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Barr interrupts his legal work for Trump to stir up trouble in Boston

The attorney general visits Boston as Trump’s ‘law and order’ emissary and takes a photo with the city’s Black police commissioner, to the discomfort of the mayor.

Attorney General William Barr (left) and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross.
Attorney General William Barr (left) and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross.Justice Department

Last week was another busy one for Attorney General William P. Barr and his evil mission to make a mockery of justice on behalf of President Trump. First, Justice Department lawyers tried to squelch publication of a political memoir that described the president as ignorant, unstable, and unfit for office. Then Barr set in motion plans to remove the federal prosecutor who had been investigating some presidential friends and allies.

In between, Barr squeezed in a trip to Boston, where he met with William Gross, the city’s first Black police commissioner. While this was a mere blip in Barr’s work week, it served its purpose. The Justice Department tweeted out a photo that was good for the attorney general, who took heat for doing what it took to clear Lafayette Square of Black Lives Matter protesters so President Trump could visit St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-op. Gross had some explaining to do, but the optics weren’t all bad for him, either. His rank-and-file officers no doubt welcomed Trump’s “law and order” ambassador.

Meanwhile, the optics were terrible for Mayor Martin J. Walsh — which no doubt delighted Barr and didn’t bother Gross at all. But what could Walsh do? Nothing but put out word that he told Gross the meeting was a bad idea. Looking at this through the very parochial lens of Boston politics, it’s hard to imagine a police commissioner appointed by the late Mayor Thomas M. Menino following through with such a meet-up once advised against it by his boss. But these are unprecedented times.


Maybe Gross did give Barr “an earful” from his perspective as a Black man and police chief, as he told the press. But it didn’t look that way; the photo tweeted out by the Justice Department showed only ear-to-ear grins. The whole scenario gave critics like City Councilor Andrea Campbell, who someday could turn into a mayoral challenger, ample incentive to express disgust about the police commissioner’s decision to meet with an AG who has defined his role not as the people’s lawyer but as the president’s lawyer. And, in that capacity, shows an insatiable appetite for trampling on rights, not enforcing them.


As Barr has shown over and over, when it comes to pleasing Trump, there’s no job too big or small for him to take on. If he has to pave the way to clear Lafayette Square of peaceful protesters by using tear gas and rubber bullets, he will do it.

He will do whatever it takes to stroke Trump. Spin the report by Robert Mueller about Russian interference into the 2016 election? Done. Interfere in the sentencing of Trump ally Roger Stone for lying to Congress and witness intimidation? Done. Move to drop the case against Michael Flynn, a former Trump national security advisor who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI? Done.

Last week, Justice Department lawyers also tried to stop the publication of the memoir written by John Bolton, the former national security adviser, who describes Trump as a national security disaster. Not surprisingly, a judge declined to do that. But making the effort was more about Trump-pleasing theater than presenting any valid legal argument.

Barr also maneuvered Geoffrey Berman, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, out of a job that has included prosecuting the president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and investigating Trump’s current personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani. While some reports try to paint this as freelancing on Barr’s part, it’s hard to believe Trump wasn’t all in.


For Barr, going to Boston as Trump’s law-and-order emissary and taking a photo with the city’s Black police commissioner, to the discomfort of a blue-city mayor, is minor-league trolling. But from the look on his face, Barr enjoyed every minute of it, especially since he knew what soon would follow — the push to get a pesky prosecutor out of the way and, with that, another chance to titillate Trump.

Barr has chosen to use the power of his office to promote the Trump agenda. Whenever and however he leaves office, that will be his legacy.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.