Justice Under Trump: a Triptych



On May 29, 2019, Robert Mueller announced his resignation as Special Counsel, and made a public statement about his already published report, in which he said: “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” adding that under DOJ guidelines, it was never an option to charge Trump with a crime.

To Our Coy Mueller

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, Counsel, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To take what all you’ve had to say.
You would more distinctions make,
With nothing urgent much at stake,
And we, nowise averse to chat,
Would tease you out on this and that.
We’d wonder: in the case you built,
Would you, Sir, have established guilt,
But for those rules at DOJ
Which, you report, got in the way?

We’d find out what you make of Barr,
Who now denies you went too far:
“Not far enough!” And that is why,
Of course, he had to clarify
What you left murky, imprecise,
In your sad tale of widespread vice.
You did state plainly you’d have cleared
The culprit if you could, but feared
The facts would not permit it:
Not a verdict of “acquitted”!
But did those same facts point to crimes,
Requiring other places, other times,
So long as we are not unnerved,
For law and justice to be served,
Crimes beyond all reasonable doubt,
Which surely you’d have pointed out,
But for those rules at DOJ
Which, you report, got in the way?

Had we but world enough and time,
We’d parse your call on every crime.
We’d relish all the fine-grained stuff.
We’d swear we could not get enough.
But at our back we always hear
Another election hurrying near.
We can’t afford to tarry longer.
Dithering makes the culprit stronger.
We need for you to tell it straight:
Obstruction found—it’s not too late—
But for those rules at DOJ
Which, you report, got in the way?


On February 13, 2020, Attorney General William Barr, in an interview with ABC News, raised widespread questions about his sincerity when he seemed to push back against Donald Trump for urging that the DOJ pursue investigations of his political enemies: “I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases.”

Among Cruel Children

Law’s rule is flourishing only where
The body politic’s not bruised to pleasure spite
And turn all hope for justice to despair,
But blossoms into beauty born of right.
O horned-rimmed Barr, “fighting back” there,
Are you the law, or just the arm of might?
O student of kabuki, Trump’s tweedy whore,
How can we know the dancing from the war?


On, December 14, 2020, Donald Trump announced the resignation of William Barr as Attorney General, after earlier expressing his displeasure with Barr for disputing the White House’s allegations of wide-spread fraud in the November elections that gave the Presidency to Joe Biden. Barr, for his part, published a fulsome letter to Trump about his time in Trump’s cabinet.

Our Last AG

National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.

That’s our last AG painted on the wall,
Looking as if he weren’t a liar. I call
That piece a wonder now, for all the art
Required just to make him look the part,
When all he ever did at DOJ
Was twist the law in any crooked way
His master needed–such a needy boss,
So many laws to bend for him, a loss
Of general integrity so great,
And so profound, it must have felt like fate.
But art has almost managed to erase
The signs of sordid business from his face.

Will’t please you sit and look at him, now mute,
The horned-rimmed horned-toad in the pin-striped suit?

He once was vocal in his chief’s defense,
With small concern that his words made sense,
So long as they gave the tyrant cover
To do what he pleased: trash an ex-lover,
Block the wheels of justice, gas a crowd
Of protesters, whatever. A man so cowed
By bluster, so intent on serving power,
That even in that final fateful hour,
When told by Trump his service now must end,
The extent of his outrage was just to send
One final sycophantic screed of praise.
May shame mark his visage, ‘till the end of days.


James Chandler is the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of English and of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Wordsworth’s Second Nature: a Study of the Poetry and Politics