In case you were wondering whether Attorney General William Barr has turned the U.S. Justice Department into a rank political weapon, here's your answer: A DOJ spokesperson admitted Thursday the department had explored bringing criminal or civil charges against local officials in Portland, Oregon, for their handling of the ongoing protests there.
Barr's Justice Department sought to make a connection between local officials' rhetoric and actions and the clashes that played out between protesters and law enforcement, according to Politico.
The clashes have occurred in a limited radius spanning several blocks around a federal courthouse in Portland, and most of the protesting has been peaceful, as it has been nationwide. But Trump has sought to scare white suburbanites into voting for him by playing up isolated instances of violence and casting them as the norm rather than the exception.
But the latest revelations about Barr's off-the-rails stewardship of the Justice Department reek of a pure political ploy, particularly because the chances of succeeding in such a lawsuit are exceedingly unlikely. As Politico writes, "Bringing criminal civil rights charges against city officials for protest-related violence would likely present an uphill court battle for federal prosecutors."
Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec has declined to comment on whether charges are still under consideration or might ultimately be brought, but she disputed reports that Barr had told federal prosecutors to look into bringing charges against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan for allowing a protest zone to be established in the city this summer.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler issued a statement calling the Justice Department effort "ridiculous on its face."
“The administration has made the cynical decision that the suffering of others is politically beneficial, regardless of the cost,” he said. "The people of this city — and throughout the nation — will not be intimidated, and I remain committed to doing my part as mayor to work with local partners to advance racial justice, and address the pandemic and economic challenges facing our community.”
The Portland revelation is just the latest instance of Barr bending justice to his increasingly extremist will. Barr's rant on Wednesday night in which he compared the department's attorneys to preschoolers, said social distancing guidelines were akin to slavery, and declared himself the ultimate decider just firmly established him as a complete wingnut on a power trip who is currently in charge of administering American justice. Really, anything at all is possible under Barr. He's both wicked and unraveling.