William Barr’s History Of Cover-Ups And Promoting Mass Incarceration

Written by Dana Sanchez
cover for trump
Attorney General William Barr arrives at the 2019 Prison Reform Summit and First Step Act Celebration in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The public may never see special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report. The redacted version was released this morning. All eyes have been on U.S. Attorney General William Barr as he continued the push to define the terms and frame the findings in a way that appears to cover for President Donald Trump.

If Barr is, in fact, helping Trump cover up crimes, this would be his second big cover-up. He helped President George H. W. Bush cover up and prevent prosecution with six pardons.

Barr was a big fan of policies that have transformed America into the world’s leading incarcerator, according to a blog by Sagiv Galai with the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project.

Barr’s first attorney general stint was from 1991 to 1993 during the first Bush administration.

His single most significant act in the Department of Justice was when Barr advised Bush to pardon six officials from Ronald Reagan’s administration, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, for crimes associated with the Iran-Contra affair, Bloomberg reported. 

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Barr and the case for more incarceration

In the early ’90s, Barr issued 24 Recommendations to Strengthen Criminal Justice. His harsh approach included expanding capacity for pretrial detention and offsetting the cost with prison labor, New York Times reported. Barr’s recommendations earned the title, “The Case for More Incarceration.”

Although Barr acknowledges that the U.S. has changed since the early 1990s, his Senate confirmation hearings made it clear that he won’t be the one to tear down what he built up.

Since 1991, the U.S. federal and state prison population has grown from 800,000 to more than 2 million today. Studies have shown that mass incarceration does little to reduce crime, Busines Insider reported.

Conservatives and top Republicans have dialed back their tough-on-crime rhetoric of the past as progressive calls for criminal justice reform and better policing work to lower incarceration.

Barr as the architect of presidential pardon strategy

When an investigation led by independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was closing in on President Bush, Barr came up with the strategy that killed Walsh’s investigation and saved Bush, Bloomberg reported. It involved pardons in the Iran Contra affair, a secret operation in which the U.S. government sent weapons to a known enemy and gave financial aid to a rebel force.

Elliott Abrams, a conservative who was entangled in the Iran-Contra affair, was one of the six people found guilty of crimes who were pardoned. Abrams is now Trump’s special envoy overseeing policy toward Venezuela. Abrams served in foreign policy positions for Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush.

“The pardoned criminal can at least know that the same guy who made sure he got pardoned the last time he did crimes for a president will be the attorney general this time around too,” Alan Pyke reported for Politico.