The list is growing of old-style Republican conservatives, people who used to think that the party stood for certain conservative principles, who are appalled at what it has become, a lawless cult focused on pleasing a clearly deranged leader. Charles Fried, the person who served as Solicitor General in the administration of Ronald Reagan, is the latest to decide to speak his mind and in an interview with Newsweek, has some utterly brutal words for the current president and for his Attorney General Bill Barr for enabling the worst excesses of the president.
Charles Fried was a fervent, superior officer on the frontlines of the Reagan Revolution. As solicitor general of the United States from 1985 to 1989, he urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the reigning liberal orthodoxies of his day—on abortion, civil rights, executive power and constitutional interpretation.
But the Trump Revolution has proven a bridge too far. As he reveals in a scorching interview with Newsweek‘s Roger Parloff below, Fried has broken ranks. He denounces a president who is “perhaps the most dishonest person to ever sit in the White House.” As disgusted as he is by President Donald Trump, Fried is, if possible, even more dismayed by William Barr, Trump’s current attorney general, for having stepped up as Trump’s chief apologist. Fried says of Barr. “His reputation is gone.”
Fried: The first thing, which sets the context, is the rhetoric of the president, both when he was running and ever since. The famous statement that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. The assumption he makes is that by virtue of the November election of 2016, he has a mandate to be the leader of the country. The commander in chief of the country. The German word is fuhrer. The Italian word is duce.
He talks about loyalty. He asks for loyalty. To what? To him personally. Not to the law, which he is supposed to be faithfully executing. This comes up over and over again. Where an official—for instance, the whistleblower—following the law, performing a legally defined duty, following a chain of command, does something that undermines Trump’s personal situation, he defines it as espionage, as sabotage. He looks back to the days when people could get shot for doing that.
Now, maybe if you think of a few occasions in our history—for instance, [President Franklin] Roosevelt’s landslide in 1936—there would have been some color for this view. Unnecessary, in that instance, because Congress and he were absolutely of one mind. But Trump’s opponent got 2.8 million more votes than he did. So there is no remarkable popular mandate to this man. He was constitutionally elected. Fine. What that means is, he has such powers as the Constitution gives him. And those are the executive powers.
As Justice Jackson said in the Steel Seizure Case, that term is not a “grant in bulk of all conceivable executive power.” It is only such executive powers as are specified.
Barr knows all of this. And he’s supposed to be a very moral man, and so on and so forth. But to be the apologist for perhaps the most dishonest person to ever sit in the White House? I mean, dishonest in the sense that he lies the way other people breathe. You would think that the project of protecting presidential powers would provide a worthier subject than that, particularly for a supposedly honorable man. But the fact is, all the honorable people in the Cabinet have left. And what you have left is people who are willing to say anything, as Barr is. And you saw the way he treated the Mueller Report, which he misrepresented, because that is what his boss would have wanted.
You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. His reputation is gone.
It is not clear that Trump’s cabinet had many honorable people to begin with. What Fried may be meaning by that term is people who at least tried to preserve the semblance of basic norms and are not openly grifters and enablers of corruption and lawlessness. What is clear that the people who surround and protect Trump now have given up any shred of self-respect and have decided to end their careers as abject sycophants.
As I have said before, we are in an ‘the emperor has no clothes’ moment in history where the naked truth is plain to see. Unlike in the children’s fable, the scales have not fallen immediately from everyone’s eyes but is doing so gradually. When and if there will be a tipping point is not clear.