Bill Barr Calls Bullsh*t
A frank conversation with the former Attorney General on Trump's "extortion" of the GOP, Russiagate, the most awkward White House moment, and much more.
Attorney General William Barr is only the second person in American history to lead the Justice Department twice: first under President George H.W. Bush and then again, three decades later, under arguably the most divisive president we’ve ever had.
Today, we talk about . . . all of it. Why he said yes to Trump in the first place; his time in a chaotic White House; Trump’s “pain in the ass” tweeting; Russiagate; whether he regrets how he handled the Mueller investigation; and what finally pushed him to resign.
We also talk about January 6; the raid on Mar-a-Lago; whether he thinks Trump will be indicted; and what he calls Trump’s “extortion” of the GOP.
Later in the conversation, we discuss the rise in violent crime under his tenure; how he squares his Catholicism and his conservatism with the death penalty; why he sees militant secularism as the biggest threat to freedom; and what makes him optimistic in the face of American decline.
It’s a frank, wide-ranging conversation you don’t want to miss. We recommend listening, but if you prefer to read the transcript, you can find it below. It’s been lightly edited for clarity and concision. — BW
BW: I want to begin with a quote from your wife, Christine. “The Left and the Press have lost their minds over Trump and Trump is his own worst enemy. Any sacrifice you make will be wasted on this man.” That’s what she told you in 2019 before you joined the Trump administration. Obviously, you did it anyway, which is why we’re talking. But was she right?
AG BARR: She was, as usual, dead on. The left has lost their mind over Trump. Trump Derangement Syndrome is a real thing. But Trump is his own worst enemy. He’s incorrigible. He doesn’t take advice from people. And you’re not going to teach an old dog new tricks.
So I was under no illusions when I went in. But I thought a Republican administration was important during this period. I hadn’t supported Trump originally, but once he got the nomination I supported him and I felt he was following good, sound policies generally. And I thought that he was being unfairly treated. I felt Russiagate was very unjust and I was suspicious of it from the very beginning. I was also upset at the way the criminal justice process has been used and, I thought, was being used to interfere with the political process. The Justice Department and the F.B.I. were being battered and I care about those institutions.
I felt I could help stabilize things, deal with Russiagate and get the Justice Department and the F.B.I. on course. So I agreed to do it.
BW: “Any sacrifice you make will be wasted on this man.” True or not true?
AG BARR: I hoped that it wasn’t true. I thought there was a chance he would rally to the office and be more disciplined in his behavior. I thought he might recognize that the presidency is a unique office, which is not only a political leader but the head of state, representing the whole nation. I hoped he would rise to the occasion. He didn’t.
I said to him when I first started that I thought he was going to lose the election unless he adjusted a little bit. And if he did adjust, he could go down in history as a great president. He continued to be self-indulgent and petty and turned off key constituencies that ultimately made the difference in the election.
BW: When you were offered the job by the Trump administration to replace Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, you had already had a very long career. You had been in the CIA. You had worked as AG under George H.W. Bush. By 2019, you were in private practice. You’re looking forward to your retirement. So why do it?
AG BARR: I ran out of people to throw between me and the president.
BW: Who did you try to throw between you and the president?
AG BARR: I named a few former deputy attorneys general, even Mike Mukasey, former attorney general, and others. But Trump seemed very interested in talking to me.
I had to make the decision: Am I going to even talk to the guy? I’m not going to talk to him unless, at the end of the day, I’d be willing to accept the offer. Initially, I wasn’t. It meant a complete disruption of my life. But I felt that, of the names before Trump, I was probably the one who could get confirmed. And I thought I could do a decent job. All the reasons for not doing it were my personal comfort.
BW: Let’s talk about Russiagate for a moment. How do you understand how it took hold? The idea that Donald Trump was a compromised agent of Moscow. That there were deep connections between Trump’s people and Russian intelligence. That the Trump campaign had colluded with the Russians, including by hacking Democratic National Committee emails. How do you understand why or how these ideas took hold?
AG BARR: Information has now come out that supports the proposition that these ideas really got going because of a political ploy by the Clinton administration to try to hang Putin around Trump’s neck and claim they were in cahoots. I never thought there was any basis for this. The Russians did apparently hack and dump. They stole emails and they dumped them out in the public. That is really the extent of what happened. And that is their stock and trade—that’s what they do all the time. They don’t have to collude in order to do that. It never made sense to me that they would get Americans involved in that operation.
Putin also had his own reasons for despising Hillary Clinton. He didn’t need any other motivation to go in and screw around with the 2016 election. The things that Trump was being accused of—the policy positions he took— had a constituency within the Republican Party for a while. Before the 2016 election, Kissinger had talked about the idea of Finland-izing Ukraine and recognizing that Russia had deep interests in Crimea. These were not wacky ideas. And they didn’t necessarily mean that he was in the pocket of the Russians.
BW: These ideas—that Trump was working with Putin; that he received unfair help in the election from Russian meddling—were ideas that many supposedly serious people endorsed every single night on television and in our newspapers. These ideas were mainstream.
AG BARR: My perception was that before the election, there was a smaller group that gave these ideas credence and tried to help give them traction. But at the time, the mainstream media didn’t pay that much attention to it. It was really after the election that the mainstream media went hammer and tongs after this story. That was curious because, after the election, the dossier and the other stuff they had been relying on had collapsed. It was pretty clear not too long after the election that this whole thing was a farce. Yet that’s when both the F.B.I. doubled down on it, and the mainstream media kicked in. I always thought that was very strange.
BW: As the mainstream media is hammering this story, the F.B.I. is getting to work. The short of it is this: Robert Mueller, the former head of the F.B.I. and a longtime friend of yours, oversees the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. After a two-year investigation, Mueller concluded the following: Russia did interfere in our election to favor Trump. The Trump campaign probably benefited from that interference. But Trump was not a Russian agent.
On the question of obstruction of justice, Mueller neither accused Trump nor exonerated him, which left the situation in a kind of cultural limbo. What followed the Mueller report was a series of memos, testimonies, letters, press conferences, subcommittees, and more memos. Throughout this entire ordeal, there was a lot of criticism from the left. Both criticism directed at Mueller for not making a clear conclusion on the question of obstruction of justice, but also criticism directed at you for what they felt was your mischaracterization of the findings of the investigation in a way that favored Trump. Just last week, a federal appeals court ruled that the Justice Department, under your leadership, improperly withheld portions of an internal memo that you cited when you announced that Trump had not committed obstruction of justice.
I bring all of this up not to rehash every detail, but simply to ask: Where does this end? When does this end? How does this end?
AG BARR: I think it ended with Bob Mueller’s testimony over the summer of 2020. It really collapsed at that point. I’ve been surprised that the mainstream media and the people who fanned this to the point of hysteria haven’t come back to say: “Yeah, there was a big lie in 2016 that has hurt the country and distorted our politics and foreign policy throughout the Trump administration. It was unjust. It was wrong. And we made a mistake.” Very few, if any, have come out to say that.
BW: Do you have any regrets about how you handled the Mueller report?
AG BARR: No, I don’t. I would do exactly the same as I did. People have to understand that Mueller threw this hot potato into the political process and the body politic.
BW: Why did Mueller handle it the way that he did?
AG BARR: I don’t think he was on top of his game. I think he made some very serious errors. The whole reason Rod Rosenstein brought him in is to have someone authoritative deal with it. Once this issue was raised, it was important to have someone speak to the country and tell them what he had found.
But he goes out and hires partisan Democrats to make up his investigative team, which means half the country is going to be suspicious from the very beginning. That defeated the whole purpose of naming him. I think it was pretty evident within a few months of his taking the position that there had been no collusion. But instead of stopping it at that point and letting the country move on, he took two instances that clearly were not obstruction and which even his final report doesn’t try to argue were obstruction.
I asked him, when you give me the report, you have to sanitize it. I’m in a position to release it as soon as you give it to me because I can make it public under the law. If there’s a delay, a lot of damage can be done to the country, the stock market, and our foreign adversaries. People are going to wonder if the president's going to jail. So you have to give it to me in a form in which I can release it.
BW: Redacted it, in other words.
AG BARR: Right. Redacted.
BW: Did he say he would?
AG BARR: Yes, he said he understood. I said that this was the most important thing as far as I was concerned. Not having a delay between the time I receive it and the time I can let it go. And lo and behold, they show up with a report with no redactions in it. Instead, on the top of every page, it cannot be released with the grand jury material.
BW: Do you think that the reason that was done was so the egg would be on your face?
AG BARR: I don’t know why it was done. It was inexplicable to me. They knew very well what I needed. While I took three weeks to redact the report, I had to tell people what the bottom line was: That there was going to be no indictment of the president and, therefore, there was no collusion. I said that he didn’t reach a decision on obstruction. I said while he didn’t find obstruction, he didn’t exonerate him either. However, based on the report, I explained why I didn’t find obstruction. Half the letter is me explaining my decision—not Mueller’s decision. I thought that was the responsible thing to do. People who are acting in good faith can scour that letter and not see anything misleading in it.
The other thing I haven’t really understood is this: If the stuff was so damaging, why didn't Congress impeach him at that point? There were crickets. I think the idea that I affected the decision by summarizing the report was the left-wing throwing a tantrum because Mueller didn’t deliver the goods as far as they were concerned.
BW: If the firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey wasn’t obstruction, how would you describe it? Do you think that it was unwise?
AG BARR: I would describe it as something that should have happened long before. Everyone I knew in Republican and Justice Department circles, including me, was advising Trump at the very beginning of his administration to fire Comey before we even knew his role in Russiagate. It’s because Comey, in my opinion, has some of the personality characteristics that can lead people, like J. Edgar Hoover, to run the F.B.I. according to their personal whims. I thought it was dangerous and that he should go.
BW: But Trump did it at the height of the Mueller investigation. Do you think that it was unwise to do so then?
AG BARR: Better late than never, I thought. I’m not sure there ever would have been a good time once Mueller was named and got going.
BW: During the Trump years, the phrase, “the deep state” went mainstream. Is any part of the idea that there is a deep state true?
AG BARR: Yes. I think it’s overdone, as many conspiracy theories are. But there definitely are people in the government, as there are in many of our institutions, who are very willful and are willing to sacrifice the values and processes of the institution in order to achieve some higher political end. And they do it. There are pockets of them in the Department of Justice and unfortunately, some in the F.B.I.
People say, “what do we do about the FBI?” The F.B.I. is like all of our institutions. I wish the F.B.I. was the extent of the problem, but government institutions are generally infected by this. All our other institutions—the medical profession, journalism, science—are also being politicized.
BW: Have they always been politicized? And we just didn’t know about it because there wasn’t the internet and social media and all of the tools that make things available for us to see and make judgments about with our own eyes and ears? Or are they only now becoming politicized?
AG BARR: I think there’s always been some partisan element. The media’s always been tilted toward the Democrats. But it's much more aggressive today than it’s ever been. People are much more willful and willing to sacrifice institutional values in order to achieve a broader political objective. To them, institutions are a means to an end.
The justice system has certain processes and values we follow in order to try our best to achieve justice. It’s a means of achieving justice, but we have processes that we have to adhere to, like due process and evidence. Same with journalism. There are certain disciplines that you try to use because ultimately you’re trying to present what’s objectively true. You sift through the evidence and have people who can back up what you’re saying.
But in all these institutions, those values are being sacrificed because people are trying to short-circuit in order to get to what they think is a higher objective. That corrupts the institution. Suppose someone in the justice system stepped back and said, “This is not really producing justice, so we’re going to assassinate people we know are criminals that have gotten off the hook.” That’s been done in some countries. That’s sort of the right-wing version of what I think is left-wing subversion of these institutions, sacrificing the processes and the values that make these instruments of society achieve certain ends.
BW: Let’s talk about the 2020 election. Trump had been making some comments ahead of the election about not leaving office that you and many others had written off as a joke or hyperbole. Here’s one thing that you said to the Chicago Tribune on September 11, 2020: “You know how liberals project all this bullshit about how the president is going to stay in office and seize power? They’re projecting. They’re creating an incendiary situation where there will be a loss of confidence in the vote.” Looking back, were they projecting? And were you wrong?
AG BARR: It was a mystery to me why people kept on saying that he was going to try to remain in office. I thought they were setting the stage for a close election that Trump won and claiming that he had stolen the election. I had never heard of some plan to stay in office and I don’t know anyone else who had heard of that, except, it appears, Steve Bannon. There was a pre-election audio that was leaked where he said that the president was going to stay in office.
BW: Did you underestimate Trump’s disregard for the truth and disregard for the results of the election?
AG BARR: I underestimated how far he would take it. I thought on December 14, when I tendered my resignation, the states had all certified the votes. To me, that was it. That was the last stop. There was no process beyond that which would allow him to challenge the election. I thought it was safe to leave at that point. I was wrong. I did not expect him to take it as far as he did with these very whacky legal theories that no one gave any credence to.
BW: You wrote in the weeks following the election that Trump “took a dangerous turn.” You said he was “beyond restraint” and would only listen to “a few sycophants” who told him what he wanted to hear. Can you take us back to that moment? Who were the sycophants? And what was going on in the days after the vote?
AG BARR: Immediately on election night, the president came downstairs early in the morning and started saying there was major fraud underway and pointing to the fact that votes at the end of the evening were overwhelmingly Democrat. But we had expected that all along. Everyone had been saying that's exactly what would happen. Using that as evidence of fraud made no sense to me. Suggesting there was major fraud as early as he did, in retrospect, looks to me as if that was the plan for election night. If we think we’re going to lose, we’re going to claim it was fraud.
In any event, right away there were all these allegations spilling in about election fraud. The Department of Justice has control over investigating fraud, but not challenging rule changes or allegations that the rules weren’t being followed. Those have to be litigated by the states. The more we looked at the fraud allegations, the more we saw that most of them were frivolous, and those that weren’t frivolous were simply not substantiated by the evidence.
BW: When he came down at two in the morning and said that there was major evidence of fraud, was there anyone in the room that entertained that idea? Were people taking that seriously?
AG BARR: I think his supporters who were there took it seriously. I had left earlier in the evening because I thought it was headed for defeat and I didn’t feel like partying. But there were people there that accepted Trump’s claims of fraud. I wanted to make sure that I had looked at some of the major items that they were relying on before I said anything publicly.
BW: At noon on December 1, 2020, you had lunch with a reporter from the Associated Press. What happened at that lunch? What did you tell him?
AG BARR: The president was out there continuing to say that there was major fraud and claiming that the Department of Justice was asleep at the switch and wasn't doing anything about it. By that time, I decided I really had to say something publicly. I thought it was irresponsible to keep on talking about the election being stolen unless we had some evidence of it. And there was none at that point.
I talked to the AP reporter and I told him that to date we haven’t seen evidence of fraud on a scale that would have affected the outcome of the election. I knew when I said that that I would probably be fired for it because it contradicted the president publicly. But I felt that I had to do it. I had an appointment with the chief of staff at the White House that afternoon. I told my secretary that she might have to pack up for me because I would probably be fired. I went over and the president asked me to come in.
BW: And what happened?
AG BARR: He was in a little dining room that adjoins the Oval Office. He was as furious as I’d ever seen him. He confronted me and said, “Did you say this to the AP?” And I said, “I did. Because it was the truth.” I went over some of the allegations. He said there was plenty of evidence of fraud. I explained in some detail why the allegations didn’t fly. I told him that there were only five or six weeks to challenge a presidential election because the Constitution requires the Electoral College to meet at a certain date and he didn’t have much time. He’d already wasted five of your six weeks with this crazy stuff about the Dominion machines. He’d wheeled out this clown show of lawyers that no reputable lawyer is willing to work with.
BW: Sidney Powell and people like that.
AG BARR: The dream team.
I said, “Look, I know you’re unhappy with me. I’m going to tender my resignation.” And he slammed the table. Everyone jumped. And he said, “Accepted.” So I said OK and left. I was getting into my car right outside the White House and all of a sudden, people started pounding on the windows. It was late at night and raining, so it was sort of this eerie thing. The president sent Cipollone, another White House lawyer, out there, to retrieve me and tell me “Nevermind, he’s not going to fire you, and would you come back in?” And I said, “I don't think there's any use to going back in tonight. I’m going to go home. But we can talk about it in the morning.”
BW: And you decided to stay on for another two weeks.
AG BARR: Yes. The chief of staff called me and said, “Look, I think there's a way through this, we don't want to be blindsided. Would you agree to stay until the 20th?” And I said I’d stay on as long as I felt I was needed and I wouldn’t blindside them. They knew what I was thinking. Then a few weeks later, I went in and resigned, effective on December 23.
BW: Who inside Trump's administration was encouraging the president to stick to his claim that the election was stolen and that there was massive fraud?
AG BARR: I don’t know. Reading newspaper articles now, it appears there are certain players who were doing that, but I didn't have any knowledge of that at the time.
BW: So you didn’t hear or see anyone, that you remember, egging him on?
AG BARR: The last time I saw the president was when I went in to resign on December 14. That was the only meeting I had with him after December 1, when he blew up. I didn’t have much contact. I knew the legal community in the administration was telling him that there was not sufficient evidence of fraud.
BW: What was it like working for the president as he was going out every day claiming that he’d won the election that he clearly lost?
AG BARR: I was somewhat demoralized that he was leaving office this way. The left says, “Oh, you said all these nice things about him in your resignation.” But I felt that what he should do was focus on all his achievements and leave with dignity. Whether he thought there was fraud or not, he had his day in court and he lost.
So I was demoralized that he was going out the way he was. I thought it was very unfair to all the people, especially the younger people, who had worked in the administration. It hurt them getting jobs and it also hurt the Republican Party, which I thought up until then, could take the high ground as the party of law and order.
BW: I reread your resignation letter in preparation for this talk. I’ve written some resignation letters myself. You’re pretty generous toward Trump in it. You call his record “historic.” You mention some of his major achievements in the face of what you call relentless, implacable resistance. You’re now giving us a lot of insight into what was actually going on behind the scenes. And that, in fact, you’d already quit two weeks before you wrote that letter. Why did you decide to write that letter in the way you did?
AG BARR: I felt that that’s what he should be talking about. That should essentially be his swan song.
BW: So in other words, you were giving him a script for himself, rather than saying what you felt?
AG BARR: Well, I did feel it. I just want to make it clear that I supported President Trump. I liked his policies. Up until the election, I didn’t have a problem with his policies. I found him very difficult to work with and I think it took a lot of effort from all his cabinet secretaries, not just me, to keep things on track. (He never really listened to his lawyers, so it was hard to keep things on track.) But I thought we got to the election in pretty good shape and I was proud of the record of the administration.
I think things went off the rails after the election because I think he felt he had nothing to lose at that point. I was trying to say, “Look, you do have to take a bow for what you were able to accomplish.” I said in that letter that what I believe was distinctive about his administration was he was unjustly treated. He was sinned against with Russiagate. That colored the whole administration. I still think that had people responded to his victory speech—which I thought was a very diplomatic speech the night he won in 2016—we would have seen a different Trump. I think once he thought that the F.B.I. was coming after him and trying to throw him out of office, that affected not only Trump but also his hardcore supporters, who were made very suspicious. I think it fundamentally distorted our politics during his administration. I felt that it was important to say that he did fight against this Trump Derangement Syndrome. And he did accomplish a lot. And it was historic. The economic growth and the fact that people who had been left out previously were starting to participate more. It was a tragedy that Covid arrested that progress, but it was a historic accomplishment.
BW: So you leave the White House on December 14. Let’s fast forward about a month to January 6, 2021. First of all, where were you that day?
AG BARR: I was in my library at my home in Northern Virginia.
BW: How did you get word that there was some chaos happening in the capital?
AG BARR: My public affairs officer who had left with me, Kerri Kupec, called me and said: “Do you see what’s happening on the Hill?” I turned on the television around 3:00 and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I said: “Put out a statement.” I was just saying: This is outrageous, and the federal agencies have to get up there and clear those people out. That was my reaction. I couldn’t believe that this thing had been allowed to get out of control. The next day, I said to a reporter that I thought the president’s behavior was shameful. That it was a betrayal of his office and his supporters.
BW: As it was happening, as you’re watching what's going on on television, are you texting anyone? Are you calling anyone? Did you reach out to anyone at the White House? Who were you talking to that day?
AG BARR: I talked to my former chief of staff and some other people who had already left the government. I was also getting calls from people who were trapped on Capitol Hill saying, “Where’s the F.B.I.? Where’s federal law enforcement? We’re trapped and we’re scared.” I tried to light a fire to get people up there. I tried to follow events from afar. I didn't have access to much information.
BW: How did you feel watching this? You’re someone who has served this country for decades. You’re also someone that served this administration and tried as best as you could to keep it on the rails. What were you feeling as you watched this scene go down?
AG BARR: I was disgusted and mortified and feeling very angry. I felt this whole thing had hurt the Republican Party and hurt the reputation of the administration even more than before. I was angry about that. Everyone I knew in the administration was angry about that. I also felt that it was just a Keystone Cops exercise. There wasn’t a genuine threat of overthrowing the government, as far as I was concerned, it was just a circus. That’s true of a lot of things that Trump arranges. I felt that one of the sub themes of the administration was that when the president runs into people who don't agree with him, he tries these little jury-rigged operations with people who are not in government and they are frivolous. So the whole thing, to me, was a big embarrassment.
BW: There’s been a lot of language used by different factions of the press to describe that day. Some people call it a coup. Some people call it an insurrection. Some people call it an act of terror. Some people call it a riot. And all those words are kind of a litmus test about where people fall politically. How would you describe it? What happened that day? And what was the president's role in it?
AG BARR: I would say that it was a riot that got out of control. People breached the Congress, and were attacking police. Obviously not all the demonstrators were doing this.
I would say it was an effort to intimidate Congress and the vice president. I haven’t heard words from the president that I would consider incitement under the law. That’s a very high bar because of our First Amendment, and it should be a high bar. But I did feel that he was morally responsible for it because he led these people to believe that something could happen on Capitol Hill that would reverse the election. That there’s something they could do involving pressuring the vice president and Congress that would overturn the election.
BW: Were you glad to see Congress impeach him for what happened that day?
AG BARR: No, I wasn't. I wouldn’t have voted for impeachment. I don’t think impeaching people after they're out of office is the proper use of the impeachment power. I think it’s better for the country to move on.
BW: Would your view be different if they hadn't impeached him before?
AG BARR: Probably not.
BW: You joined an administration worried about a constitutional crisis. Then, on January 6, you have a mob of people at the Capitol inspired, if not incited by, the president to stop the official counting of the vote. You have someone swinging a Confederate flag inside the Capitol building for the first time in American history. You have rioters there wearing Nazi emblems, inspired by a president who said to his supporters: “If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.” Was that actually the constitutional crisis you feared come to fruition?
AG BARR: I don't think it was a constitutional crisis in the sense of the Constitution failing, which would be the Biden administration actually being stopped from taking office. But it was a shameful episode. It was a shameful riot. And the president certainly precipitated it.
BW Let’s talk about some of the recent events that have taken place around the January 6 investigation. The Justice Department recently subpoenaed former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who you mentioned before. And here’s what you said when they did that: “It definitely is a significant event. It changes my view of what's been going on. This suggests to me that they're taking a hard look at the group at the top, including the president and the people immediately around him who were involved in this.” How has your view changed?
AG BARR: The reaction to January 6 up until more recently seemed to be focused on the lowest level people, those who breached the Capitol. There were hundreds of them being indicted or charged with misdemeanors. A lot of effort was put into that. I didn’t see any signs of them pursuing the theory that the president or people around him were involved in some conspiracy to stop the count on the Hill, which is at the heart of it, what people are worried about. I see no sign that that was being pursued. So you had the January 6 committee acting like it was a criminal process and talking about crimes and behaving very much like it was determining whether there was criminality and justice sitting back, which is usually the other way around. The fact that they have gone to subpoena the White House counsel and others makes me feel that they're at least taking a serious look at it. I'm not sure what they're going to do at the end of the day, but I think they're taking a hard look at it.
BW: The other major thing that happened was on August 8. The F.B.I. searched Mar-a-Lago, the president’s private club and home. Since then, we've learned that they seized a bunch of boxes of classified documents. It’s a pretty dramatic thing to search the home of a former president. Based on what you know and your trust in the F.B.I. right now, how do you think we should be thinking about that event? Should we be worried about political motivation or should we think, “Wait, there’s really something here now?”
AG BARR: Number one is that I think a lot of the attacks on the F.B.I. are over the top because a decision like this is not made by the F.B.I. In fact, I don't think the F.B.I. would push a decision that it’s best to go in and search and obtain those documents after being jerked around for a year and a half. The decision would be made at the Department of Justice, by subordinates of the AG, and ultimately signed off on by the AG. The F.B.I. would be told to go and execute it. I think the idea that the F.B.I. is the problem here is misplaced.
Number two—and the main reason I’m irritated at the whole episode—is that it actually strengthens Trump and strengthens Biden and hurts the Republican Party going into the midterms. The focus has once again returned to President Trump and his persona and his modus operandi instead of the pocketbook issues that had been the focus before. I think this has been a bad development for the Republicans’ hopes in the midterms. That’s why I find it frustrating, because there’s political fallout.
I think everyone is reaching conclusions that are premature because there are two bits of important information that we need to have. One: What is the nature of the highly classified information? How sensitive were these documents? Second: What is the evidence, if any, of active conceit by the president or those around him in Mar-a-Lago to mislead the government? Until you answer those two questions, it's hard for me to say whether or not it was justified. I think people who are taking a knee-jerk position on both sides really should wait and see what that evidence is.
BW: Why do you think Trump would be holding on to these documents?
AG BARR: I don’t know. That’s why it’s hard to explain. That’s why I’m interested in what kind of documents they are. There’s been an effort made to suggest these were Russiagate documents. If they were Russiagate documents, one might understand why the president might want them for reference. But I think, based on what I’ve read, it appears that they went far beyond the Russiagate documents. And that's the kind of information we need to have.
BW: How do you think this is going to play out? Do you think the government is going to bring charges against Trump?
AG BARR: There are two different issues. One: what are the elements necessary to bring charges present? Can it be justified as a matter of law? The second question is the prudential judgment, which is: do you want to use the criminal justice process in this context, given the totality of circumstances, including the fact that this is a former president and that this will be very incendiary in the country? I think to take the latter step is to say, “okay, we can make out a case and we should bring a case.” I think the attorney general will require exacerbating circumstances here, like very sensitive information and information that shows that the president knew what he was doing and that he misled the government.
BW: When you joined the administration, you were very concerned about the capture or semi-capture of the administrative state. In other words, that the muscle and mechanisms of the government were being used, at least in part, by people to carry out a political witch hunt against a president they didn’t like. Much of the GOP base believes this. Many conservatives I know believe this. And they look at the search at Mar-a-Lago and say: This is further evidence of exactly that. If Russiagate, as you say, wasn’t real and all of it was trumped up and shouldn't have really happened in the first place, why should we now believe that this search and the subpoena of Cipollone are justified?
AG BARR: I didn’t say that. I haven’t reached a conclusion on that until I get the information. What happened with Russiagate essentially created the condition where people are going to think the worst and not give the F.B.I. or the Justice Department the benefit of the doubt.
BW: What do you say to conservatives who say: Why should we possibly trust these institutions anymore? You still give them the benefit of the doubt, but many in your party don’t.
AG BARR: I think the Russiagate thing, to the extent that the F.B.I. was misused, was a series of decisions made by high-level officials in the F.B.I. I don’t think that Chris Wray is that type of leader, nor do I think the people around Chris Wray are those types of leaders. I think there are problems in the F.B.I. but it’s not that Wray is going to wake up and say, “How do I throw the F.B.I.’s weight around and interfere in the political process?” Just the opposite. I think he’s very cautious about that.
In the department it’s spotty. There are some people in the career ranks that are partisans and can't check it at the door. And there are others that have more respect.
BW: That’s sort of an unsatisfying answer to the Republican who I’m sure comes up to you all the time as one of the most prominent conservatives in the country and says: “Why should I trust these people anymore, Bill?”
AG BARR: Well, what’s the alternative? Something I’m pretty tired of from the right is the constant pandering to outrage. The picking and picking at the scab without trying to channel those feelings in a constructive direction. In my opinion, Ronald Reagan was a great populist not because he followed the frustrated instincts and the outrage of the people, but because he channeled it and was constructive with it.
I always say, “What’s the alternative?” We have these institutions that need reform. The first step is to win an election with a decisive majority that allows you to put a program into effect and fix some of these problems going forward. That is not done by just throwing fuel on the fire of outrage on one side of the equation while the other side does the same thing on their side. I don’t see anything productive coming out of that. I think we should basically try to persuade people. People like Youngkin, the Governor of Virginia, have shown that the Republican Party is a potential majority party.
The problem with Trump is that it’s all about running a base election. Whip up your base, get them all upset and outraged, and turn them out at the polls. Both sides do that. That is a prescription for continued hostility and demoralization of the country. The first side to break out of that will do so by restoring politics to what it should be, which is the politics of trying to capture a majority of the people through persuasion and with a decisive enough majority to change things. That’s what we should be focused on, but we’re not right now. That’s not Trump's approach.
BW: I want to talk about the future of the Republican Party. It seems like if they just committed to being normal and stood in place, they could win bigly, as Trump might put it. I think it’s hopeful to point to someone like Glenn Youngkin and say that could be the future. But it seems to me that Trump still carries the day. His endorsement still matters a great deal. The amount of pandering that you see to him, especially from first-time candidates, is unbelievable. It seems like the old idea was that you would surround Trump with smart people and they would keep him in line. But the opposite seems to have happened. It seems like the GOP is now pretty fully Trumpified. How do you see it?
AG BARR: I think you’re right that right now is a tremendous opportunity for the Republican Party. The defining dynamic of our period right now is the sharp leftward turn of the Democratic Party. That creates a huge opportunity because they’ve moved so far to the left, which can allow the Republicans to come in, as they did in 1980, and seize a decisive majority. That enabled Reagan to win two terms. It also forced the Democrats to elect a moderate Democrat like Clinton, who ran the country in the center.
So it’s a huge opportunity. But instead of taking it, we are purging the party and starting civil wars over whether people are RINOs. This is how I see the Republican Party: There’s never been more consistent conservatism within the Republican Party than there is today. The idea that there are RINOs, people that really don’t support Republican principles, is simply not true. What the president is defining as RINOs are people who are true blue Republicans and conservatives but who just have a problem with Trump personally. This is all personal to Trump. Trump is doing something that I can't think of any great leader in the past doing. He controls, in my view, maybe a third of the Republican Party. But what makes him powerful is that this is a man who’s willing to say that if you don’t do things my way and if I’m not the nominee, I’m taking my ball and going home. I will sabotage anyone you put up. He not only does that in the presidential election, but he’ll also do that in state elections. It’s my person or it’s sabotage. This pursuit of a personal agenda and personal power is weakening the Republican Party at a time when it could have a historic victory and make historic progress in “making America great again.”
I say to the people that want to make America great again, “What will it take to do that?” You don’t do it just by making your base madder and madder. It means winning big victories. I think the approach that Trump follows is weakening the Republican Party, not strengthening it. Reagan's approach in 1980 was unifying the party and bringing over classical liberals who were upset at the turn of the Democratic Party in the 60s and 70s. We should be doing the same thing now.
BW: I know a lot of people who would be open to not voting Democrat for the first time in their life. They’re looking at a party that seems unbelievably out of touch. Unappealing is an understatement. But then they look across the aisle and they see people like Kari Lake, who could become the governor of Arizona, peddling Trump’s lies, talking about how Biden lost the election, and saying that the election was corrupt. You haven’t minced words about the 2020 election. You’ve said the idea that the 2020 election was stolen is “bullshit”—a favorite word of yours. Why are so few other Republicans willing to just say it plain and straight?
AG BARR: The tactic that Trump is using to exert this control over the Republican Party is extortion. What other great leader has done this? Telling the party, “if it’s not me, I’m going to ruin your election chances by telling my base to sit home. And I’ll sabotage whoever you nominate other than me.” It shows what he's all about. He’s all about himself.
BW: I know you weren’t a Never Trumper. You were for Jeb Bush at first and then ultimately came around to Trump. But were the Never Trumpers right that Trump was going to turn everything that he touched to crap? Wasn’t this exactly their fear?
AG BARR: They were wrong, in my opinion, because although we’ve been sort of harping on the warts of Trumpism, I think the greatest threat to the country is the radical progressive movement and what it’s degenerated into. In 2016, had there been another Democratic administration, I was concerned that we’d have dug an even deeper hole that would be much harder to get out of. I think Trump did serve a historic purpose: He was sort of the wrecking ball and against progressive excess. People were mad about it, and they wanted a no-nonsense person who would be a wrecking ball, and he did that. What I’m saying now is that we need something different moving forward. I give him credit for identifying people’s frustrations and being willing to call out some of the progressive excess that other people were cowering about then. So, I think the Never Trumpers were wrong because I do think that Trump did stop, or at least arrest, the progressive march to some extent. Part of that was in the Supreme Court. I would have supported Trump once he made clear the kind of people who would report to the courts on that basis alone.
BW: So he was worth it for the Court?
AG BARR: Yes, but more than the Court. I think his accomplishments go beyond that and I think that the Never Trumpers were wrong. One way to put it in rough terms is that if you’re going to call Trump into question, the time to do it was once he was out of office, not while he was there accomplishing good things. I have said, much to everyone’s surprise, that if Trump is running against a progressive Democrat, I don’t like that choice, but it’s a lesser of two evils choice. Although we have to see more about what comes out of some of these investigations, I wouldn't say that I wouldn’t vote for Trump or that I would sit back and be happy with a progressive Democrat winning.
BW: In the 2024 election, if we have Joe Biden versus Trump, Kamala Harris versus Trump, or Gavin Newsom versus Trump, you’re voting Trump?
AG BARR: Right now, I would say yes.
BW: Is there anything that could happen to change that?
AG BARR: I don’t want to speculate about what might happen to change that, but we’ll have to see the way these investigations turn out.
BW: You came of age politically under Reagan. You served under George H.W. Bush. Both of those men are now dead, and really, the party they inhabited is dead, too. Who do you see as the ideal standard bearer for the future of the party? You mentioned Glenn Youngkin before. I’m wondering how you feel about the man whose name is on every conservative’s lips these days, which is Ron DeSantis.
AG BARR: I like a lot of these guys, some of them much better than others. I don’t know Ron DeSantis that well, but I’ve been impressed with his record in Florida. I’m going to support whoever has the best chance of pushing Trump aside. Part of it is to narrow who that’s going to be, because the bigger the pool of people siphoning off votes, the easier it is for someone who has a third of the party to win the nomination. I think one of the political realities today, although I don’t know how it’s going to be in two years, is that Trump’s basic tack is ruining the reputation of whoever gets the nomination among his own base by calling them a RINO. That’s something he would have a hard time doing to DeSantis, which is the big advantage that DeSantis brings to the table. It puts him in a good position as a person who essentially embraces many of the same policies as Trump without some of Trump’s baggage and bad characteristics. He may be a candidate who could extract the Republican Party from Trump’s grip because of that. You asked, who do I think is the best person out there? I think they’re all really good, and I'll wait and see how they fare in the campaign.
BW My dad is a conservative and a big admirer of Scalia. One of the things that I grew up learning about was how close Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were. They were famously friends across the political aisle. That seems almost inconceivable today—a world in which protests are being held outside the homes of Supreme Court justices and the F.B.I. agents who searched Trump’s home are being targeted by his supporters after their identities were leaked to the public. Is there any going back to that world of good faith disagreement, when politics weren't the politics of total personal destruction? Have we left that world behind?
AG BARR: If we’ve left it behind, I don't think this ends well for the country. I don't see that this leads to any future for the country. I think we have to return to that if we’re going to have a future. I put this on the doorstep of the radical progressives as their responsibility. They’re the ones who have sharply shifted. The political model before this was the liberal democratic spectrum where you have right and left, but we’re all within the liberal, democratic, Anglo-American political tradition.
What we’ve moved to is a bipolar system that’s more typical of revolutionary countries, where you have a party like the Marxists or some other totalitarian party trying to take power. It’s all or nothing and anything goes. It’s war by other means. That’s where we are, and it doesn’t end well.
Those of us who are traditional conservatives, Reagan conservatives––I grew up on Bill Buckley and so forth––believe in the Anglo-American system of politics. We have a First Amendment that allows citizens to debate and come to some consensus for the public good. One of the things that bothers me is that people talk about democracy and the threat to democracy. Well, what did the framers think was the threat to democracy? In Federalist 10, Madison says it’s when the majority uses democracy to oppress the minority. When someone takes a transient 51% majority and tries to ram things down the throat of the other 49%, and now we’re finding ourselves sort of oscillating between those two worlds. Get 51 votes, good: Obamacare. You have 51 votes and you shove it down people’s throats. Whereas the institutions that we’ve had before this were meant to require some form of consensus and incremental change. They allowed people to build up some consensus for an approach, and things moved slowly. That’s not good enough for revolutionaries, who want to tear things down or change things instantaneously. I think that’s the basic challenge we face right now.
BW: You were the chief law enforcement officer of the United States during a historic spike in violent crime across the nation. In 2020, murder rates rose in the country by almost 30%, which I think is the biggest rise in murder in recorded U.S. history. Experts can't seem to agree on why this happened. Why has it happened?
AG BARR: I was actually the chief law enforcement officer during two such periods. 1991-1992 was the highest that crime rates have ever been in our country. It had flattened out after rising for 30 years. Then we halved it. From 1992 to 2014, the crime rate decreased for 22 consecutive years and was cut in half. Then it started creeping back up again. Trump pushed it back down again. In 2020 the lid came off. I think it’s obvious why that happened, which was the return to a revolving door justice system. People with tremendous criminal histories are released, and they commit more crimes. That’s always the primary source of increases in violent crime: the failure to keep violent criminals off the streets. That's why the crime rate is rising again.
BW: One of the things that is very in vogue right now in progressive circles is the idea of abolishing prisons and decriminalizing crime. You say that, on the contrary, we have an under incarceration problem. Is the problem that we don’t have enough people in American prisons or is it that the wrong people are in prison?
AG BARR: The left likes to be very severe with white collar criminals, even though with many white collar criminals, it’s all retribution. They’re not going to go out and do it again, but the left want strong penalties on them, even though they don't pose a threat of violence. Violent criminals and repeat violent offenders generally commit more crimes, and they should be in prison for a long time. The idea of going soft on crime is not a new idea. This is what happened in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Crime skyrocketed between 1964 and 1992. It started flattening out under Reagan but it quintupled in those 30 years and it was almost twice as high as it is today. What happened was we started putting the violent criminals back in prison. During that time, crime went up as prisons emptied out. Then, in 1992, we started putting people back in prison, and crime started dropping. The prison population during those 22 years doubled, and crime cut in half. It’s pretty simple arithmetic. No one has figured out how to stop violent crime other than taking the violent criminals and putting them in prison for a period of time.
BW: What did you think of Trump's efforts at criminal justice reform, which many across the political spectrum praised him for?
AG BARR: I was okay with it. I would have preferred not tinkering around with some of the mandatory minimum sentences and drugs, but they were nipping around the edges. I still felt it was a very tough criminal justice system. I’m all for making sure that we’re not using prison space for people who we don’t need to keep in prison. What I liked about these reforms was that the people were paying their debt and already had a track record in prison and were being productive and were following opportunities to prepare themselves for release. That’s the time to err on the side of rehabilitation. What I don’t like is on the front end, right after the person’s committed the crime, saying, “Oh well, let's go soft on this guy because maybe maybe we can rehabilitate him.” I like to see evidence of rehabilitation before we let criminals out.
BW: Some consider you to be the architect of mass incarceration in America. The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world. We have the highest per capita incarceration rate. Right behind the U.S. is China. Can you speak directly to those critics and justify your worldview on this topic?
AG BARR: I think mass incarceration is a loaded term. The use of the word “mass” suggests it's indiscriminate—as if we just throw people in prison. What I’ve said is you target the repeat violent offenders, which statistically and in reality are the people who will continue committing violent crime.
There are two kinds of violent crime. There are crimes of passion that just happen, and they’re not likely to be repeated. Then there’s predatory violence. The vast majority of predatory violence is committed by repeat violent offenders. Maybe 1.5% of the population is involved in this and they’re career criminals. Unless you identify these people and keep them off the street, they’re going to victimize people.
The only way to turn it around early is to get the juveniles early and show them there will be consequences to what they do and treat it seriously at the beginning. The more you slap the juvenile offender on the wrist and show them there’s no real consequences, you set them up for a career of crime. You’re not doing them any favors. You’re putting them on the trajectory of becoming a career criminal.
A tougher system is ultimately the best system for protecting society. It’s not indiscriminate. Like all other difficult problems, the left says “let’s address the root causes.” That’s fine, but we have a hard time really identifying what the root causes are and dealing with them effectively. Even if we could, that takes a generation or more, and there’s blood on the streets today. How do you protect people today? All the efforts you have at social rehabilitation, protecting neighborhoods, improving education, and attracting jobs in your city? That’s not going to work if those places are shooting galleries run by gangs. Law and order is the foundation of any steps to address root causes, and the job of the Department of Justice is enforcement of the law. That has to be done. Ameliorating conditions that contribute to crime is not an alternative to strong law enforcement. They’re not antithetical. The left presents addressing root causes as an alternative. It’s not an alternative.
BW: One thing that’s frustrated people is just how high our recidivism rate is. One strong argument against more incarceration is that it just seems like a Band-Aid. You delay someone for five or ten years only for them to come out and cause more harm. Is the left right that there needs to be reform inside of the criminal justice system to give these prisoners education and work skills so that when they get back into the real world they don’t just wind up back in jail?
AG BARR: Yes. That's why I supported what President Trump did. It tried to cut down on recidivism by providing these programs and giving these people the tools to succeed later. I support that, but I do think that statistically the number one correlation to recidivism is age. Generally, after 40 years old the incidents of violence start dropping down fairly sharply. One of the problems is that programs which really help people turn their lives around are very hard to produce on scale. You might say a charismatic priest in Cincinnati has been very successful with 20 people. Okay, but you can’t take that nationwide. It’s all dependent on that one charismatic person. When you're running a huge system like we have, the real differentiator is what age these people are. If you look at the rap sheet of the people that are committing crimes right now in New York, there’s no excuse for those people being on the street.
BW: There’s been a movement in recent years to fill district attorney offices with people who fashion themselves as criminal justice reformers, who want to dramatically decrease the amount of people in jails. Some of them want to go so far as not charging criminal criminals for committing certain crimes. I’m thinking of people like Chesa Boudin, the district attorney in San Francisco who was recently recalled, or Larry Krasner in Philadelphia. Many people, especially on the right, point to these individuals as an explanation for the boom in violent crime in many of these blue cities. Others push back and say there’s violent crime rising across the country—not just in the blue cities. What do you think?
AG BARR They’re a major factor in crime increases. There are various levels. Number one is how good is the state criminal justice system? Do they provide for pretrial detention of very dangerous criminals before trial and other things like that? If the state has a strong system and strong prosecutors, the crime rates are not as out of control. If you have a weak system compounded by these progressive district attorneys who think they have a broader agenda than catching and punishing criminals, then that substantially increases the crime rates. I think it’s inexcusable. In my very first speech as AG on this round, I said this was a major problem. It's improper too because when the state legislature passes the laws they should be enforced. As a district attorney you have some discretion, but these are done on a blanket basis for whole categories of laws.
BW: Under your leadership, you brought back the federal use of capital punishment after almost two decades without a single execution. During your final days in office, the Trump administration executed the most federal prisoners since World War II. Can you explain your views on the death penalty and how you square them with your deeply held religious views as a Catholic?
AG BARR: The the delay in imposing the death penalty, which was reenacted by Congress, was because of difficulties with the chemicals that were used for injection. When I came into office, the Bureau of Prisons had found a means of execution that passed constitutional muster. The whole reason for the so-called moratorium wasn't because of opposition to the death penalty; it was because of the impracticality of actually carrying it out because we didn’t have a regime that passed muster and we didn’t have access to the right chemicals. Once that was solved, there was no longer a barrier to carrying out the death penalty.
My view as attorney general was when Congress passes and juries impose sentences the attorney general can’t say, “Well, the jury sentenced him and the judge sentenced him to 15 years. I'm only making him serve two.” The AG is duty bound to carry out the sentence of the court, and it’s the same for the death penalty. It’s improper for me to say, “Well, that’s the sentence, but I’m not going to carry it out because I opposed the death penalty.” If I personally had moral qualms about the death penalty, then I shouldn't hold the office of attorney general where your duty is to carry out the sentence of the court. I was carrying out the sentences of the court and I thought it was the right thing to do as attorney general. There were 64 people on death row when I came in. Those that had long since exhausted their appeal. We had 13 who had committed crimes against very vulnerable victims, children and others and it was time that their sentence be carried out.
As I explain in my book, there’s a lot of confusion over what the Catholic position is on the death penalty. The Catholic Church has consistently taught for 2,000 years that the state has the right to impose the death penalty, and it’s not “intrinsically evil.” The Church teaches that certain things like rape and abortion are intrinsically evil, which means they can never be justified under any set of circumstances. They’ve taught the opposite about the death penalty. It’s not intrinsically evil; it’s a prudential judgment as to whether it’s appropriate under the circumstances. This judgment is left up to individual Catholics to make, giving deference to the judgment of Church leaders but not bound by their judgment on prudential matters. You're only bound by their judgment as to whether something is intrinsically evil. The idea that the Church has said it's wrong, meaning you can't do it under any circumstances, is simply incorrect. I came to the same conclusion as Justice Scalia: I gave consideration to the views of the pope and I disagreed with his prudential judgment.
BW: Hearing you talk about the chemicals makes me feel physically sick. I believe in paying attention to that kind of visceral reaction. But also as someone who is skeptical of the power of government and the power of the state, the idea that we would give the government the power to pour deadly chemicals into the veins of an American citizen, even a terrible person who’s committed horrible crimes, until they die just makes me deeply uncomfortable because I am so skeptical of the government getting it wrong. I know you feel very strongly about limits on governmental power. So how do you square your view on this with your conservatism?
AG BARR: We take a lot of time and effort and put a lot of resources into making sure the decisions are correct. Right now it takes over 20 years to carry out a death sentence because of all the appeals and all the reviews and all the arguments that are raised. I haven’t heard anyone say that the people who we executed were factually innocent. They committed atrocious crimes that wrecked people’s lives, wrecked the lives of families, and snuffed out the dreams of fellow human beings. I think that there is an intuition in people, in societies, and in America that the most atrocious crimes call for the highest punishment, which is the imposition of death. That is the judgment of our political community. We take a lot of pains to make sure it is not abused or carried out unfairly.
By the way, it’s not just the government that imposes the sentence; it’s the jury. The jury is an institution of the people, a jury of one’s peers. They are the ones that make the ultimate decision, and their hands are not tied –they are allowed to consider anything. After they find the guilt that someone has committed a crime then they have to weigh all the mitigating and other considerations militating for the death penalty and make a decision as to what's just under those circumstances. That’s a decision made by twelve jurors.
BW: You gave a speech in 2019 at Notre Dame that I read at the time and have since reread. It’s a very powerful talk about religious liberty and freedom. In the speech, you argue that not only is religious liberty an imperative to free government, but that religion itself is what protects us from the dangers of freedom. You say that religion promotes moral discipline and a virtue that’s needed to support a free government and free institutions. You quote our founders like John Adams: “We have no government,” he said, “armed with the power which is capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” What do we do when we have such a constitution, but a growing number of Americans aren’t religious?
AG BARR: The framers would have said that if that persists for a long time and people aren’t able to control themselves and govern themselves and sink into licentiousness and so forth that we’re not going to have a free society. The government will adopt rules, and all our decisions will be made for us by the government. The whole idea of limited government was predicated on religion, that religion would allow people to govern themselves. As long as people could govern themselves then you could have limited government. At the end of the day, you will have government, and if it’s not self-government, it’ll be the coercive power of the state.
I think one of the problems we have today is that we’re a more pluralistic, more religiously fractured society. People’s values vary widely. In 1960, 95% of the country self-identified as believing Christians, and that’s no longer the case. I think we have to understand that in a pluralistic society, we have to live and let live. This means we have to, for example, stop trying to run schools like monolithic state institutions that are neutral as to values and morality but allow people to choose through vouchers where they want their children educated. If they want their kids brought up in a religious tradition, allow them to have their school. This is what they do in England. This is what they do in Europe. Here we are, where we supposedly fled from Europe to have religious freedom, but if you want to raise your kid within a religious tradition, you have to pay through the nose for private school. Otherwise, you’re sending your kid to a public school. And the problem today is that a lot of what's being taught in public schools is antithetical to traditional religious belief.
The left talks about diversity, but I’m for real diversity. I think that will enrich education. I think it will not hurt the melting pot that we have. You look at parochial schools today and religious schools, they raise patriotic citizens who function in a pluralistic society very well. So, I think the answer is let people make the choice and let's see what happens.
BW: Do you think that Americans are increasingly trying to get out of politics what they may have gotten once out of religion and religious identity?
AG BARR: I think there’s no question about it. I think that secular progressivism—what I refer to as the radical progressive view—it’s like a religion and it has that intensity. This is what has made our politics so venomous. The opponents of the progressive forces aren’t just wrong, they’re evil because they’re standing in the way of the salvation of the human race. This contributes to the dehumanization of one's political adversaries and so forth. Talking about religious wars, these are like religious wars, the hatred that’s involved in it.
BW: Bill Barr, are you ready for a lightning round?
AG BARR: Sure.
BW: Okay. Did you ever consider resigning from your post because of something you were asked to do?
AG BARR: No. I considered resigning from my post because it was such a pain in the ass. Trump’s tweeting and so forth was such a pain in the ass because it gave the left an opportunity to argue that I was doing things because Trump wanted them done that way. I kept on telling him not to tweet about the Department of Justice. But he never told me to do anything that I would resign over.
BW: Who’s your favorite Democrat, living or dead?
AG BARR: Living, I would say I like Joe Manchin. But there are so many good Democrats that I’ve dealt with over time and history. That’s such a hard question
BW: You're from New York. What's your favorite restaurant in New York?
AG BARR: I would have said my old college hangout, V & T’s Pizza, up near Columbia at 110th Street. I haven't been back there in about 20 years but I’ll put that down.
BW: You graduated from Horace Mann. Would you send a child of yours or grandchild of yours to Horace Mann today?
AG BARR: No.
BW: Who’s your favorite saint?
AG BARR; Saint Augustine.
AG BARR: He was probably the most intelligent of all the saints. He led the Church through a period where there was still a hostile Roman Empire, and the Church was just getting its footing. I think his assessment of human nature and the disposition to do wrong was sort of accurate.
BW: Who do you most disagree with but also respect? Who’s your RBG if you’re a Scalia?
AG BARR: I always respected Justice Breyer. I thought he was very intelligent and incisive and I thought he was a formidable jurist.
BW What’s the most surprising thing about Donald Trump?
AG BARR: One would think that an executive would have a better idea of how to operate with people and manage people. And he’s a poor manager of people.
BW: What’s the most awkward situation you ever witnessed in the White House?
AG BARR: It was on June 1 when the president was bellowing at a number of his cabinet secretaries, especially the military guys—the secretary and chairman of the joint chiefs. He was calling all of us “fucking losers” at the top of his lungs.
BW Who was your best friend in the Trump administration? Your closest friend?
AG BARR: There were a number of them. I knew Mike Pompeo because I was on the CIA External Advisory Board. He and I were friends and I have very high regard for him.
BW: Fill in the blank with an adjective: George H.W. Bush was . . .
AG BARR: A great leader.
BW: Rudy Giuliani is . . .
AG BARR: A bad influence on Trump.
BW: Bob Mueller.
AG BARR: Served his country ever since becoming a Marine during the Vietnam War. He served honorably and should not have accepted the job of special counsel.
BW: Is it possible that Jeffrey Epstein didn’t die by suicide?
AG BARR: No.
BW: What’s your biggest regret?
AG BARR: That the president was closed to taking advice from his advisors. He felt he knew better than everybody else so he didn't follow anybody’s advice.
BW: You play the bagpipe. What’s your favorite song to play on the bagpipe?
AG BARR: Pipe Major Maclean’s Farewell to Oban.
BW: What's the most important book you've ever read?
AG BARR: The most important book is the Bible.
BW: Who’s going to be president in 2024?
AG BARR: If I had to bet, I would probably bet DeSantis.
BW: Attorney General Barr, thank you so much for making the time.
AG BARR: Thank you, Bari.