Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics attorney in the George W. Bush administration, tweeted that Barr’s remarks Friday before the conservative Federalist Society were “another lunatic authoritarian speech” amid an impeachment investigation into the president. He claimed that Barr is “the type of bare knuckles lawyer the Church would have hired thirty years ago to cover up sex abuse cases.”
Barr’s speech to the Federalist Society, a legal organization that has been instrumental in reshaping the courts, attacked Democrats for declaring a “war of resistance” against Trump. He claimed “scorched earth, no-holds-barred” challenges to the president’s power amount to the left’s “systematic shredding of [constitutional] norms and undermining the rule of law.”
The remarks came just hours after the conviction of Trump crony and longtime adviser Roger Stone on seven crimes linked to lying to Congress during its probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Barr appeared to come close to equating Democratic efforts to rein in Trump to a kind of religious terrorism by quoting 18th century Massachusetts Federalist Rep. Fisher Ames. The resistance will use “any mean necessary” to achieve their “holy mission,” Barr said, quoting Ames, adding that “so-called progressives treat politics as their religion.”
Painter called on the Federalist Society to denounce Barr’s “diatribe as an attack on our Constitution and on the rule of law.”
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) pointed out to Barr that Democrats have won most of the court cases they’ve brought against Trump and that several of Trump’s associates have now been convicted of felonies. “So take your revisionist history & shove it,” he tweeted.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) declared the speech “one of the most vicious partisan screeds ever uttered by a US cabinet officer” — and called for Barr’s impeachment. “Barr says trump should have king-like powers,” Pascrell tweeted.
Criminal defense attorney Tor Ekeland tweeted: “Instead of [Barr’s] ‘theory of the unitary executive,’ let’s just start calling it what it is — the theory of the fascist executive.”
Former Southern District of New York federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah called Barr’s speech “outrageously inappropriate” for an attorney general. “You are the head of the DOJ for all Americans not just the ones in the Federalist Society. Please start acting like it,” she tweeted.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said she has warned that Barr is the “most alarming figure” in the Trump administration, whose political view of an all-powerful executive is in “lockstep with Trump.”
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Josh Block called the Federalist Society’s gushing reception of Barr’s message “sickening.”
Barr’s entire speech is in the video up top. His strongest attacks on the Democratic resistance begin around 39:00.
This story has been updated to reflect that Opus Dei, which has a policy of not identifying members, has nevertheless stated that Barr is not a member and has never been one.