The Capitol Riot, Infowars, and the Definition of Journalism

Earlier this summer, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced revisions to the Department of Justice internal rules on obtaining records from journalists. With limited exceptions, the policy provides that DOJ will not subpoena information from members of the “news media” who were engaged in “newsgathering activities.” Now a case arising from the January 6 Capitol riot has highlighted a question posed by this policy: who qualifies as a member of the news media entitled to its protections? More specifically: is the conspiracy-touting, right-wing website Infowars engaged in journalism? The answer to this question has implications far beyond cases involving the insurrection at the Capitol.

The Owen Shroyer Case

Jonathon Owen Shroyer is the host of a daily program that streams on Infowars, “The War Room with Owen Shroyer.” Infowars is a “news service” website led by Alex Jones. Jones and Infowars are noted for promoting various conspiracy theories, including that the 2012 shooting of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook elementary school was faked and that a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor housed a child sex trafficking ring associated with Hillary Clinton – a conspiracy hoax that became known as “Pizzagate.” Jones, Shroyer, and Infowars have been banned from most social media sites for spreading disinformation.

Infowars was a favorite of former president Trump, who routinely praised Jones and echoed the site’s outrageous claims. Infowars also played a significant role in helping perpetuate the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. After Trump lost re-election, Shroyer led a nine-city tour of “Stop the Steal” rallies. He was also featured in materials published by Infowars promoting the January 6, 2021 rally in Washington and urging people to attend and “fight for Trump.”

Exhibit from the Shroyer Arrest Warrant

On January 5, Shroyer spoke at a rally at Freedom Plaza in D.C. where he said, “Americans are ready to fight! . . . We are the new revolution!” Video footage allegedly shows him taking part in marching to the Capitol on January 6, exhorting the mob to stop the election from being “stolen,” and leading the crowd in a chant of “1776!” At one point during the rally, he called live into an Infowars broadcast and reported, “They’ve taken the Capitol grounds, they’ve surrounded the building itself, they’re on the actual building structure. . . . We literally own these streets right now.”

Last week, Shroyer was arrested for his role in the Capitol riot and appeared in court in Washington, D.C. Prosecutors have charged him with entering a restricted area of the Capitol and with unlawfully attempting to impede the work of Congress. Both offenses are misdemeanors. It appears he will maintain that he was covering the events in Washington as a journalist for Infowars.

The Judge’s Inquiry

On August 19, U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui held a telephone conference with prosecutors regarding the arrest warrant for Shroyer. Faruqui asked prosecutors whether they considered Shroyer a member of the news media and whether they had complied with the new DOJ media regulations when investigating him. Prosecutors said they had followed the guidelines, but declined to provide specifics. This caused Faruqui to issue an opinion a few days later, expressing his displeasure. He claimed that prosecutors in other cases have provided more details about their compliance with the regulations, and it troubled him they did not do so here: “The Department of Justice appears to believe that it is the sole enforcer of its regulations. That leaves the court to wonder who watches the watchmen.”

Faruqui’s opinion is a little odd, in that it doesn’t order the prosecutors to do anything. He ultimately signed the arrest warrant, concluding that even if Shroyer was a journalist there was ample evidence that he committed a crime. It appears Faruqui just wanted to make a clear record of his request and of his concerns about whether DOJ was in fact following its own media guidelines.

In a letter to the court, John Crabb, Jr., Chief of the Criminal Division at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, responded with the polite legal equivalent of, “Buzz off.” Crabb wrote that enforcing internal regulations like the media guidelines is committed to DOJ’s sole discretion. It is not the court’s role, he argued, to police DOJ’s application of internal policies that have nothing to do with the finding of probable cause. He also argued that such inquiries by the court might impede “frank and thoughtful deliberations within the Department” about how to apply the regulations.

Crabb is clearly right here, and Faruqui was out of line. The DOJ “Justice Manual” contains many policies about how to interpret and enforce certain areas of the law. Department attorneys may be subject to internal discipline for failing to follow those policies. But it is well-established that those policies do not create rights that may be enforced by outside parties. These are voluntary internal operating rules, not laws passed by Congress.

If Shroyer believes he has some kind of First Amendment defense based on his alleged status as a journalist, he can file a motion and the judge can rule on it. But under the separation of powers, it’s not Faruqui’s role to probe DOJ’s application of its own voluntary policies that have nothing to do with the legal merits of the case. At some level Faruqui himself seems to recognize this, since he issued his opinion but did not require DOJ to do anything in response.

US Dept of Justice
U.S. Department of Justice

DOJ’s Media Guidelines

As noted above, Faruqui’s inquiry was based on DOJ’s recently-modified guidelines about subpoenas to members of the media. Those guidelines have been around in various forms for decades. They represent the Department’s effort to balance the needs of law enforcement with the important First Amendment interests of the news media in gathering information without fear of government interference or punishment.

Journalists have long argued that they should have a legal privilege to refuse government demands for information about their reporting and sources. They claim such a privilege is necessary to protect the vital role of the free press in rooting out government misconduct. They argue that, absent such a privilege, government leakers and other sources of information who may fear reprisals if discovered will refuse to speak to reporters. Just as communications to lawyers and doctors are shielded from disclosure by the legal system, they argue, communications to journalists should be protected in order to ensure the free flow of information to the public.

[Side note: I think the arguments for the reporter’s privilege are wrong and that the privilege is a bad idea. I’ve written a lot on that topic – including in the very first post on this blog. Those arguments are beyond my scope here, but if you are interested in a deeper dive you can check out my blog posts here, here, and here, and law review articles here and here.]

In the landmark 1972 case of Branzburg v. Hayes, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment does not create a privilege that allows journalists to refuse to testify, at least in federal criminal proceedings. In the aftermath of Branzburg, DOJ adopted its media guidelines, recognizing that even if the Constitution did not require it, DOJ should recognize the First Amendment interests at stake and exercise its discretion not to pursue information from journalists in most cases.

Battles Over the Reporter’s Privilege

There have been a few high-profile fights between DOJ and journalists who resisted complying with court orders to reveal information about their sources, although overall such cases are quite rare. Perhaps the most notable example involved New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who was jailed for nearly three months in 2005 when she refused to reveal her source to a grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA agent’s identity. (Vice president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was ultimately convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in that investigation. Libby was pardoned by president Trump in 2018.)

Another dispute involved yet another New York Times reporter, James Risen, who refused to reveal his source for a story that revealed classified information about a covert U.S. government operation in Iran. Risen took his fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the courts ruled he had no privilege and could be compelled to testify. Risen made it clear that he, like Miller, would go to jail rather than comply. The government ultimately backed down, chose not to call him as a witness, and managed to convict the source, Jeffrey Sterling, without Risen’s testimony.

During the Obama administration, the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder was strongly criticized by media organizations for its pursuit of those who leaked classified information to the press. Obama’s DOJ was accused of engaging in a “war on the press” — a ridiculous charge, as I explained here. Nevertheless, responding to that criticism, Holder held meetings with media representatives and updated the DOJ guidelines to make it even more difficult for prosecutors to subpoena information from journalists. In general, such information could be sought only when it was vitally important to the case, when alternative avenues to obtain the information had been exhausted, and when the request was approved by high level DOJ officials.

Early in the Biden administration, DOJ disclosed that Trump’s Justice Department had secretly sought email and phone records of several reporters at the Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN, in connection with investigations of leaks of classified material. When asked about the disclosures, Biden said that seeking such records from journalists was “simply wrong” and that he would not allow it in his administration.

As a result, last July 19, as noted above, Garland issued a memo saying the media guidelines would be amended again and would now contain a flat prohibition on the use of compulsory process to seek information from members of the news media who were engaged in newsgathering activities. (There are still some limited exceptions, such as when the journalist himself is under investigation for committing a crime, is an agent of a foreign power, or when disclosure is necessary to prevent imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.) These are the updated guidelines about which Judge Faruqui was inquiring in the Shroyer case.

Is Shroyer a Journalist?

The DOJ media guidelines have been around for decades but have never defined who qualifies as a journalist under those guidelines. The governing regulations associated with those guidelines provide that whether someone is a member of the “news media” engaged in “newsgathering activities” must be determined on a case-by-case basis – but provide no guidance on how to make that determination. So is Infowars engaged in journalism, and is Shroyer a journalist?

Unlike professions such as law or medicine, which also enjoy certain legal privileges, there are no particular educational or licensing requirements to help define who is a journalist. In one sense, journalism is more of a process than a profession. Merriam-Webster defines journalism as “the collection and editing of news for presentation to the public.”  This could include anyone from a reporter for a national newspaper to a pajama-clad blogger working from home. The First Amendment’s protections apply equally to all such speakers and do not depend on the popularity of the views being expressed.

Fifty years ago, when media consisted primarily of newspapers, magazines, and the three major television networks, the Supreme Court observed that attempting to define who is a journalist for purposes of a legal privilege would be a “questionable procedure” that would “present practical and conceptual difficulties of a high order.” The rise of the Internet and the explosive growth of the media universe in the decades since have made that task exponentially more difficult. Now anyone with a cell phone can potentially disseminate information to millions of people and claim to be engaged in citizen journalism.

For years, efforts to enact a federal reporter’s privilege statute in Congress have foundered, at least in part, over the problem of defining who is a “journalist” entitled to invoke the privilege. Any such definition necessarily puts the government in a position of deciding which First Amendment speakers are “real” journalists deserving of special legal protections – a dubious Constitutional exercise. Even some in the media have opposed the idea, arguing that it amounts to allowing the government to license journalists.

One proposed solution is to limit the definition of journalists to those who make a substantial portion of their livelihood by gathering and disseminating news to the public. But that has problems as well. Such a definition tends to favor large, established media organizations and their staff over small, independent bloggers and other upstarts who may work for little or no money but often break major stories. And if the purpose of a privilege is to increase the flow of information to the public, it doesn’t make much sense to shield the communications of a reporter for a small local paper with a few hundred readers but not those of an independent blogger with a readership in the millions.

Shroyer allegedly participated in the riot, but at the same time was broadcasting information concerning what was happening to Infowars’ substantial audience. That portion of his activities, at least, would seem to qualify as journalism. But if Shroyer broadcasting live scenes from the Capitol qualifies, how about an individual blogger who attended and posted scenes on Facebook live or on her own blog? That person, too, is providing information to the public – the essence of journalism. Should the blogger also be shielded from investigation by the DOJ policy? Should subpoenaing the Facebook posts to further the investigation of the riot now be off-limits?

Lawyers love “slippery slope” arguments, and sometimes the dilemmas they pose are overstated. But defining who qualifies as a journalist and who doesn’t is a real problem with significant constitutional implications – at least if you are talking about granting special legal privileges to journalists that other First Amendment speakers do not enjoy.

What’s At Stake

Journalists can’t commit crimes in the course of reporting and claim they are immune. A reporter cannot, for example, break into someone’s office to steal documents and then defend herself by claiming she were working on a story. Whether or not Shroyer is a journalist is not going to determine whether he can be prosecuted. Judge Faruqui recognized that when he signed the arrest warrant even while questioning whether Shroyer was a member of the media. But Shroyer’s case does highlight the minefields for law enforcement in this area.

In the Internet age, the number of people who can credibly call themselves journalists, or say they are engaged in gathering news for delivery to the public, has grown dramatically. A policy that declares the records of any such person to be off limits has the potential to put a great deal of information outside the reach of law enforcement. That could severely hamper efforts to investigate not only major crimes like the Capitol riot but more everyday incidents as well.

It’s one thing if this is just an internal DOJ policy. That leaves the Justice Department free to investigate cases like Shroyer’s when it determines the policy does not apply – even if the occasional judge Faruqui improperly tries to look over prosecutors’ shoulders. But when announcing the updated guidelines, Garland also said DOJ would support Congressional efforts to enact a federal reporter’s privilege statute. If that happens, then a whole new generation of Internet “journalists” like Shroyer will routinely will invoke that legal privilege to resist requests for information, fight subpoenas, and seek to thwart prosecutions.

DOJ should be careful what it wishes for. By endorsing federal legislation that prohibits seeking information from all those engaged in “newsgathering,” DOJ would hand a weapon to defendants like Shroyer who seek to shield their criminal activities. Congress should think twice before putting the force of federal law behind such a weapon.

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Book Review: “Hatchet Man” by Elie Honig

Former Attorney General William Barr’s misconduct in office has been well-documented. But it may take someone who worked as a federal prosecutor to fully appreciate the true nature and extent of the damage Barr did to the Department of Justice. Former federal prosecutor and now CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig provides that perspective in a new book, “Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor’s Code and Corrupted the Justice Department.” It’s a sobering look back on Barr’s two-year assault on the very foundations of the Justice Department – an assault from which DOJ likely will need years to recover.

William Barr
Former Attorney General William Barr

The Prosecutor’s Code

Honig structures his book around what he calls the “prosecutor’s code” – core principles that guide the behavior of good prosecutors, such as impartiality, independence, owning up to mistakes, and keeping politics out of prosecutions. Honig believes a key reason Barr failed as Attorney General is that he has never worked as a federal prosecutor and never understood this prosecutor’s code.

An AG without prosecutorial experience could at least compensate by hiring top aides with that background. But as Honig points out, Barr didn’t do that either. His Deputy Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General – the number two and three spots at the department – likewise had no prosecutorial experience. Even the assistant attorney general for the criminal division had no experience as a criminal prosecutor. That’s sort of like a hospital hiring a dermatologist to be the head of open heart surgery.

Barr spent most of his career as a civil attorney. A civil litigator’s job is to win – to get the best possible outcome for the client, within the bounds of law and ethics, regardless of what might objectively appear just or fair. But prosecutors have a higher obligation. As one of Honig’s supervisors told him early in his career, good prosecutors don’t do “wins and losses.” Their duty is to see that justice is done and to protect the justice system. Barr, having never been a prosecutor, never appreciated this.

Another reviewer took issue with this argument, noting that prosecutorial experience does not guarantee respect for the rule of law. She cited as an example former federal prosecutor Sydney Powell, the infamous lawyer in Trump’s “Kraken” lawsuits challenging the election who now faces professional sanctions. But this misses Honig’s point. He’s not claiming that having been a prosecutor will automatically make you a good Attorney General. He’s arguing that it’s awfully difficult to be a good Attorney General without that experience. I think he’s right about that, and I agree it’s part of the reason Barr was such a disaster. It became clear during Barr’s tenure that he simply did not “get” the Department that he led. He was too willing to view DOJ as simply another political institution, and his own power as a means to achieve political ends.

Spinning the Mueller Report

One of Barr’s most egregious actions as attorney general – and one of the biggest favors he did for president Trump — was his dishonest handling of the Mueller report. Honig walks us through the entire shameful episode. It began, of course, before Barr was even hired as attorney general, when as a private citizen he wrote an unsolicited nineteen page memo to DOJ arguing that Mueller’s investigation was “fatally misconceived.” Honig refers to this as Barr’s “audition memo” for the attorney general position. Once Barr got the job, he did not disappoint the man who hired him.

A mere two days after receiving Mueller’s 400-plus page report, Barr held a press conference and released a four page letter to Congress purporting to summarize it. He successfully “spun” the report and misled the public about Mueller’s conclusions. He failed to release the summaries Mueller had prepared that would have given the full picture. By the time the redacted report was made public weeks later, Trump’s claims that Mueller had found “no obstruction, no collusion” had firmly taken hold in the public consciousness – aided by Barr’s misleading conduct.

Many, including Honig, have been critical of Mueller and the way he handled his report. But the irony is that Mueller actually was following that prosecutor’s code to which Honig refers. Mueller played by the rules, kept politics out of his decisions, and followed the facts where they led. His mistake, and perhaps his naivete, was in assuming that his boss, the nation’s top prosecutor, would follow that same code. Instead, Barr seized the opening Mueller gave him and stuck a knife in Mueller’s back.

Roger Stone
Roger Stone

The Flynn and Stone Cases

None of Barr’s actions demonstrated his failure to understand the prosecutor’s code more than his personal interventions in the cases of Trump allies Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. In the Flynn case, Barr’s DOJ took the unprecedented step of trying to drop the charges after Flynn had already pleaded guilty, taking laughable legal positions that contradicted decades of legal precedent. In Stone’s case, after prosecutors, with their supervisor’s approval, filed a memorandum arguing for a sentence within the recommended guideline range, Barr personally intervened to overrule them and argue for a lower sentence

In both cases the front line prosecutors withdrew in protest, an act that, as Honig notes, is almost unheard of. Those prosecutors had put their credibility on the line before the federal judge every time they appeared in those cases. They took legal positions consistent with precedent and prior practice and with the approval of their supervisors. And then they had their legs cut out from under them by the attorney general himself. Withdrawing was their only honorable option. If Barr had ever stood before a federal judge as a prosecutor, perhaps he would have understood that.

Honig also recounts Barr’s attempt to explain away these actions in an outrageous speech he made towards the end of his tenure. Barr argued that allowing decisions of lower level employees to be sacrosanct might be a “good philosophy for a Montesorri school, but it’s no way to run a federal agency.” In addition to infantilizing the thousands of career DOJ employees who worked for him, this argument completely missed the point. Of course the attorney general has the authority to overrule decisions made by line prosecutors. But these prosecutors had not “gone rogue” – their actions were approved by the relevant supervisors. And as Honig notes, the key question remains: out of the tens of thousands of criminal cases prosecuted by DOJ each year, why did Barr personally intervene only in the two cases that involved close allies of president Trump – allies who could potentially implicate the president himself in criminal activity?

The Sovereign District of New York

Honig also analyzes the bizarre incident where Barr tried to replace the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, with a Trump loyalist. After Barr initially said Berman was “stepping down,” Berman denied it. Barr was then forced to ask Trump to fire Berman.

Honig claims this episode demonstrates that Trump and Barr feared Honig’s former office, the SDNY, and had to try to bring it under control. He notes the office’s famous nickname, the “Sovereign District of New York,” and recounts how an article in The New Yorker once referred to SDNY prosecutors as the “killer elite.” Honig claims the members of the office relished that characterization, saying he personally “goddamn loved it.” He says the SDNY prides itself on its willingness to flaunt the rules from “Main Justice” in Washington and chart its own course. “What other federal prosecutor’s office,” he argues, “has the guts to take on cases that could harm the president of the United States?”

According to Honig the most important aspect of SDNY independence, and the reason Trump had cause for worry, is that the SDNY “simply does not do partisan politics.” He says he never once heard of political considerations influencing a case. I believe that – but the same is true of any good U.S. Attorney’s office. I experienced the same thing during my own career at the D.C U.S. Attorney’s office, which sees more than its share of politically-charged investigations. The prosecutor’s code that Honig describes requires that all prosecutions be apolitical. It’s odd for Honig to suggest this somehow sets the SDNY apart.

In any event, the facts unfortunately don’t support Honig’s claims about his old office. For example, the SDNY apparently was ready to execute search warrants for Rudy Giuliani’s records some time in 2020. A truly “sovereign” office might have anticipated that Barr’s DOJ would object and simply gone ahead with the warrants – following the old adage, “it’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.” But that didn’t happen. Barr’s DOJ successfully prevented the warrants from being executed. Only after the Biden Justice Department was in charge did the searches take place – after Giuliani had months to prepare for them.

Similarly, when Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation for the Stormy Daniels payoff, he famously said the president himself – “Individual #1” – directed him to commit the crime. If Trump acted willfully, that would make him equally as guilty as Cohen. Given the DOJ policy against indicting a sitting president, perhaps the SDNY could not reasonably be expected to charge Trump while he was in office. But a truly “sovereign” office might at least have confirmed Trump was culpable by, for example, naming him as an unindicted co-conspirator. In any event, Trump left office six months ago, losing the shield of that DOJ policy — and still no charges.

It was New York state prosecutors, not the SDNY, who investigated the potential financial crimes by the Trump organization and waged the successful battle to obtain Trump’s tax returns. And it was state prosecutors who charged the Trump Organization and its CFO Alan Weisselberg with tax fraud – even though the largest portion of that alleged fraud involved federal tax offenses that could have been pursued by the SDNY.

Honig is a proud alum of the SDNY and perhaps can be forgiven for the paean to his old office. But the truth is the “sovereign district” did no better than the rest of the Department of Justice at resisting the Trump/Barr onslaught. And it’s a bit jarring that Honig fails to recognize that the sort of macho swagger he describes as the office’s culture does not rest very comfortably with his own “prosecutor’s code,” which includes such traits as humility.

Other Examples of Barr’s Misconduct

Honig walks us through a number of other troubling incidents as well, including Barr’s failure to investigate and attempts to conceal Trump’s actions in connection with Ukraine (the misconduct that ultimately resulted in his first impeachment); Barr’s role in the incident in Lafayette park where protestors were gassed to make room for a Trump photo-op; and Barr’s decision to appoint Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham to “investigate the investigators” by probing the basis for the original Russia investigation. Overall, the book is a harrowing review of a tumultuous two years. It’s remarkable how much damage Barr was able to do in such a short period of time.

Honig concludes with proposals for nine reforms to help the Justice Department restore its public standing. Some have already taken place. For example, he calls for new rules governing communications between DOJ and the White House. Last week Attorney General Merrick Garland issued such rules.

The Barr Enigma: Why Did He Do It?

When Barr was first appointed to be attorney general, many Trump critics were cautiously optimistic. Honig, as he admits, was one of them. So was I. Barr was conservative, of course, but he had a reputation as a serious person and had done the job before. He seemed like someone who could be trusted to preserve and uphold the principles that guide the Justice Department. Instead, he did something I would have thought impossible: he left us pining for his predecessor, Jeff Sessions.

So why did Barr do it? Honig offers three possible explanations: a simple lust for power, a desire to implement his own expansive views on executive authority, and a religious desire to combat secularism. But Honig doesn’t really spend much time trying to grapple with Barr’s motivations, and the attempt to link Barr’s actions to his religious views, in particular, seems strained. The book sometimes has an almost knee-jerk, “Barr = bad” feel to it. I think the truth is more complicated.  

Consider, for example, Barr’s actions after the election, when Trump and his allies were claiming the election was stolen. It’s true Barr made some halfhearted remarks about investigating voter fraud. But in the end he refused to endorse Trump’s claims about the election and told Trump the arguments were “bullshit.” Imagine if Barr had been a Rudy Giuliani, backing Trump’s claims with the full power of the Department of Justice? Trump may well have succeeded in overturning the election.

Honig chalks this up to simple self-interest: Barr’s attempt to get off the sinking Trump ship and preserve his own legacy. Maybe that’s correct. But the fact remains that, in the end, Barr did the right thing. To paraphrase Shakespeare, nothing in Barr’s career as attorney general became him like the leaving it. But after being willing to drive DOJ into a ditch for two years, it’s fascinating that Barr decided to turn the wheel at the last minute.

As Honig note, Barr was not a classic Trump MAGA sycophant, doing whatever it takes to please the president. But then what explains Barr’s intervention in the Flynn and Stone cases? That seemed all about feeding Trump’s “witch hunt” persecution fantasy. Why did Barr step in, particularly when he must have known that Trump would almost certainly pardon both men in the end? Rationales such as seeking to maximize executive power don’t really explain it.

Other incidents also raise unexplored complexities. For example, Honig criticizes Barr’s decision to have the Department of Justice defend Trump in the defamation suit brought by E. Jean Carroll, a woman who claims Trump raped her in the 1990’s. But as I wrote here, that was probably the correct decision in terms of protecting all executive branch employees from future private lawsuits. After Honig’s book went to press, attorney general Merrick Garland came to the same conclusion and decided to continue the defense. That doesn’t mean it’s the right decision, of course, but at a minimum it suggests the matter is more nuanced than Honig lets on.

To me, Barr’s behavior is really a puzzle. But we will have to await future authors to perhaps probe more deeply not just what Barr did, but what explains it.

Conclusion

In this cynical age it’s tempting to dismiss the ideals Honig describes as the “prosecutor’s code” as fanciful platitudes. It’s easy to claim the Department of Justice is just about power and politics, like almost everything else in Washington. Good prosecutors like Honig, and like the thousands of others who were appalled by Barr’s actions and registered their protests during his tenure, know this is not true. They recognize the critical role of the prosecutor in our system of justice and the importance of the code that good prosecutors follow. And they recognize the dangers that arise when that code is ignored or subverted.

Barr’s actions poured fuel on the fires of public cynicism about the justice system. It’s now the job of the Garland Justice Department to try to quell those fires and begin the long, slow process of restoring DOJ’s reputation. It remains to be seen whether that is possible or whether the damage done by Barr was too extensive. The DOJ faced similar challenges after the damage done during the Watergate scandal. Honig’s book provides an important review of a history we must remember if we are not to be doomed to repeat the same mistakes yet again.

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