Attorney General William Barr’s Insomnia
New York César Chelala
So far it’s only a rumor. But the word all over Washington, D.C. is that Attorney General William Barr has insomnia. No one should take it lightly, because insomnia is a medical condition with devastating effects on a person’s health, quality of life, and ability to make rational decisions. Several medical conditions may cause it, but I have an explanation for Barr’s alleged insomnia.
Insomnia may lead some people to creativity. Franz Kafka had insomnia, and many people think this shaped much of this writing. This may not be the case of William Barr, though. Unless by “creativity” we mean the decision-making ability to undermine our country’s administration of justice, for which he has done an excellent job.
In 1989, Barr, as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC,) justified the invasion of Panama for the purpose of arresting Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, a most valued Central Intelligence Agency’s intelligence source. In December of that year, the United Nations General Assembly (75-20 with 40 abstentions), condemned the US the invasion as a “flagrant violation of international law.” The invasion caused the death of dozens of soldiers and hundreds of civilians, not to speak of $1.5 billion in property damages.
In 2019, Barr became the attorney general of the United States for the second time. Under Barr’s leadership, the Justice Department sought to nullify the Affordable Care Act, thus depriving thousands of people of needed medical care, especially those with pre-existing conditions. Because children can stay on their parents’ health insurance plans up to age 26, more than three million previously uninsured young people qualified for insurance benefits as of 2012. Also, in 2019, Barr was held in contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas. Predictably, the Justice Department declined to prosecute him.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election was documented in an official report submitted to Attorney General Barr on March 22, 2019. Upon receipt of the Mueller’s report, Barr sent a four-page letter to Congress attempting to “summarize” Mueller’s findings. Attorney General Barr added his own legal opinion stating that the evidence presented fell short of proving obstruction of justice by President Trump.
Special counsel Mueller responded that Barr’s letter had misrepresented the report. Mueller stated that Barr’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of his report, fueling “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.” Barr refused to release to the American public an introduction and executive summary of Mueller report.
However, after the publication of a redacted version of the actual report, news organizations and fact-checkers supported Mueller’s conclusion. In March 2020, Reggie Walton, a federal district judge appointed by President George W. Bush, said that Barr’s characterizations of the Mueller report were “distorted” and “misleading.” This was not a crown of glory for the country’s main law-enforcement agent.
Barr’s zeal for protecting the Executive branch of government extends to the president’s friends. Roger Stone is a case in point. A close associate of the president, Stone was convicted on seven counts in November 2019, including witness tampering and lying to investigators.
On February 10, 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia requested that Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison. Around midnight, Trump called the sentencing recommendation “a horrible and very unfair situation” tweeting “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”
The following morning, a senior Justice Department official announced that the department would recommend a lighter sentence, followed in the afternoon by a revised sentencing memorandum in which the DOJ stated that those charges could be “considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances.” All four US Attorneys prosecuting Robert Stone withdrew from the case, and one of them, Jonathan Kravis, resigned from office. On February 20, 2020, Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison. He must report to prison by June 30, 2020.
Throughout his tenure as attorney general, Barr has demonstrated a lack of candor and a sustained effort to support President Trump’s actions regardless of how irrational or unfair. Barr’s insomnia may be due to several medical conditions, but I have an alternative explanation: Every time he looks at himself in the mirror, he sees a man who has steadily been undermining the rule of law that he has promised to uphold.
César Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award. He writes extensively on human rights and foreign policy issues.