With nepo-daughter-in-law Lara Trump taking over the GOP, Donald Trump has essentially declared that the party of Reagan, the “old Republican Party,” was dead, arguing that it no longer exists in the form it had taken since the 1970s.

At a Virginia rally a week ago Saturday, Trump said his neofascist MAGA movement has taken over the Republican Party, that it “represents 96%, and maybe 100%” of Republicans, and that, “We’re getting rid of the Romneys of the world. We want to get Romneys and those out.”

While many in the GOP love the nativist, authoritarian turn the party’s taken, others — like former Attorney General Bill Barr — are mourning the loss of the old guard, calling Trump’s actions “despicable” and “nauseating.” But what is — or was — the old GOP that Bill Barr so loved?

While not as openly fascist as the MAGA movement, the Republican Party of the past five decades or so was frighteningly corrupt and based, itself, on lies and corruption.

Just this week, The New York Times revealed how Bill Barr apparently inserted himself into a Justice Department criminal investigation of a billion-dollar corporation for allegedly corruptly hiding their income offshore to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

As the Times noted:

“In the months leading up to the canceled interview in the Netherlands, Caterpillar had enlisted a small group of well-connected lawyers to plead the company’s case. Chief among those was William P. Barr, who had served as attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration.”

And, the Times reported, one of the lead investigators into Caterpillar’s tax avoidance scheme came right out and complained that because of Barr’s involvement:

“It appears that Caterpillar was given special political treatment that the average U.S. citizen cannot obtain.”

But helping out alleged tax cheats is just the tip of the iceberg of “old GOP” corruption and lies since the days of Nixon and Reagan.

  • They lied that if we cut taxes on the morbidly rich, the benefits would “trickle down” to everybody else.
  • They lied that if labor unions were destroyed, “job creators” would create “prosperity” and pay workers better.
  • They lied that if “originalist” judges were put on the Supreme Court, the rights to vote, abortion, and birth control would be protected.
  • They lied that Reagan’s 1983 decision to stop enforcing our anti-trust laws would make business “more efficient” and create opportunities for entrepreneurs and locally-owned businesses.
  • They lied that if we forbade the federal government from negotiating drug prices, consumers and taxpayers would save money.
  • They lied that if we privatized Medicare, like George W. Bush did in 2003 with his Medicare Advantage scam, the system would save money.
  • They lied that racism was “over” in America with the election of Barack Obama, so if the Supreme Court simply let former Confederate states do whatever they wanted, there would be no more suppression and purging of Black voters.

Every one of those lies was intended to increase the wealth and power of the morbidly rich at the expense of average working-class Americans.

But most important, the Bill Barr old-school Republicans lied that they’d protect our democracy and bring honesty and integrity to American politics. Barr’s own history is probably the best example of how dangerous and destructive that lie has been.

The depth and breadth of Barr’s possible crimes against democracy while Attorney General for Trump are just now coming into clearer focus. We shouldn’t be surprised: like Ghostbusters, Bill Barr has been the “Who ya gonna call?” guy for Republican presidents committing treason for over 30 years.

Most people know that when the Mueller investigation was completed — documenting ten prosecutable cases of Donald Trump personally engaging in criminal obstruction of justice and witness tampering to prevent the Mueller Report investigators from getting to the bottom of his 2016 connections to Russia — Barr buried the report for weeks while lying to the American people about its content.

(Merrick Garland, Barr’s heir to the AG job, is still hiding large parts of the report from the American people, another reason President Biden should replace him.)

While shocking, this was not Bill Barr‘s first time playing cover-up for a Republican president who’d committed crimes that could rise to the level of treason against America.

He’s the exemplar of the “old GOP” that helped Nixon cut a deal to prolong the Vietnam War in 1968, worked with Reagan in 1980 to sell weapons to Iran in exchange for holding the hostages to screw Jimmy Carter, and stole the 2000 election from Al Gore in Jeb Bush’s Florida.

Instead of today’s GOP, exemplified by Nazi marches, white trash like Marjorie Taylor Greene, and racist rhetoric against immigrants, Barr’s “old GOP” committed their crimes wearing $2000 tailored suits and manipulating the law to their advantage.

For example, back in 1992, the first time Bill Barr was U.S. Attorney General, iconic New York Times writer William Safire referred to him as “Coverup-General Barr” because of his role in burying evidence of then-President George H.W. Bush’s involvement in Reagan’s scheme to steal the 1980 election through what the media euphemistically called “Iron-Contra.”

On Christmas day of 1992, the New York Times featured a screaming all-caps headline across the top of its front page: Attorney General Bill Barr had covered up evidence of crimes by Reagan and Bush in the Iran-Contra “scandal.”

Earlier that week of Christmas, 1992, George H.W. Bush was on his way out of office. Bill Clinton had won the White House the month before, and in a few weeks would be sworn in as president.

But Bush Senior’s biggest concern was not that he had have to leave the White House to retire back to one of his million-dollar mansions in Connecticut, Maine, or Texas: instead, he was worried that he may face time in a federal prison after he left office, a concern nearly identical to what Richard Nixon faced when he decided to resign to avoid prosecution.

Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh was closing in fast on Bush and Reagan, and Bush’s private records, subpoenaed by the independent counsel’s office, were the key to it all.

Walsh had been appointed independent counsel in 1986 to investigate the Iran-Contra activities of the Reagan administration and determine if crimes had been committed.

Was the criminal Iran-Contra conspiracy limited, as Reagan and Bush insisted (and Reagan said on TV), to later years in the Reagan presidency, in response to an obscure hostage-taking in Lebanon?

Or had it started in the 1980 presidential campaign against Jimmy Carter with treasonous collusion with the Iranians, as the then-president of Iran asserted? Who knew what, and when? And what was George H.W. Bush’s role in it all?

In the years since then, the President of Iran in 1980, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, has gone on the record saying that the Reagan campaign reached out to Iran to hold the hostages in exchange for weapons.

“Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan,” President Bani-Sadr told the Christian Science Monitor in 2013, “had organized a clandestine negotiation, later known as the ‘October Surprise,’ which prevented the attempts by myself and then-US President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 US presidential election took place. The fact that they were not released tipped the results of the election in favor of Reagan.”

That wouldn’t have been just an impeachable and imprisionable crime: it was every bit as much treason as when Richard Nixon blew up LBJ’s 1968 peace talks with North and South Vietnam to win that November’s election against Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

Walsh had zeroed in on documents that were in the possession of Reagan’s former defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, who all the evidence showed was definitely in on the deal, and President Bush’s diary that could corroborate it.

Elliott Abrams had already been convicted of withholding evidence about it from Congress, and he may have even more information, too, if it could be pried out of him before he went to prison. But Abrams was keeping mum, apparently anticipating a pardon.

This was the moment the “old GOP” was at the height of its power and prestige, and Bush and Barr weren’t about to let it be exposed for the criminal enterprise that the “party of Lincoln” had become.

Weinberger, trying to avoid jail himself, was preparing to testify that Bush knew about the deal to hold the hostages and even participated in it, and Walsh had already, based on information he’d obtained from the investigation into Weinberger, demanded that Bush turn over his diary from the campaign. He was also again hot on the trail of Abrams.

So Bush called in his attorney general, Bill Barr — the respectable scion of the “old GOP” — and asked his advice. At that point Barr, along with Bush, was already up to his eyeballs in cover-ups of other shady behavior by the Reagan administration.

Safire had started referring to Barr as “Coverup-General” in the midst of another scandal — Bush illegally selling weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein — because the Attorney General was already covering up for Bush, Weinberger, and others in the Reagan administration with a scandal the newspapers called “Iraqgate.”

Ironically, that illegal sale of weapons to Saddam Hussein in the late 1980s and early 1990s was cited by George W. Bush, Bush’s son, as part of his justification for illegally invading Iraq in 2003.

On October 19, 1992, Safire wrote in The New York Times of Barr’s unwillingness to appoint an independent counsel to look into Iraqgate:

“Why does the Coverup-General resist independent investigation? Because he knows where it may lead: to Dick Thornburgh, James Baker, Clayton Yeutter, Brent Scowcroft and himself [the people who organized the sale of WMD to Saddam]. He vainly hopes to be able to head it off, or at least be able to use the threat of firing to negotiate a deal.”

Now, just short of two months later, Bush was asking Barr for advice on how to avoid another very serious charge in the Iran-Contra crimes they committed to defeat Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. How, he wanted to know, could they shut down Walsh’s investigation before Walsh’s lawyers got their hands on Bush’s diary?

In April of 2001, safely distant from the swirl of D.C. politics, the University of Virginia’s Miller Center was compiling oral presidential histories, and interviewed Barr about his time as AG in the Bush White House. They brought up the issue of the Weinberger pardon, which put an end to the Iran-Contra investigation, and Barr’s involvement in it.

Turns out, Barr was right in the middle of it.

“There were some people arguing just for [a pardon for] Weinberger, and I said, ‘No, in for a penny, in for a pound,’” Barr told the interviewer. “I went over and told the President I thought he should not only pardon Caspar Weinberger, but while he was at it, he should pardon about five others.”

Which is exactly what Bush did, on Christmas Eve when most Americans were with family instead of watching the news. The holiday notwithstanding, the result was explosive.

America knew that both Reagan and Bush were up to their necks in the Iran-Contra hostages-for-weapons scandal, and Democrats had been talking about treason, impeachment, or worse.

The independent counsel had already obtained one conviction, three guilty pleas, and two other individuals were lined up for prosecution in the case that lost Jimmy Carter the White House. And Walsh was closing in fast on Bush himself.

The second paragraph of the Times story by David Johnston laid it out:

“Mr. Weinberger was scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 5 on charges that he lied to Congress about his knowledge of the arms sales to Iran and efforts by other countries to help underwrite the Nicaraguan rebels, a case that was expected to focus on Mr. Weinberger’s private notes that contain references to Mr. Bush’s endorsement of the secret shipments to Iran.” (emphasis added)

History shows that when a Republican president is in serious legal trouble, the “old GOP’s” go-to guy was Bill Barr.

For William Safire, Iran-Contra was déjà vu all over again. Four months earlier, referring to Iraqgate (Bush’s criminally selling WMDs to Iraq), Safire opened his article, titled “Justice [Department] Corrupts Justice,” by writing:

“U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in rejecting the House Judiciary Committee’s call for a prosecutor not beholden to the Bush Administration to investigate the crimes of Iraqgate, has taken personal charge of the cover-up.”

Safire accused Barr of not only rigging the cover-up, but of being one of the criminals who could be prosecuted.

“Mr. Barr,” wrote Safire in The New York Times in August of 1992, “…could face prosecution if it turns out that high Bush officials knew about Saddam Hussein’s perversion of our Agriculture export guarantees to finance his war machine.”

He added:

“They [Barr and colleagues] have a keen personal and political interest in seeing to it that the Department of Justice stays in safe, controllable Republican hands.”

Earlier in Bush’s administration, Barr had succeeded in blocking the appointment of an investigator or independent counsel to look into Iraqgate, as Safire repeatedly documented in the Times.

In December, Barr helped Bush block indictments from another independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh, and eliminated any risk that Reagan or George H.W. Bush would be held to account for Iran-Contra.

Walsh, wrote Johnston for the Times on Christmas Eve, “plans to review a campaign diary kept by Mr. Bush.” The diary would be the smoking gun that would nail Bush to the scandal.

“But,” noted the Times, “in a single stroke, Mr. Bush [at Barr’s suggestion] swept away one conviction, three guilty pleas and two pending cases, virtually decapitating what was left of Mr. Walsh’s effort, which began in 1986.”

And Walsh didn’t take it lying down. The Times report noted that:

“Mr. Walsh bitterly condemned the President’s action, charging that ‘the Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.’”

Independent Counsel Walsh added that the diary and notes he wanted to enter into a public trial of Weinberger represented:

“{E]vidence of a conspiracy among the highest ranking Reagan Administration officials to lie to Congress and the American public.”

The phrase “highest ranking” officials almost certainly included Reagan, Bush, and Barr himself.

Walsh had been fighting to get those documents ever since 1986, when he was appointed and Reagan still had two years left in office. Bush’s and Weinberger’s refusal to turn them over, Johnston noted in the Times, could have, in Walsh’s words:

“[F]orestalled impeachment proceedings against President Reagan” through a pattern of “deception and obstruction.”

Back in the 1990s, Barr successfully covered up the involvement of two Republican presidents — Reagan and Bush — in two separate and impeachable “high crimes,” one of them almost certainly treason committed just to win a presidential election.

And now we learn he apparently went so far as to cover up Trump’s involvement with Putin, leading to multiple opportunities for Trump to extort Ukraine and pass sensitive intelligence along to Russia.

Trump is proudly proclaiming that Barr’s old GOP is dead, replaced by the hateful, nativist MAGA movement. Old-school Republicans are wringing their hands, and some are even leaving the party.

But is the difference really that big? The corrupt “old GOP” merely laid the foundation for today’s MAGA movement: in many ways Trump was the inevitable next step, after 50-plus years of catering to the morbidly rich while taking a meat-axe to voting rights and the rule of law.

Do not be fooled: the crocodile tears of those like Bill Barr and the “ex-Republicans” who fill the cable airwaves daily longing for a return of their “Grand Old Party” are every bit the con of Iran-Contra, Bush v. Gore, and Citizens United.

Timothy D. Easley (AP), Mark Schiefelbein (AP), Jose Luis Magana (AP), Brynn Anderson (AP)

Subscribe to The Hartmann Report directly and read the latest views about U.S. politics and other fascinating subjects seven days a week.