Remember William Barr’s “investigate the investigators” inquiry?
If not, that’s ok, because the story is really simple. Donald Trump wanted an attorney general who would launch an investigation into America’s own intelligence agencies which the president has long accused of participating in an illegitimate, “deep state” plot to frame him. He got just such an attorney general in Barr, who picked career prosecutor John Durham to lead the probe.
Back in April, while testifying on Capitol Hill, Barr faced questions about this “counter-witch hunt”, if you will.
Relive Barr’s testimony here
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal”, Barr told lawmakers. It was a remarkable statement, in that it suggested the nation’s top law enforcement official believed 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”.
Fast forward nearly six months, and it turns out that Barr has been trying (hard) to enlist the assistance of foreign intelligence agencies in discrediting the US government’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin in the 2016 election.
“Barr has already made overtures to British intelligence officials, and last week the attorney general traveled to Italy, where he and Durham met senior Italian government officials and Barr asked the Italians to assist Durham”, the Washington Post reported on Monday evening, citing sources familiar with the matter. It was at least the second time Barr had traveled to Italy to procure assistance in his investigation of America’s own intelligence agencies, and he’s also tried to rope in Australia.
During a recent phone call, Trump pressed Scott Morrison to assist Barr in the latter’s efforts to collect information aimed at discrediting the Mueller probe. That’s according to The New York Times, who cites two US officials with knowledge of the call. Those officials say the transcript was sequestered in a similar fashion to that used to restrict access to the president’s call with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump is also said to have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect accounts of calls with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Vladimir Putin.
“President Trump initiated the discussion in recent weeks with Mr. Morrison explicitly for the purpose of requesting Australia’s help in the Justice Department review of the Russia investigation”, the Times wrote on Monday afternoon, on the way to reminding you that “in making the request, Trump was in effect asking the Australian government to investigate itself”, much as Barr is doing at home.
The FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election had its origins in a tip from Australian officials who informed the US that during a conversation at London’s Kensington Wine Rooms, a drunken George Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer that Russia had obtained dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Take a trip down memory lane: Real Trigger Of FBI Russia Probe Revealed: A Drunk Papadopoulos Not A Dossier
The Times goes on to recount the extent to which that entire episode is the subject of vociferous “debate” in the seedy online world of conspiracy theories. To wit:
Mr. Papadopoulos also said that he had heard that the Russians had thousands of Mrs. Clinton’s emails from Joseph Mifsud, an academic. Mr. Mifsud, who was last seen working as a visiting professor in Rome, has disappeared. Trump allies, like the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, have put forth an unsubstantiated claim that Western intelligence agencies planted Mr. Mifsud to trap Mr. Papadopoulos.
Like so much about the pre-election period, the episode has been the subject of a counternarrative marbled with conspiracy: that the Obama administration had dispatched the Australian official, Alexander Downer, to spy on the Trump campaign as part of a broader effort to help Mrs. Clinton get elected.
There is no evidence to support this, but the conspiracy has been advanced by some of the president’s allies in Congress, by some Fox News commentators, and in frequent tweets by Mr. Papadopoulos,
Now, Trump and Barr are attempting to convince Australia’s Morrison to launch an investigation into his own intelligence agencies on par with that Barr and Durham are carrying out in the US.
“[Australia has] always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation”, a spokesperson for Morrison said Monday. “The [prime minister] confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the President”.
All of this is being conducted with the explicit goal of uncovering purported malfeasance on the part of US intelligence and law enforcement agencies, despite Barr having admitted, on television, in front of Congress, in April, that he had “no specific evidence” to support the contention that anybody involved in the investigation into Trump’s campaign had done anything wrong. (The actual quote was: “No specific evidence that I would cite right now [but I] have questions about it”.)
Obviously, the prospect of William Barr literally flying halfway around the world to try and badger foreign governments to help the Trump administration discredit the FBI, the CIA and the Mueller probe is not just outlandish, it’s downright insane, and this news comes just a week after the rough transcript of Trump’s call with Zelensky found the president mentioning Barr nearly a half-dozen times.
“Barr’s personal involvement is likely to stoke further criticism from Democrats pursuing impeachment that he is helping the Trump administration use executive branch powers to augment investigations aimed primarily at the president’s adversaries”, WaPo writes, stating the obvious, and adding that “current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials expressed frustration and alarm Monday that the head of the Justice Department was taking such a direct role in re-examining what they view as conspiracy theories and baseless allegations of misconduct”.
To be clear, America (and lawmakers) now know that Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Joe diGenova, Victoria Toensing and William Barr have been engaged for at least six months in a global effort to compel foreign governments including those of the UK, Italy, Australia and Ukraine, to dig up dirt on the FBI, the CIA, the Mueller probe and Joe Biden, respectively, all in an absurdly transparent effort to further Trump’s political career.
Both the brazenness and ham-handedness of the scheme is absolutely mind-boggling until you consider the source of it all (Trump), at which point it makes perfect sense.
In addition to showing how truly off the rails this administration is, Barr’s global conspiracy theory validation tour is proof positive that Trump was never going to be satisfied with anything less than a full-on counter “witch hunt” into Mueller, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, the FBI and the CIA.
Now, the president has his investigation, and it’s being presided over by an attorney general who cleared the president of obstruction less than 48 hours after receiving the Mueller report which, by Mueller’s own account, Barr misrepresented to the American people.