A former federal and state prosecutor and current CNN legal analyst offers a searing critique of William Barr, arguing that the appointee of Pres. Donald Trump was the most corrupt attorney general in modern U.S. history.
Honig doesn’t hide his contempt for Barr, and he isn’t out to convince those who disagree; no one enthusiastic about Barr will come away with their view changed. Likewise, the book doesn’t attempt to uncover new information about Barr’s tenure, relying instead on the existing public record. But for readers looking for an accessible overview of Barr’s time as attorney general—or dizzied by the sheer volume of scandals that took place during the Trump presidency—Honig provides a useful rundown ... Honig’s reliance on the idea of prosecutorial virtue makes for odd reading in a political moment characterized, in part, by increased skepticism toward prosecutors and criminal justice. His paean to the 'unimaginable power' of the prosecutor feels incomplete without any acknowledgment of how this mission can go awry or how that power is experienced by those on the receiving end ... Honig’s book raises the question of whether former prosecutors can to continue situating their professional ethic as a guiding star in the absence of Trump and Barr as foils.
Honig’s thesis is that Barr did a particularly poor job because he 'had never set foot in a courtroom to prosecute a criminal case' ... It is a tidy and superficially appealing theory—one that tracks the intuition that people with government experience and expertise might be less corruptible and pliable than political newcomers. But its flaws and blind spots may reveal more about the assumptions of legal pundits—former prosecutors in particular—than it says about Bill Barr himself ... A large portion of Hatchet Man is in fact about Honig ... At...times, the connections to Barr are strained at best ... The argument that Barr suffered from being inexperienced is a difficult one to make considering that Barr is the only person since 1853 to have served twice as attorney general ... There are some intriguing ways to try to explain how Barr’s performance could have varied so dramatically between his first and second stints ... Evaluating these possibilities would have required a serious effort to understand Barr and his life, as well as the changing political landscape between the first Bush and Trump presidencies, but Honig does not explore these possibilities or others. In the narrowness of its scope, Honig’s book reflects the limitations of the prosecutorial methodology—a backward-looking exercise that usually involves taking a factual record, devising a totalizing explanation and narrative that fits it (the simpler, the better), and reinforcing the best facts for that account at every opportunity while doing your best to accommodate or explain away inconvenient ones.
A full-throated condemnation of the recently departed attorney general. If former Southern District of New York prosecutor Honig, now a CNN analyst, has any use for William Barr, you wouldn’t know it from these barbed pages ... [a] damning, convincing account ... A resounding excoriation of an unquestionably corrupt operator.