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Stephen Mihm

The Grimy History of the Attorney General's Office

American history is riddled with presidential attempts to smash the independence of the Department of Justice. 

A department for justice has proven complicated.

A department for justice has proven complicated.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

When Congress created the position of attorney general in 1789, it was a part-time gig. The salary lagged well behind other executive positions, and lacked congressional appropriations for office space and supplies. The idea that the occupant could serve as the president’s personal fixer would have seemed absurd at the time.

It no longer seems so absurd. This week, Attorney General William Barr was accused of going “rogue” by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who opened an impeachment proceeding against President Donald Trump in the wake of the Department of Justice’s decision against releasing a whistle-blower’s complaint to Congress.