Four former presidents of the D.C. Bar Association have signed a letter calling on the group to investigate whether Attorney General William Barr has violated its rules. The District of Columbia Bar authorizes lawyers to practice in the city and has the power to punish them for breaking its rules and to revoke their law licenses.
The complaint argues that Barr has broken Washington’s ethics rules by being dishonest and violating his oath to uphold the Constitution, along with other charges. And it highlights four episodes in Barr’s time as attorney general to make the case: his characterization of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia’s 2016 election interference, his criticism of an inspector general report on the Russia probe, his criticism of FBI officials in a TV interview, and his role in the disbursement of peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square, outside the White House. A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment.
“Mr. Barr’s client is the United States, and not the president,” the letter says. “Yet, Mr. Barr has consistently made decisions and taken action to serve the personal and political self-interests of President Donald Trump, rather than the interest of the United States.”
Barr’s early description of the Mueller report and his handling of protesters in Lafayette Square have long drawn pointed criticism. But his comments on the inspector general report on the FBI’s Russia probe hasn’t drawn as much attention. In an NBC News interview after the report’s release, Barr called the FBI’s basis for opening the Russia probe “very flimsy.” The letter argues that the criticism was dishonest.
“Indeed, the notion that the legitimacy of an FBI investigation’s initiation should be judged by its end, if applied broadly, could easily chill the initiation of wholly legitimate inquiries for fear of being second-guessed,” the letter adds.
The letter also argues that Barr broke the D.C. Bar’s rules when he criticized former FBI officials’ decisions regarding the Russia probe and suggested they could be prosecuted. The letter focused on a comment Barr made in a CBS News interview: “Just because something may even stink to high heaven and … appear [to] everyone to be bad, we still have to apply the right standard and be convinced that there’s a violation of a criminal statute.”
The letter argued the statement could unfairly influence potential criminal proceedings against those officials and that Barr should have followed the standard DOJ practice of declining to comment on ongoing investigations. John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, is investigating the Russia probe’s origins. Some Trump allies, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, have intimated that he will bring criminal charges against officials who worked on the probe.
Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec recently told Fox News that Durham is expected to issue a report by summer’s end. “There are no guarantees in life, but we certainly hope to see one by the end of the summer. I think it’s important,” she said.
The complaint’s signatories include a host of legal ethics experts and former government lawyers. Andrea Ferster, Philip Allen Lacovara, Marna S. Tucker, and Melvin White — all former presidents of the D.C. Bar — also signed on.
Bar associations can take years to review disciplinary complaints, and their processes are kept confidential. The letter comes as Barr faces sharp criticism from leaders in the legal profession. Late last month, the president of the New York City Bar Association and chair of its task force on the rule of law sent a letter to top members of Congress calling him “unfit” for his job and raising some of the same concerns raised in this letter.