BOOKS | Bill Barr offers a thoughtful memoir
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Memoirs by former senior government officials often contain a fair bit of score-settling and self-justification. Though former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr is not immune to these temptations, his One Damn Thing After Another (William Morrow 2022) is both substantive and thoughtful.
Barr takes his title from a well-worn anecdote, wherein incoming Attorney General William French Smith, about to start in the first Reagan administration, visits former Attorney General Ed Levi, a bow-tied intellectual who served under President Ford. When asked to describe the job of attorney general, Levi replies, “It’s just one damn thing after another.”
This book could easily have fallen into a trap of the same style, unfolding as a play-by-play of the various crises that Barr confronted in office. And the first few chapters feel a little this way, as Barr tours us through his first tenure in the Justice Department, under President George H.W. Bush. There he had to handle a crisis in the U.S. Virgin Islands as Hurricane Hugo disrupted basic law and order, the legal aspects of the U.S. invasions of Panama and Iraq, and a hostage situation in a federal prison. These occasions now seem far removed, but he tells the stories in an engaging way.
By the second half of the book, dealing with his time in the Trump administration, Barr moves to a more thematic approach, tackling topics like religious liberty, national security, and crime. He also takes necessary detours into Trump topics like Russian election interference, FBI investigations, and alleged fraud in the 2020 election. As with the rest of the book, he shoots straight and does not hold back his honest views.
Of course, no such memoir would be complete without the occasional window into Oval Office ongoings. He tells of President Trump, in a good mood following a meeting, asking, “Do you know what the secret is of a really good tweet?” After a smiling pause, the president completes his thought: “Just the right amount of crazy.”
Bill Barr’s memoir is certainly of interest to students of law and policy, as well as those who thrive on D.C. drama. But all Americans can learn something from the dedication and integrity with which Barr served in high office.
—Daniel R. Suhr serves as managing attorney at the Liberty Justice Center
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