impartially uphold and enforce the law. As former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates pointed out in her recent op-ed, Barr misrepresented special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings to help Trump, equivocated on the undeniable fact that Russia interfered in our 2016 election, and allowed Rudy Giuliani to establish a backchannel to deliver dirt on Democrats to the Department of Justice. Now, this disgraceful list has grown a little bit longer.
CNN reported over the weekend that Barr sought to terminate the prosecutorial efforts against Turkish bank Halkbank for Iran sanction violations after the country’s authoritarian President Recep Erdoğan asked Trump to step in. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has confirmed that Trump instructed Barr and him to handle Erdogan’s request.
Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney in charge of the Southern District of New York, has reportedly resisted several attempts by Barr to control his cases and put his foot down over the Halkbank case as well. Barr wanted the SDNY to allow a simple civil settlement to make the case go away, Berman pushed for criminal proceedings. Despite Barr’s efforts, Halkbank was charged with fraud, money laundering, and sanction violations.
The fact that Trump’s efforts to help the bank failed in the end doesn’t lessen the disturbing nature of the requests. Why is the president—a man whose businesses and real estate ventures span the globe and so rely upon the goodwill of foreign governments to function—doing personal favors for a bloodthirsty strongman like Erdogan? Was he getting something in return or perhaps laying the foundation to request favors in the future?
We still don’t have a good explanation for why Trump suddenly and unnecessarily withdrew U.S. forces along the Syrian border, essentially greenlighting a Turkish invasion of the region that resulted in the slaughtering of our Kurdish allies. The full picture has yet to emerge, but what we can see already is a deeply disturbing pattern of a president known for ruthlessly pursuing his own interests regardless of the costs, bending over backward to cultivate the affections of a mass murderer. As is usually the case with Trump, the worst possible explanation is probably the correct one.