I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.
That’s from Attorney General William Barr, who appeared on Capitol Hill Wednesday for a second straight day of testimony, this time before the Senate.
Things didn’t go what one might call “swimmingly” on Tuesday (when Barr’s efforts to steer a discussion with the House appropriations subcommittee away from the Mueller report were largely unsuccessful), but one thing we’ll say for Bill is that he had a far better day than Steve Mnuchin, who was all but reduced to tears by 5:15-ish when things fell completely apart for the Treasury Secretary during a highly amusing exchange with Maxine Waters.
Read more on Tuesday’s proceedings
On Tuesday evening, Bloomberg reported that Barr is forming a “team” to investigate the FBI’s actions and conduct in and around the Trump probe. That, despite the fact that Trump and House Republicans spent every waking hour between the summer of 2017 and the midterms playing judge, jury, gumshoe and, in the president’s case, executioner, casting all manner of aspersions, hauling in witnesses, demanding documents, firing FBI personnel and, in the case of Jeff Sessions, feasting on the meat of their own kind, in a kind of ritualistic act of cannibalization.
But that’s not good enough for Trump, who won’t be satisfied with anything less than a full-on counter-“witch hunt” presided over by an Attorney General who just cleared him of obstruction despite the fact that the special counsel investigation literally said that the probe “did not exonerate” the president on a potential obstruction charge.
Barr faced questions on Wednesday with regard to his forthcoming probe and, as alluded to here at the outset, appears to believe that somehow, an FBI counterintelligence investigation conducted to protect the United States from the malign influence of a hostile foreign power, is akin to illegal “spying”. Here’s Barr to explain:
As you can see, that didn’t go over well – and not so much because of what Barr said, but rather because of what Barr didn’t say, where that means he failed to provide any sort of rationale whatsoever for what it is he intends to do or even to identify who it is he intends to do it to, other than to say that “spying did occur” by unnamed somebodies at some point.
Bill was asked, specifically, whether he had any evidence that suggested there was improper activity at the FBI during the course of the counterintelligence probe and this is what he came up with:
Got that? Bill Barr is going launch an investigation into improper conduct at the FBI, but he “has no specific evidence that he would cite right now”. He does, however, “have questions about it.”
Far be it from me to question the Attorney General, but I’m not sure that’s good enough. I “have questions” about a lot of things, but I don’t consider that sufficient to ask the Justice Department to launch a probe. And before anyone says you could make the same argument about the investigation into Trump, no you actually can’t, because FBI officials did in fact have “specific evidence” that warranted an investigation, not the least of which was Trump appearing on national television and telling Lester Holt the following:
I was going to fire Comey. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.
So, there’s that.
In any case, Barr was also asked to elaborate a bit further on his decision to exonerate the president in the obstruction investigation and while Bill did an admirable job of keeping his composure, his response was a bit lacking, especially when he was pinned on the fact that “nobody asked him” to render a judgement on obstruction over the weekend of March 24.
In addition to saying he “doesn’t know if Bob Mueller supported his conclusion” (and it’s hard to imagine that’s true, given that the two men are working together on the redactions), Barr also admitted that Mueller didn’t ask him to decide on obstruction.
That’s pretty notable, because it raises the following obvious question: Well, then why did you?
To that, Barr said that Mueller didn’t advise him on whether the special counsel intended for Congress to decide the obstruction angle and went on to claim that he (Bill) “felt like it was his duty as the nation’s top law enforcement officer to make a decision” as to whether Trump obstructed justice.
Duly noted, and granted that Barr was reportedly given a couple of weeks worth of lead time with regard to Mueller indicating the special counsel’s office likely wouldn’t decide the obstruction angle, but it seems wildly implausible that Barr was able to make a determination about obstruction based on a ~350 page report in the space of 36 hours, which is what he would have everyone believe was not only possible, but in fact warranted and thusly delivered late last month.
Fortunately, we’ll all be able to render our own judgement next week when Barr says he’ll deliver a redacted version of the report. But the key point is that it won’t matter because by that time, Bill will have given the White House nearly a month to pound the “no collusion, no obstruction” line into the public’s head, despite the fact that only one of those things was actually decided by Mueller himself.
On the bright side, Barr is living proof that Trump is in fact capable of appointing someone capable of doing their job “””””””correctly”””””””.