WASHINGTON — William Barr, who served as attorney general during the second half of the Trump administration, says in a new book that former President Donald Trump considered dumping him before he was even confirmed.
Offering a sharply critical view of his former boss in the book, “One Damn Thing After Another,” Barr describes his relationship with Trump as far more tempestuous than it appeared from the outside.
Barr testified at his Senate confirmation hearing that he would do nothing to interfere in Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation of the Trump campaign and praised Mueller for a distinguished record in public service.
During a break in the hearing, Barr says, an aide reported that the president was furious with him for being “too nice” about Mueller and was considering withdrawing Barr’s nomination.
In an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt, to be broadcast Sunday, Barr was asked, “Was it a little bit of an introduction to what it might be like working for Donald Trump?”
He responded: “Yeah, sure. But I went in with my eyes open. I didn’t go in to be best buddies with President Trump.”
I went in with my eyes open. I didn’t go in to be best buddies with President Trump.”
Former Attorney General William Barr
And they parted as anything but buddies. Barr says in the book that the prospect that Trump might run for president again “was dismaying to me,” as were the former president's post-election efforts to purge the Republican Party of those he considered insufficiently loyal.
“That Trump, of all people, should consider himself an arbiter of ideological purity — a man whose political allegiances oscillated randomly for decades — is comical,” Barr writes. “In reality, he has no concern with ideology or political principle. His motive is revenge, and it is entirely personal.”
Barr says his relationship with Trump began to deteriorate over the attorney general’s refusal to file criminal charges against former FBI Director James Comey, even though there were a few bits of classified information in the memos Comey gave to his personal lawyers.
Another sore point for Trump was the slow pace of a review by federal prosecutor John Durham into how the FBI launched its investigation of allegations that the Trump campaign had assistance from Russia. Trump grew increasingly annoyed that Durham’s work did not result in any developments before the 2020 election.
Barr describes Trump’s infamous phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “harebrained scheme” — although not illegal. The idea that Ukrainian officials would investigate Hunter Biden to help Trump’s re-election campaign “was idiotic beyond belief.” Barr blames Rudy Giuliani, whom he describes as one of the most consequential mayors in U.S. history but also as “the man who helped President Trump get himself impeached — not once but, as it turned out, twice.”
After the election, Barr refused to support Trump’s claim that the election was stolen. There may have been some fraud, Barr says, adding that all elections have irregularities but not enough to change the results.
In one of the book’s most dramatic passages, Barr explains what happened after he decided to go public on Dec. 1, 2020, with his conclusion about the election by telling Associated Press reporter Mike Balsamo that “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
Summoned to a dining room off the Oval Office, Barr told Trump why he made the statement, repeatedly explaining that the various election fraud theories had no factual basis. As Trump grew angrier, Barr said, “I understand you are very frustrated with me, Mr. President, and I am willing to submit my resignation.”
Barr says Trump slammed his hand on the table and said: “Accepted! Accepted!”
When Barr’s government SUV began to drive him away after the stormy meeting, White House counsel Pat Cipollone pounded on the vehicle’s windows, telling him Trump had changed his mind and that he was not fired after all, Barr says.
Trump has disputed that account, insisting he demanded Barr resign, not that Barr quit.
Two weeks later, Barr submitted a formal resignation letter.
Barr says Trump surrounded himself with an “ever-hovering circle of outside advisers — experts in telling him what he wanted to hear,” who fed him a steady diet of sensational fraud allegations. Barr describes the legal team assembled by Giuliani as “whack jobs” and says that after the election, Trump lost his grip and became manic and unreasonable.
“The absurd lengths to which he took his stolen election claim led to the rioting on Capitol Hill,” Barr writes, although he says in the book that those statements would not fit the legal definition of incitement.
“The absurd lengths to which he took his stolen election claim led to the rioting on Capitol Hill,”
Former Attorney General William Barr
The book, scheduled for release Tuesday, is part autobiography. Barr describes growing up in a conservative household in New York, traces his career in the law and explains why he decided to go back to the Justice Department, becoming only the second attorney general in U.S. history to hold the office twice.
Barr was widely criticized for intervening in criminal cases in a manner seen as favorable to the White House in moving to dismiss charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn and recommending a lesser sentence for Trump confidant Roger Stone than federal prosecutors had sought.
His actions were consistent with Justice Department standards in criminal cases, he says.
Asked by Holt in the NBC News interview whether there is anything Trump could do to win back his support, Barr answered: “No. He’s not the right person.”
The feeling apparently is mutual. Asked by NBC News for his response to the book, Trump wrote: "Bill Barr cares more about being accepted by the corrupt Washington media and elite than serving the American people. He was slow, lethargic, and I realized early on that he never had what it takes to make a great attorney general.”