In his new book, Donald Trump’s former attorney general William Barr complains that in the US, the “most educated and influential people are more attached to self-serving narratives than to factual truth”.
But in his own narrative of his tumultuous time as Trump’s top lawyer, Barr regularly omits inconvenient truths or includes self-serving versions of events previously reported with his evident input.
Barr was only the second US attorney general to fill the role twice, working for George HW Bush from 1991 to 1993, then succeeding Jeff Sessions in 2019. His memoir, One Damn Thing After Another, will be published on 8 March. Excerpts have been reported by US news outlets. The Guardian obtained a copy.
As widely reported, Barr defends himself from accusations that he was too close to Trump and acted to shield him over the Russia investigation and Robert Mueller’s final report on election interference and links between Trump and Moscow.
On other controversies, Barr’s accounts are often highly selective or noticeably incomplete.
In June 2020, Barr was engulfed in controversy over the removal of Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney in the southern district of New York.
Berman was investigating Trump’s business and allies including Rudy Giuliani. He was also supervising a case involving a Turkish bank which the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, pressured Trump to drop.
Shortly after John Bolton, Trump’s third national security adviser, said Trump promised Erdoğan he would get rid of leaders in the southern district, Barr announced Berman was stepping down. When Berman said he would not quit, he was fired.
The incident prompted calls for Barr to resign, including from the New York City Bar Association.
In his book, Barr praises the “quality and experience of the group of US attorneys I inherited” and says he told them “to go full speed ahead on the department’s existing priorities”. He also says he regrets not installing an aide, Ed O’Callaghan, “into his dream job – US attorney in the southern district of New York”.
But he does not mention Berman and how or why he fired him.
Barr also defends his decision to restart federal executions after 17 years, which lead to 13 state killings in the final six months of Trump’s presidency. Barr describes, with apparent relish, the crimes of many of those killed.
He does not mention Lisa Montgomery, the first woman executed by the federal government in 67 years, whose lawyers argued she had brain damage from beatings as a child and suffered from psychosis and other mental conditions, having been sexually abused.
Barr also outlines why he thinks Trump lost the election and should not run again.
His former boss’s volcanic anger is repeatedly described. Detailing Trump’s fury during protests against racial injustice outside the White House in June 2020 – after confirming that Trump was once hustled to a protective bunker, which Trump denied – Barr writes: “The president lost his composure.
“Glaring around the semi-circle of officials in front of his desk, he swept his index finger around the semi-circle, pointing at all of us. ‘You’re all losers!’ he yelled, his face reddening … ‘You’re losers!’ he yelled again, tiny flecks of spit arcing to his desktop. ‘Fucking losers!’ It was a tantrum.”
After that tantrum, peaceful protesters were violently cleared from Lafayette Square before Trump walked to a historic church to stage a photoshoot holding a Bible. Barr and other senior aides made the walk too.
It was widely reported that Barr ordered the clearance. In his book, Barr says Trump told him to “take the lead” in dealing with the protesters. But he echoes an official report in saying the clearance was already planned by police.
Barr portrays himself and other aides obstructing or defying Trump’s demands, including pressure to investigate Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, and the contents of a laptop obtained by Giuliani.
“I cut him off again,” Barr writes, “raising my voice. ‘Dammit, Mr President! I can’t talk about that, and I am not going to!’
“He was silent for a moment, then quickly got off the line.”
Barr also gives space to his falling out with Trump over the president’s lie about electoral fraud in his defeat by Joe Biden – a rupture which happened after Barr controversially ordered the Department of Justice to investigate electoral fraud claims, a decision he now defends.
A tempestuous meeting between Trump and Barr on 1 December 2021, at which the attorney general told the president no widespread fraud existed, has been widely reported. Such accounts do not say Barr attempted to resign. In his memoir, he says he did and that Trump accepted but was talked around.
In his account of a meeting on 14 December 2020 at which he did resign, Barr says Trump first gave him a report which the president claimed contained “absolute proof that the Dominion machines were rigged [and] I won the election and will have a second term”.
The House oversight committee released the report in June 2021, detailing how Trump sent it to Barr’s replacement, Jeffrey Rosen, shortly after Barr left his resignation meeting.
But accounts of that meeting in books by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa (Peril) and Jonathan Karl (Betrayal), heavily informed by Barr, do not say Trump gave Barr the report and that Barr, in his own words, said he would look into it.
The report was produced by Allied Security Operations Group (ASOG), which Barr says “described itself as a cybersecurity firm in Texas”, and purported to deal with events in Antrim county, Michigan, a Republican area where a clerking error appeared to give Biden victory before a Trump win was confirmed.
The report, Barr writes, concluded that voting machines were “intentionally and purposefully designed with inherent errors to create systemic fraud and influence election results”.
Barr calls the report “amateurish” and “sensational” and its conclusion “an ipse dixit, a bald claim without even the pretense of supporting evidence”.
Dominion Voting Systems, the company which made the machines, has sued Trump allies including Giuliani, Mike Lindell and Fox News, seeking billions in damages.
Trump has not commented on Barr’s book. But he has previously called his attorney general – who many saw as a ruthless “hatchet man”, determined to do the president’s bidding – “afraid, weak and frankly … pathetic”.