Media scrutinizes Barr’s political donations prior to his confirmation

July 19, 2019

Attorney General William Barr ramped up his contributions to influential Republican committees just before he was confirmed as the nation’s top prosecutor, Quartz reported.

The massive, targeted donations — amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars to political organizations and causes — have prompted allegations of legal bribery from at least one campaign finance watchdog. However, there is no evidence to suggest that Barr, a seasoned prosecutor, and former attorney general, needed to pad his resumé with cash endowments.

Spending spree

Barr has a history of giving when it comes to Republican campaigns and committees. In the past two decades, the 68-year-old has donated $567,000 to GOP groups, while his wife, Christine Barr, has handed out $220,000 during the same time, according to a Washington Post analysis.

But in the five months prior to his confirmation by the Senate, Barr gave $51,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) — an organization tasked with electing Republicans to the Senate. Before then, notes the Quartz report, Barr’s donations were irregular — once every few years for a total of $85,000 prior to 2018.

Apparently, this schedule of giving represents a red flag to some critics. Adav Noti, senior director at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington D.C., said that the donations “raise eyebrows” due to the timing and target of the contributions.

“The fact that any one person can give such large amounts to a political party creates a perception problem,” said Noti, who previously worked as an associate general counsel at the Federal Elections Commission. “Someone giving such large amounts to a senatorial committee before their confirmation certainly raises appearance questions.”

Noti even went so far as to suggest that the money was intended to pave the way to Barr’s eventual confirmation. “Maybe it’s a coincidence. Maybe not,” he said.

Nothing to see here

Yet, there is no evidence to suggest that Barr or any of the recipients of his charity established a corrupt exchange of promises — a fact that Quartz reporters Ephrat Livni and David Yanofsky reluctantly admit. “But as long as there was no implicit or explicit quid pro quo, no exchange for an official act — and there is no evidence here that Barr expected or was promised anything in exchange for his donations — there is no legal issue with the contributions,” the co-authors conceded.

In fact, there was nothing suspicious at all about the timing of Barr’s donations to the NRSC. The former AG’s monthly $10,000 contributions, which continued all the way up until his appointment in the Trump administration, began in October 2018. Sessions, meanwhile, wasn’t fired until the following month.

But that’s not all. After Barr’s appointment, the NRSC returned $30,000 of the funds they received from the Justice Department head — a fact that Quartz was forced to admit in a revised correction to its original story.

Apples and oranges

Still, Barr’s critics are quick to point out that he previously criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team of high-powered prosecutors, the vast majority of whom have contributed to Democratic political campaigns. They point to a 2018 interview with the Washington Post, when Barr said, “In my view, prosecutors who make political contributions are identifying fairly strongly with a political party. I would have liked [Mueller] to have more balance on this group.”

But this is hardly a fair analogy. Mueller recruited a team of prosecutors, and Democratic donors dominated his staff. Conversely, Barr is one man, appointed to a position by a politician.

The allegation that Barr somehow bribed his way to the top post in the Justice Department is asinine and shameful. He isn’t the first attorney general to give overwhelmingly to a single political party, and he won’t be the last.

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Benjamin Baird

Benjamin Baird is a senior staff writer for the Conservative Institute. He is a veteran infantryman of Iraq and Afghanistan with over 1000 days in combat and holds a degree in Middle Eastern studies from the American Military University. Ben is Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and has written for dozens of conservative publications, including The Daily Caller, American Spectator, American Thinker, New English Review and Jewish News Syndicate.