Barr praised 2017 book that claims colleges unfairly went after male students accused of sexual assault

Before he was nominated attorney general, Barr also accused the Obama administration of "fanning the false narrative of a 'rape culture.'"
Image: Attorney General William Barr leaves after a meeting with Attorney Generals of Northern Triangle of Central America in San Salvador
Attorney General William Barr leaves a meeting with Attorney Generals of Northern Triangle of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador on May 16, 2019.Jose Cabezas / Reuters file

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By Heidi Przybyla

WASHINGTON — Before being nominated by President Donald Trump to be attorney general, William Barr strongly endorsed a 2017 book accusing colleges and universities of unfairly punishing male students accused of rape.

Barr's praise for "Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities" by K.C. Johnson and Stuart Taylor, is posted on the book's Amazon.com page. But during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, Barr was not questioned about the blurb, which suggested men are often railroaded by a politically correct campus "mob."

In the blurb, Barr praises the book for examining multiple cases where, as he described, "Male students are sacrificed to the mob, with academic leaders happily serving as the hangmen."

Barr's professed skepticism about some campus sexual assault claims surfaced after Trump's call this week for the Justice Department to "rescue" Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, after The New York Times published an excerpt of a new book detailing asexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh while a student at Yale that he had previously denied. The book also includes information about a new allegation.

Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have called for further investigation or for the impeachment of Kavanaugh in light of the allegations.

Barr's endorsement of the book includes a broadside on the Obama administration's approach to the issue of campus sexual assault.

During Obama's presidency, colleges and universities were directed to aggressively pursue sexual misconduct allegations under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans sex discrimination in education. In 2017, the Trump administration ordered those Obama-era protections to be reversed.

"President Obama's Education Department — promulgating regulations beyond its statutory authority, invoking erroneous data, and fanning the false narrative of a 'rape culture' on college campuses — has created a regime of kangaroo justice," Barr wrote in the blurb.

Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for Barr at the Justice Department, declined comment.

The book by Johnson and Taylor — and Barr's endorsement of it — were part of the administrative record Education Secretary Betsy DeVos relied on to make her decision to roll back the Obama-era rules, according to records ordered released by a judge in response to a lawsuit challenging the rollback. DeVos, not Barr, has led the Trump administration's effort to change campus sexual assault policy.

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Taylor told NBC News that now that Barr is attorney general, "I am hopeful he will help move policy in the direction Betsy DeVos is trying to do," while acknowledging that many of DeVos's proposals could easily be undone by a future administration.

The changes include requiring schools to disclose the identity of accusers to alleged assailants and allowing the accused to question alleged victims during campus investigations.

In light of Trump's recent tweet about the Justice Department and Kavanaugh, it's unclear Barr has the power to do anything to "rescue" Kavanaugh or any male student accused of sexual misconduct. Most sexual offenses are prosecuted locally, not by the Justice Department, which handles sex trafficking and child exploitation cases.

In an interview, Taylor said Barr had agreed to write a blurb for his book at a time when neither expected Barr would serve in the Justice Department again. Barr was attorney general under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993.

Barr's blurb has also raised concerns among some Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who said it should have been raised during his confirmation hearings last January. A spokesman for Judiciary Democrats said they had not been aware of the blurb at the time.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the committee, is among those who say they would have wanted to question Barr about the statement.

Due process is always important, Blumenthal told NBC News, but Barr's comments are "way over the top."

Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women's Law Center, said Barr’s comments are "incredibly disturbing" coming from someone who is now the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

His statement "really discounts the experiences of survivors and the challenges they face," Martin said.

She went on to raise concerns that Barr's comments would mean his Justice Department would "leave schools less safe, especially for women and girls."

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also members of the committee, agreed that Barr should have been pressed on the matter during his confirmation.

"This statement seems very out of step with the improvements that have been made in recent decades" around how victims of rape are "taken seriously," said Whitehouse.

Trump and a number of administration officials have come under scrutiny for expressing skepticism about whether females alleging sexual assault should be believed.

In July 2017, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education Candace Jackson told The New York Times that 90 percent of accusations fall into the category of "we were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation." She later apologized for the comments.

Earlier, DeVos delivered a policy address in which she said "if everything is harassment, then nothing is."

At least 17 women have accused Trump of inappropriate behavior, including allegations of sexual harassment or assault. Trump has strongly denied the accusations multiple times.

Taylor, the book's author, said he doesn’t believe Barr's endorsement of his book has any bearing on how he would pursue prosecution of sex crimes as attorney general.

Taylor said that he and his co-author are "strong critics" of Trump, adding, "I'm quite willing to believe a lot of the accusations against him are true."