In the final six months of the Trump presidency, the federal government executed 13 people. In January 2021, the same month he incited an insurrection at the Capitol, Trump oversaw three executions in just four days. There’s really no other way to put it: Trump was eager for the state to kill people on his watch. Two Rolling Stone reporters detail the unprecedented stretch of executions:

It was Sessions’ successor, Barr, who took the concrete step in July 2019 of ordering the Federal Bureau of Prisons to resume executions. 

Barr wrote proudly of the decision in his book One Damn Thing After Another: Memoirs of an Attorney General, published about a year after the Trump presidency ended, devoting a whole chapter — “Bringing Justice to Violent Predators” — to the blitz of federal executions. Not a shocking move from a man who, while George H.W. Bush’s attorney general in the early 1990s, praised the death penalty in a series of official recommendations, claiming that it works as a deterrent, “permanently incapacitate[s] extremely violent offenders,” and “serves the important societal goal of just retribution.” (Without a hint of irony, he added, “It reaffirms society’s moral outrage at the wanton destruction of innocent human life.”)

Trump, of course, was not so keen to engage with the subject intellectually. The sum total of his discussions of the death penalty with his top law-enforcement officer, Barr says, was a single, offhand conversation. After an unrelated White House meeting, Barr was preparing to leave the Oval Office when, he says, he gave Trump a “heads-up” that “we would be resuming the death penalty.” Trump — apparently unaware of his own AG’s longstanding philosophy on capital punishment — asked Barr if he personally supported the death penalty and why.

Trump’s lack of interest in the details had grave repercussions for the people whose fates were in his hands. According to multiple sources inside the administration, Trump completely disregarded the advice of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, an administrative body designed to administer impartial pleas for clemency in death-penalty cases and other, lower-level offenses. And Barr says he does not recall discussing any of the 13 inmates who were eventually killed with the president who sent them to the death chamber. 

That means Trump never talked with Barr about Lisa Montgomery, a deeply mentally ill and traumatized person who became the first woman executed by the federal government since 1953. Or Wesley Ira Purkey, whose execution was delayed a day by a judge who ruled that his advancing Alzheimer’s disease had left Purkey unaware of why he was being executed. (The Supreme Court reversed that ruling the next day.) Or Daniel Lewis Lee, Dustin Lee Honken, Lezmond Charles Mitchell, Keith Dwayne Nelson, William Emmett LeCroy Jr., Christopher Andre Vialva, Orlando Cordia Hall, Alfred Bourgeois, Corey Johnson, and Dustin John Higgs.

And it means Trump never spoke with Barr about Brandon Bernard.