FORMER AG BARR: HUNTER BIDEN CASE 'SHAMEFUL SELF-DEALING' BY BIDEN FAMILY. Some Republicans want a special counsel appointed to investigate presidential son Hunter Biden's shady business dealings in Ukraine, China, and elsewhere. The calls started in the last months of the Trump administration, when revelations about his activities, and suspicion that his father, President Joe Biden, might have been involved, began to emerge. (Those were, of course, the revelations some big media organizations tried to downplay and that social media giants Twitter and Facebook tried to suppress.)

The attorney general at the time, William Barr, declined to appoint a counsel, explaining that the case was being handled "responsibly and professionally" within the Justice Department by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Delaware. This week, Barr, now a year and a half out of office, said he still believes his decision was the correct one. But in remarks to the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday, discussing his memoir One Damn Thing After Another, Barr issued a devastating critique of what the Hunter Biden case represents.

"Whether it is a crime or not," Barr said of the Biden case, the people can "see what it was, which was shameful self-dealing by that family."

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The question for Barr was what the Justice Department should do about it. First, remember that the department was already investigating Hunter Biden's taxes and, perhaps, the question of whether he properly registered as a foreign agent. That investigation was being overseen by David Weiss, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Delaware. We still do not know the extent of that investigation, but there have been reports that Hunter Biden has paid at least $1 million in back taxes in an effort to fend off indictment. That may or may not be successful.

Barr noted that the purpose of a special counsel is to conduct an investigation when the Justice Department has a serious conflict of interest in a matter. The Trump Justice Department had no such conflict, Barr said. Maybe the Biden Justice Department does, but not the Trump Justice Department.

Second, Barr views calls for special counsels as part of an unhealthy trend in American politics: the attempt to criminalize the scandalous behavior of one's political opponent. After all, the nation had just been through a yearslong special counsel investigation of former President Donald Trump, the Mueller investigation, that resulted in no charges against the president and exoneration on the allegation of collusion with Russia.

Barr also felt that if he had appointed a special counsel for Hunter Biden, the Biden administration could have come into office and reversed Barr's action, arguing it was all about politics. In addition, Barr said he felt "very confident" that Weiss would be allowed to stay in his position in the new administration to continue the investigation. Barr did not say why he felt so confident, but he did. So Barr strongly opposed the proposal for the Trump Justice Department to appoint a special counsel.

Finally, Barr is just fundamentally skeptical about special counsels in general. This is from his AEI talk:

What people do, and Hunter Biden is a perfect example of it, they had several weeks to tell the tale of Hunter Biden, and they didn't do it. Their game was to try to get a criminal investigation going. That's usually now what the play is. It's an inside-the-Beltway play: Let's get a criminal investigation going, and that becomes the issue — Is he going to be indicted? — instead of telling the story. The American people, if they knew the facts, would look at what happened and whether it is a crime or not that would ever be prosecuted, they would see what it was, which was shameful self-dealing by that family. And instead of telling the story, they made the question whether or not it was a crime. And we constantly do that today. And it's stupid because the criminal justice process isn't suited for that.

Barr's point was simple: The most important thing in a political scandal is for the people, the voters, to know what happened. They can then make a judgment on how serious it is and what should be done about it.

Barr's adamance on the issue, at least as far as Hunter Biden was concerned, was probably heightened by his relationship with his boss at the time, Trump. There is no doubt Trump, who had been unfairly targeted himself, would have liked to see his opponents in the Justice Department's investigative crosshairs. The announcement that the attorney general had appointed a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden would have been huge news in the 2020 campaign.

About two weeks before the election, Barr said, he received a call from Trump. "The only time the president came right up to the line, and I won't speculate as to whether he would have gone over it," Barr told the audience. "But a couple of weeks before the election, when Rudy Giuliani was parading around the laptop, I got a call from the president. He said, 'You know, this Hunter Biden thing — ' and I said, 'Mr. President, I told you I'm not going to discuss anything.' And he said, 'If that was one of my kids — ' and I said 'Goddamit, Mr. President, I'm not going to — ' and that was that."

So Barr stands by his decision. But, of course, the Biden administration is in power now, and one could certainly argue that the Justice Department cannot very well investigate the president's son without at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. Whether that is the case or not will depend on what the facts of the matter turn out to be and what Weiss does.

Finally, there is the problem of the people learning the story of a particular scandal. How do they do that? Through the news media. And what if the news media simply do not want to tell the story, and in fact, rather than telling the story, attack those who try to tell the story? It's a difficult situation. And there is no good answer on what to do about it, beyond public pressure on media outlets to reform themselves and report more fairly.

But remember Barr's bottom-line assessment of what, specifically, the Hunter Biden case shows: "shameful self-dealing by that family." That family is headed by the president of the United States. And there is more still to learn about what went on.

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