>> The former attorney general who resigned and broke with President Trump this week on "Firing Line."
>> Bill Barr can go down as the greatest attorney general in the history of our country or he can go down as just another guy.
>> "One Damn Thing After Another" is the title of William Barr's memoir and a fitting description of his time as Trump's Attorney General.
Barr was firmly in Trump's camp when it came to denouncing the Russia probe... >> I think that the government did not have a prosecutable case.
>> ...and warning about the possibility of voter fraud before the 2020 election.
>> Elections that have been held with mail have found substantial fraud and coercion.
>> But after Trump lost, they had a stunning break.
>> I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen.
>> As the former president launches a new White House bid, and prosecutors build cases against Trump and his businesses, what does former Attorney General William Barr say now?
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... ...and by... Corporate funding is provided by... >> Attorney General William Barr, welcome to "Firing Line."
>> Thank you, Margaret.
Great to be here.
>> You were the attorney general for two presidents in two different centuries -- President George H.W.
Bush and President Donald Trump.
You resigned after the 2020 election, when you broke from President Trump over his 2020 election fraud claims.
This week, Donald Trump announced that he will seek the Republican nomination again to be president.
And I wonder, what was your reaction?
>> Well, I made it clear in my book, over a year ago, that I didn't think he was the right person to lead either the Republican Party or the country forward.
And I would hope that he stepped down.
So I was disappointed that he announced.
>> He's facing unprecedented federal, state, and congressional investigations.
Do you think he's running to insulate himself from the investigations?
>> I think that could be part of the reason.
But I think he, you know, he has a monumental ego, and he doesn't want to go down in history as a loser.
And he also would like to get revenge on the people that he feels didn't give him his due.
>> You said he doesn't want to be seen as a loser.
But the 2022 midterm elections had him on the ballot in absentia in many, many cases.
And another big loser of the midterms was this lie about the "stop the steal."
And in the case where stop-the-steal candidates were on the ballot, they overwhelmingly lost.
>> His hand-picked candidates overwhelmingly lost.
How do you reflect on the midterms and the fact that the election fraud that you resigned over became a losing political point for the GOP?
>> Well, again, it reflects Trump's poor judgment and his ego.
Look at Ronald Reagan in 1976.
He spent four years building the unity of the Republican Party.
He even discouraged his conservative supporters who had backed him, many of them, from challenging some of the so-called "establishment Republicans" because he wanted to unify the party.
And Trump has done just the opposite, for no purpose other than his ego gratification.
And he picked candidates that were weak candidates simply because they were willing to show their fealty to him by saying that the election was stolen.
And that backfired completely.
>> You're clear in your book the GOP needs to move on from Donald Trump.
>> Does it concern you there could be a splintered field, and that Trump could come away with the plurality, the largest share of the primary base vote?
I don't think the field is going to be as splintered as it was in 2016, which obviously helped Trump.
I also don't think Trump will be as strong.
I think he has been fading for months now.
And the recent midterm elections, I think, have really popped his balloon.
>> If you were in Trump's ear now and he were listening to you -- big hypothetical -- what would you tell him?
>> I would him them essentially what I told him all the way through the administration, which is that if he would just -- if he had just exerted some self-control and discipline, and dialed back his, you know, pugnacity and his nastiness a little bit, he would have won the presidency and had a second term.
And he didn't do that.
He didn't do what the whole country hoped, that he would rise to the occasion and rise to the office.
And he didn't do that.
So he's had his chance.
He doesn't -- He obviously does not have the qualities necessary to unite the party, which is the first step on the road back.
And he should stand aside.
>> The two presidents you served approached DOJ differently.
And they approached you as attorney general differently from the position of the White House.
Can you describe that?
>> Well, first, after Watergate, Republicans generally took the position that the Department of Justice should not be tampered with.
And that was Bush's philosophy.
He followed my advice.
He didn't, you know, try to cut corners or get around the advice.
And he was very respectful of the role played by the Department of Justice.
Obviously, Trump was a different animal.
>> Would you say Trump was as respectful of the department as President H.W.
>> No, I think he viewed it as, you know, like any agency, something that was under his command and could, you know, he could sort of potentially use as a political tool.
>> You write in your memoir... ...and that Trump agreed not to interfere with your decisions.
>> That's right.
>> How'd that go?
>> Well, he didn't interfere with them in the sense of telling me, you know -- >> Directly.
But what -- You know, he would tweet.
>> So, for example, you know, he would tweet that he, you know, he wanted Comey indicted, or he wanted McCabe indicted, and... >> James Clapper, John Brennan.
>> When we got into 2020, you know, he started tweeting that, you know, "I hope Bill Barr, you know, has the guts to indict or, you know, go after Biden and Obama."
>> Materially, is there any difference between him pressuring you privately or doing it publicly?
I mean, I don't know which is worse.
>> Well, that's why I said, you know, his behavior was different, and that's why I asked him to stop tweeting.
And for a couple -- He took a few parting shots to show who was in charge, and then he quieted down for a couple of months.
But in May, he just went -- >> Went back up again.
>> You've noted George H.W.
Bush, when he was president and you were attorney general, you only met with him a couple of times.
>> A few times.
>> On the flip side -- >> No, one-on-one.
>> One-on-one, right.
But on the flip side, with Trump, you characterized that you know, you often spoke multiple times a day.
Was that because the presidents had different views of the Justice Department, as you outlined earlier?
>> Well, it wasn't just the Department of Justice.
It was his way of managing the executive branch, and his way, really even before he became president, he would reach out and talk to a lot of people, and sort of take all the information in and test his own positions and ideas with other people.
And so the whole running of the administration had this sort of free -- I compared it to a card game in my fraternity when I was in college, which is somehow as the card game kept on going, but the cast of characters changed almost imperceptibly, and you can never tell when something started and when something began.
And that's how the Oval Office was, you know, people coming in and, "Hey, Bill, come on in."
Some meeting on trade.
I was called into some meeting on trade.
I didn't know anything about the topic.
"What do you think about that?"
I mean, that's the way he is.
Now, there's a good side to that.
You know, it allows for internal debate.
It allows the Cabinet secretary to have his day in court with the president.
And, you know, it adds a certain dynamism, you know, but it also ignores process and so -- >> And processes are there for a reason.
>> Yeah, the processes are there for a reason.
Sometimes I took advantage of the free flow of things to advance what I thought was the right thing to do.
And other cabinets sometimes kneecapped me, you know, because they were advancing what they wanted to do.
>> Chaos benefits everyone, yeah.
>> Chaos might be -- There was chaos.
>> In 1987, "Firing Line" hosted a debate with the Republican presidential candidates.
And your former boss George H.W.
Bush was one of the participants.
And he was asked why Republicans were running on a platform that government, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, was the problem, not the solution.
Take a look at his answer.
>> I'm not anti-government.
When I was at the CIA I ran into some of the finest, most public-spirited people I've ever served with.
And so I'm not one who tears down those who have elected to serve their country.
But really, I think what it boils down to is leadership.
Leadership in the White House and leadership in the United States Congress.
Don't blame those that make a lifetime of service to the government.
Give them the kind of leadership they need and they'll follow and get the job done.
>> You worked under George H.W.
Bush when he was CIA director as well, when you were still at the CIA.
And you write in your book... Talk more about what you learned from Bush's leadership.
>> Well, exactly that.
He was CIA director for one year and that institution is now named after him.
When you drive by it in Langley, it's the George H.W.
And he was highly regarded because he basically trusted people in the agency.
He didn't separate himself from them and, you know, bash them and so forth.
Now, I have to say that it was a different age.
Things have, you know, evolved.
So, you know, I wouldn't take what he said to say, "Well, gee, you know, the people who are saying there's a deep state today are, you know, are wrong," right?
There is a deep state.
>> That's where I -- You read my mind.
That's where I'm going.
So given that you've worked with career professionals, you have had a long career of interfacing with civil servants who have made their life in the government.
I think you're actually particularly well-suited to comment about the state of the deep state -- whether it exists, how it exists, what it looks like, to put some nuance and some texture around it for me.
>> Well, I think the people who attack the deep state -- and I am critical of the deep state and believe it exists -- but there's also some of the rhetoric and some of the positioning -- >> So how do you define it?
>> The way I would define the deep state is an increased willingness by more and more government civil servants to pursue political objectives rather than stand up for the values of the institution they're a part of.
They are not neutral.
They're not politically neutral.
But on the other side of the ledger, okay, is that I think there's an exaggeration of its pervasiveness.
It does pervert government.
But I still think the vast majority of civil servants try to do an honest job and try to check their politics at the door.
And I think that President Bush's quote that you played is right on the money.
The most important thing is leadership.
When you provide clear guidance and goals, people will -- the institution will deliver for you.
You can move the institution.
And I think people who come in to run the government and try to govern, who treat government employees as pariahs, are not doing their job.
>> Let me ask you about something you referred to earlier.
You talked about -- You were referring to President Trump's tweeting and sort of open, I mean, I would call it sort of open bullying about what the Department of Justice should be doing.
Trump publicly expressed disapproval for how Justice handled Michael Flynn and Roger Stone.
And under your tenure, the Department of Justice dropped the prosecution against General Flynn, and then, in the case of Stone, overruled prosecutors by lowering the recommended sentencing of prison time.
What do you say to the critics who point that DOJ charged approximately 80,000 cases in your tenure, per year, and that only two got set aside, that happened to be the ones that President Trump was most audible on?
>> In the Department of Justice, tough decisions are elevated or where there's a disagreement over a decision, it's elevated and eventually it finds its way to the attorney general who has to make a decision.
And in both of those cases, there were events that brought those matters to my desk.
And as I explain in my book and I go through all the details of both episodes, what I tried to do in every case was do what I thought was right under our standards of the Department of Justice and even-handed justice, and I couldn't allow the fact that the president was tweeting about stuff prevent me from doing that.
>> So knowing that the optics risked looking as though it was political, you went ahead and -- >> That's the attorney general's job.
If the attorney general starts saying, you know, how is this going -- you know, "Am I going to be attacked if I do this?"
and then doesn't do what you think is right, that's not the kind of attorney general you want.
You want an attorney general who will try to do the right thing regardless of the cost to themselves.
>> How important is character... >> In a president?
>> ...in a president, from your position as having been attorney general twice?
>> Well, I think, you know, I think it's extremely important.
The character is very important.
But when we live in an age where the political differences are so polarized and the swings between sort of almost socialism and more conservative Republican policies, and there's a broad swing, I think you have to look at that just as importantly.
So, for example, a progressive Democrat, as an individual, might have a lot of character, more than the Republican candidate.
I would not cast my vote just based on their character, I would also -- I would look at the impact on the United States and what it means for the country.
>> But character is more important than ideology?
Or as important as ideology?
>> As important.
>> Well, think about it.
You know, we're facing a very dangerous world right now.
I think as a voter you should say, "What, you know, is the impact on the country of this person leading the country for the next four years?"
Some of our great presidents have not been moral exemplars.
>> No, I think -- I think the question of character is important.
But then it's also a question of, in that character, are you going to be faithful to the laws and the Constitution?
>> Well, I mean, when we talk about character, I was thinking broadly.
But obviously it's very important that a president -- You know, the president is in charge of the executive branch, and he is the top law enforcement official.
But what's critical for our country and for our system of government is that the law be applied equally, especially in the criminal justice system.
And the president has to respect that, that you cannot use the criminal justice system as a political weapon.
>> You broke with Trump over the election, as we've discussed.
You broke with him over election fraud.
In the lead-up to the election, you had been pointing to election fraud as a potential problem.
And looking back on it and how how it turned out, where there were so many Americans that believed Donald Trump and believed his election fraud lies -- even after the attorney general said there wasn't enough election fraud to have changed the outcome of the election -- do you think back at the times where you were raising the red flag prior to that and consider whether that helped lay the ground for people to distrust the integrity of the elections in the first place?
>> See, on the contrary, I think what did was the irresponsible behavior of the Democrats who, putting aside the question of fraud, were clearly monkeying with the rules and using COVID as an excuse to do it, to tilt the playing field in ways that were unfair to the Republicans or which favored them.
And people saw that kind of gamesmanship going on, and that created the climate in which they did not have trust in the election.
You have, you know, people know what the mail system is in this country.
People have had experience with it.
And they don't trust -- They didn't trust the integrity of the system.
>> Well, to the contrary, there are four states that had 100% mail-in voting.
I'm from one of them, Colorado.
>> People have a really high degree of faith in the electorate, election integrity in those states.
>> Well, it depends on what kind of system you have.
If you have a system where you fill out applications to get the ballot to mail in, that is a pretty good security system.
And the states that have done that are not a problem.
I said that publicly.
What I objected to was universal mailing out of ballots.
I was arguing against the -- what I considered to be the irresponsible, really incendiary tactics of the Democrats, which is essentially try to run elections on an honor system.
And I'm saying you do that and no one's going to trust the results, period.
And to raise that red flag was the right thing to do to try to stop that kind of irresponsible behavior.
>> You left the Trump White House in mid-December just after the Electoral College had voted.
And you wrote in your book... "without minimizing both the stupidity and shamefulness of what happened" -- you were referring to January 6th -- "at the time I did not think the republic was in genuine danger."
>> You know, I don't really think so.
I think it's a little overdramatic.
You know, I didn't see it as something that was threatening a coup at the time.
It was the way things operate when Trump is directly in charge of something and they're not people who know what they're doing involved.
It was a mess.
It was a Keystone Cops operation.
>> Well, now I'm thinking about the riot at the Capitol, though, and the fact that violence actually impeded the peaceful transition of power for a time.
>> Well, I mean, there was a delay.
But I didn't think, you know, that, you know, our country was going to fall apart because of that.
>> Or that the republic was in danger?
>> Or that, you know, there was going to be a coup.
And I've said, look, if there's evidence that people in the government, the White House, the president or whatever were part of a scheme to use violence to delay the count that that would be a crime and people should go to jail for that if it can be proved.
I haven't seen the evidence yet.
There may have been some of the demonstrators who had that plan and they have been indicted for that.
>> But it was more than chaos.
I mean, six people died.
>> That's chaos.
>> And there's a real question about had any member of Congress or Mike Pence come across any of those rioters, whether they also might have been violently attacked.
>> Yeah, I just -- I feel it is an exaggeration, a little bit of melodrama, to treat this as the virtual or, you know, almost the collapse of the American government or the overthrow of the government.
I thought it was a stupid, reckless behavior by the people involved.
Certainly the president, I think, precipitated it.
Whether he legally incited or not, he precipitated the whole thing.
And, you know, I let it be known what my views were on that.
In September, you said the Justice Department was getting close.
You said, "getting close to having enough evidence to indict Trump in the classified documents investigation."
But you also said you hope they don't indict him.
In your view, is there ever a circumstance where you think it is appropriate to indict a former president?
>> Oh, yes.
You know, if a former president commits a crime, you know, especially a serious crime, they should be indicted for it.
If the Department of Justice can show that these were indeed very sensitive documents, which I think they probably were, and also show that the president consciously was involved in misleading the Department, deceiving the government, and playing games after he had received the subpoena for the documents, that's -- those are serious charges.
>> That's a serious enough crime?
>> Well, I've said that I personally think that they probably have the basis for legitimately indicting the president.
I don't know, I'm speculating.
But given what's gone on, I think they probably have the evidence that would check the box.
They have the case.
>> And if they have it, should they?
>> That's a decision for -- >> If you were A.G., would you?
>> I'm not going to get into that.
>> Do you think they will?
>> I think it's becoming increasingly more likely.
>> And you think it would be appropriate if they did?
>> Well, this is what the attorney general gets paid -- these kinds of decisions.
You know, the argument for doing it is that if you let someone like this who, you know -- if the facts are as raw as they may be, and you let someone get away with it, how can you protect these secrets?
How can you insist on people in government taking this stuff seriously?
So, you know, that's an important thing to weigh, as well as what the, you know, what it will do to the country and to the office of the presidency.
And I think Merrick Garland is going to have to make that call.
>> If Donald Trump were the nominee for the Republican Party again, would you support him?
>> Well, I'm just hoping it never comes to that because I think it would be a tragedy if he's our nominee, if he's the Republican nominee.
>> Could you vote against him?
Could you vote not for the Republican, if Donald Trump were the Republican nominee?
>> Well, again, I think it gets down to what I said, which is I would have to make the judgment at that point, the impact on the country.
And I'll have to see what's going on in the world, who the Democratic nominee is.
If it's a progressive Democratic nominee, I can't imagine voting for them.
>> But ideologically progressive versus somebody who orchestrated an attack on the Capitol, who betrayed his oath to the Constitution, as you said, in your words, you still might vote for him?
Depending on all this -- It's hard for me to project what the future holds.
The question is always a comparative one.
You have to make a choice between two people.
I don't believe in throwing my vote away on a third party.
>> So you don't rule it out?
You don't rule out supporting President Trump again?
>> No, I don't.
It depends on the circumstances.
I pray that that doesn't come -- I think the reason our republic is in jeopardy is because we are not throwing up the best and the brightest for these offices.
We're not giving the American people good choices.
Too frequently, they're picking the lesser of two evils.
And we can't last very long if that continues to happen.
>> Attorney General William Barr, thank you for joining me on "Firing Line."
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... ...and by... Corporate funding is provided by... ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ >> You're watching PBS.