I feel like I should clarify something, considering there are lots of readers who come to these pages fresh each day, with no prior knowledge of our editorial bent or how we prefer to handle our coverage mix: Nobody who writes for this platform is particularly thrilled with the prospect of having to document the daily erosion of America’s democracy at the hands of Donald Trump and William Barr.
It’s a disheartening task, and not because we’re bleeding hearts who spend our days mourning the country’s slow walk down the long road to authoritarianism. It’s just that, frankly, Trump and Barr have stripped people like us of the only joy to be had in covering something as objectively unfortunate as this presidency really is.
For one thing, humor doesn’t work, because nobody can parody Trump better than Trump himself. That means attempts at satire invariably fall short. This is a man who once suggested building a literal moat on the southern border and stocking it with alligators and poisonous snakes in order to deter illegal immigrants. And then, because it didn’t occur to him that the only thing more absurd than suggesting that in the first place would be to dignify the story with a public refutation (because if something that outlandish weren’t true, why even bother?), he tweeted about it, misspelling (and capitalizing) “moat” in the process.
“Now the press is trying to sell the fact that I wanted a Moot stuffed with alligators and snakes, with an electrified fence and sharp spikes on top, at our Southern Border”, he said, on October 2.
“Moot”. An “alligator-stuffed Moot”.
For his part, Barr’s cadence is so deadpan – his enabling of Trump’s objectively undemocratic behavior so flagrant – that it’s virtually impossible to sketch a caricature. Barr is already a cartoon – an attorney general so shameless, he’s willing to fly all over the world in pursuit of non-existent “evidence” to support a conspiracy theory implicating America’s own intelligence apparatus and law enforcement community (the latter of which Barr is supposed to represent) in a purportedly treasonous plot to overthrow a president.
In reality, those public servants were doing the exact opposite in 2016 – they were protecting the country from a hostile foreign power.
And yet, as joyless and thankless a task as it may be, we’re compelled to document all of this, because it’s the biggest political story in modern history and there’s a new chapter written each and every day.
On Tuesday, House Democrats unveiled articles of impeachment, and just hours later, NBC aired an interview with Barr that found the attorney general echoing Trump in lambasting the FBI and maligning Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the bureau’s handing of the investigation into the Trump campaign.
That report, released on Monday, was the furthest thing from flattering. Horowitz documented numerous “serious” errors which he called “deeply concerning”. But that wasn’t good enough for Trump and Barr. Horowitz found that the FBI had an “authorized purpose” to open the investigation and did not find evidence to support Trump’s accusations of political bias, let alone the White House’s wild claims of a “deep state” conspiracy.
“One area I do disagree with the IG and that was whether there was sufficient predication to open a full-blown counterintelligence investigation, specifically, using the techniques that they did”, Barr told NBC, effectively throwing the Justice Department’s support behind a conspiracy theory that has now been debunked numerous times.
He went on to claim that “our nation was turned on its head for three years… based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by an irresponsible press”.
It’s not clear what Barr means. The “narrative” wasn’t a “narrative”. And it surely wasn’t “bogus”. Russia hacked the election. Period. That is the indisputable conclusion of each and every investigation into the matter conducted since 2016. It is beyond dispute. It cannot be questioned. And certainly not in public, by the attorney general.
Barr also said “there was and never has been any evidence of collusion and yet this campaign and the President’s administration has been dominated by this investigation into what turns out to be completely baseless”.
For one thing, that isn’t entirely true. Depending on your definition of “collusion”, there is all manner of evidence, and if you read the Mueller report, it’s by no means clear that the special counsel meant to suggest that nothing shady went on. In fact, he suggests the exact opposite of that.
Further, there was obviously no way for the FBI to know, ahead of time, that “there was and never has been any evidence of collusion”. Indeed, that’s what they were investigating. If you knew the conclusions ahead of time, you wouldn’t need to investigate, would you?
It wasn’t even clear Barr is all that familiar with the subject matter. Listen, for example, to this clip:
Later, during a Wall Street Journal event, Barr made it crystal that he intends to skewer Trump’s enemies courtesy of John Durham’s “investigation of the investigators”, if you will.
He called the FBI’s conduct in the Trump campaign probe a “travesty” and claimed the bureau should have informed Trump about their Russia concerns, an absurd contention given that the campaign was the Russia “concern”.
Barr also said that Durham will decide whether there was political bias – Horowitz’s conclusions be damned, apparently. He told NBC the same thing. “He’s looking at how it got started”, the attorney general said. “He’s looking at the narrative”.
Asked whether it was appropriate for Durham to essentially undercut Horowitz’s report on Monday by issuing a statement that said, among other things, that “we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened”, Barr said “Oh yeah, I think definitely it was necessary in order to avoid public confusion”.
Well, just in case there is any lingering “public confusion”, allow us to clear it right up: The results of Durham’s “investigation” are preordained by Barr and, ultimately, Trump. Durham will claim to have found evidence of political bias and will, like so many others before him, risk his own reputation in the service of bolstering Trump’s conspiracy theories.
The only question is who Barr will then bring up on criminal charges. And whether Republicans in Congress will sit idly by as Trump literally prosecutes and jails former (and possibly current) FBI officials and DoJ personnel.
Here’s a quick list of Barr’s false claims from the NBC interview compiled by Jennifer Rubin:
- Barr claimed, “From day one, it generated exculpatory information and nothing that substantiated any kind of collusion.” False. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III found substantial evidence of interaction but did not pursue the noncriminal charge of “collusion.” He could not prove criminal conspiracy. Since then, at the Roger Stone trial, evidence has arisen confirming a line of communication from WikiLeaks to Stone to the campaign.
- Barr impugned inspector general Michael Horowitz: “All he said was, people gave me an explanation and I didn’t find anything to contradict it … he hasn’t decided the issue of improper motive,” Barr said. “I think we have to wait until the full investigation is done.” False. In his report, Horowitz wrote, “We also sought to determine whether there was evidence that political bias or other improper considerations affected decision-making in Crossfire Hurricane, including the decision to open the investigation.” He found no “documentary or testimonial evidence” of bias in those decisions.
- Barr declared, “I think there were gross abuses … and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.” False. The nonpartisan inspector general found fault with certain actions (specifically the application to conduct surveillance on Carter Page) but obliterated conspiracy theories that the FBI was biased, that it spied on Donald Trump’s campaign, etc. (“All of the witnesses we interviewed told the OIG that the FBI did not try to recruit members of the Trump campaign as [Confidential Human Sources], did not send CHSs to collect information in Trump campaign headquarters or Trump campaign spaces, and did not ask CHSs to join the Trump campaign or otherwise attend campaign related events as part of the investigation. Using the methodology described above, we found no information indicating otherwise.”)
- Barr accused the Obama administration of using “the law enforcement agencies and the intelligence agencies, both to spy on political opponents, but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election.” He claimed this was a bigger threat than Russia. False. None of this was substantiated in any fashion by the inspector general. This is akin to claiming Obama bugged Trump Tower.
- Barr claimed the entire Russia investigation was “based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by an irresponsible press.” False. Our intelligence agencies concluded without equivocation that Russia intervened in our election. Mueller’s report documented more than 100 contacts between Russians and campaign officials.
- Barr claimed it is routine for campaigns to interact with foreign governments. False. No campaign official who has served on a presidential campaign has pointed to any similar instance, let alone many instances in which a campaign solicited and received information from a foreign government. In fact, such activity is illegal.