By MICHAEL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire
You learn pretty quickly as a criminal defense lawyer– say, your second or third time in traffic court, with a tired judge, a boy-scout cop, and a smug prosecutor — that your job is not just to argue what your clients want you to.
You start with that, and you lose. Sometimes it’s even ugly. Not only do your clients fail to recognize reality at times; they also don’t know what works. And you’re the one who feels sick at the end.
A lawyer’s job is something different: to lay the groundwork for effectively representing people by impressing on them that they need to approach their problems in a realistic frame of mind. Because a good lawyer uses the truth like a tool; often carefully, often strategically, but always intelligently, and always with respect.
After all, as a local newspaper likes to remind us with its masthead, there is nothing more powerful than the truth. It’s the stuff that winning cases are built on. You cannot succeed without it.
A man named William Barr is the Attorney General of the United States of America. He is this country’s top lawyer, as we say; the head of our Department of Justice. When William Barr brings a case against somebody, that case is called this: “The United States of America versus Joe Blow.” William Barr is an old man and this is the capstone of his career.
He got famous for editing the Mueller report on Trump’s Russian connections, twisting its contents to get his boss off the hook. He has been held in contempt of Congress for refusing to obey subpoenas. He fires prosecutors who are investigating Trump.
He dumps prosecutions of people who committed crimes for Trump, even after those people confess. He helped clear the streets of Washington so that Trump could wave a bible around in front of a closed church, then quibbled about the definition of tear gas.
He has spent a lot of time doing a lot of damage, in other words, but he usually does it in a lawyerly way. He usually fastens on the one sliver of truth that helps him make his case. He has been a terrible public servant, of course. But I have always recognized the professional in him. He is the reason why people hate lawyers.
The other day, though, Donald Trump said something not just idiotic, but criminal. Our president, who is afraid of the democratic process, and who has been trying to undermine it however he can, told the citizens of North Carolina to vote twice, once by mail and once in person, ostensibly to check and see if North Carolina’s protections against that practice are effective.
Yes, in case you were wondering, that is the actual equivalent of telling people to rob banks, to test the banks’ surveillance systems. It is no different, except if enough people actually do what our president suggested, it will gum up the works on election day and call into question the results. And because Donald Trump is afraid of voting, he wants our vote to be as messed up as possible. He is trying to destroy it.
A journalist for CNN asked William Barr what he thought about this, and the Attorney General of the United States of America, our country’s top lawyer, the head of our Department of Justice, whose client is not Donald Trump, but our country itself, who has reached the capstone of his career, who — you would hope– would know how to handle a traffic case in our local district court– this man, when asked if it was legal to vote twice in the same election, replied as follows: “I don’t know what the law in the particular state says.”
Bill Barr has jumped the shark so many times that it’s hard to say this is the worst thing he’s ever said or done. But he is either the dumbest lawyer in America, or he no longer bothers to get even one shred of truth on his side.
When we finally close the book on this era, when we finally consign Donald Trump to the place where he belongs, and we are picking up the wreckage he has left behind both here and abroad, we will have to remember all the miniature men and women who made his work possible.
And there is one in particular who deserves a special epitaph. William Barr is a disgrace to his party, a disgrace to the law, and a disgrace to his country.
Michael Davidow is a lawyer in Nashua. He is the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project. His most recent one is The Book of Order. They are available on Amazon.
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