Late last month, Nancy Pelosi assessed that Attorney General William Barr has “gone rogue”.
She was referring to the Justice department’s behavior with respect to the whistle-blower complaint and also to Barr’s apparent involvement in the Ukraine scandal at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
Although Barr denied having ever spoken to Trump about working with Ukraine to orchestrate investigations into the president’s political rivals, the transcript of Donald Trump’s phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky finds Trump mentioning Barr by name on multiple occasions.
The public also knows that Barr has gone to extraordinary lengths to help Trump realize his long-standing dream of exacting vengeance on America’s intelligence and law enforcement apparatus for the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. There is only one person in government who has yet to say, unequivocally, that Moscow interfered in the vote. That person is Donald Trump.
Last month, a series of reports detailed the steps Barr has taken in order to facilitate career prosecutor John Durham’s “investigation of the investigators” (as the probe is not-so-affectionately known).
Specifically, Barr has worked 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 other words, America’s Attorney General is working with foreign governments to undermine the CIA, the FBI and his own Justice department.
“Barr has made overtures to British intelligence officials, and 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 last month, citing sources familiar with the matter.
It was at least the second time Barr had traveled to Italy to procure assistance in his investigation. 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.
Now, Barr’s efforts have morphed into a criminal investigation.
“Justice Department officials have shifted an administrative review of the Russia investigation closely overseen by Barr to a criminal inquiry”, The New York Times reports, citing a pair of people familiar with the matter and adding that “the move gives John Durham the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to convene a grand jury and to file criminal charges”.
To be clear, this is a flagrant attempt on the part of the White House to weaponize the Justice department, and Barr is fully on board. The DoJ has now become an enforcement arm of the Trump White House, and in this particular case, it means Barr (acting at arm’s length through Durham, who is, by all accounts, well-respected) will likely go after his own staff and officials.
If Trump’s tweets and public pronouncements are any indication, Barr is also likely to go after the likes of James Comey and other officials involved in the investigation, including Robert Mueller and his team. That might sound hyperbolic, but it’s hard to imagine how Barr can conduct this inquiry without looking into Comey and Mueller. Presumably, he’s already extracted all the information he can extract from Rod Rosenstein. And Andrew McCabe is on the record publicly with a detailed accounting of the FBI’s actions.
Earlier this year, Barr was accused by Democrats of deliberately spinning the Mueller report to influence public opinion prior to its release. His decision to clear the president of obstruction less than 48 hours after receiving the 400-page special counsel report was decried as a flagrant breach of the public trust. By Mueller’s own account, Barr misrepresented the report to the American people in the days after receiving it.
As the Times goes on to remind you, it is “not clear what potential crime Durham is investigating, nor when the criminal investigation was prompted”.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
Let that sink in. Barr is conducting a criminal investigation of America’s own intelligence and law enforcement apparatus (and he heads the latter), and nobody knows what the actual crimes are or when the investigation started or what any potential charges might be or who might be charged.
Barr embarked on an administrative review of the Russia probe back in May, contending that he had spoken to intelligence and law enforcement officials whose remarks prompted him to suspect that the FBI might have broken protocol.
Anticipating Barr’s investigation, lawmakers in April attempted to discern exactly what it was that the Attorney General planned on saying to justify the investigation which Trump has spent the better part of two years demanding.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal”, Barr told lawmakers during public testimony.
It was a remarkable statement. 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”.
Relive Barr’s testimony here
Pressed to cite evidence – any evidence – of malfeasance on the part of US intelligence and law enforcement agencies, Barr admitted he had none. “[I have] no specific evidence”, he said. “No specific evidence that I would cite right now [but I] have questions about it”, he added.
Presumably, he has uncovered such evidence since then, otherwise it would be legally dubious to open a criminal probe, especially one aimed at persecuting Americans who have dedicated their lives to defending the country against all threats foreign and domestic (including those who might accidentally end up in the Oval Office).
“As Durham’s investigation moves forward, the Justice Department inspector general is wrapping up his own inquiry into aspects of the FBI’s conduct in the early days of the Russia investigation”, the Times adds, noting that although Barr “has not said whether Durham’s investigation grew out of the inspector general’s findings or something that prosecutors unearthed while doing interviews or reviewing documents, the inspector general’s findings… could contribute to the public’s understanding of why Durham might want to investigate national security officials’ activities in 2016”.
The IG’s findings are expected to be made public in the coming weeks. Hopefully, they will reveal something – anything – that helps explain what it is Barr is investigating, otherwise Americans will be left to ponder the terrifying prospect of an Attorney General who doesn’t serve the people, but rather exists solely to prosecute whoever the president wants prosecuted.
But hey, if those findings don’t support Barr’s implicit allegations of a “deep state” conspiracy, and if he can’t convince foreign governments to conjure up “evidence” to support Trump’s conspiracy theories, he can always just say Jesus told him to do it.