The New York Times' Michael Schmidt reported a year ago that back in March of 2017, President Trump was steaming mad that his Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from any inquiry into the Russian interference in the election. He'd ordered his White House counsel Don McGahn to tell Sessions to rescind the recusal:
Mr. McGahn was unsuccessful, and the president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert F. Kennedy, as attorney general, had done for his brother John F. Kennedy and Eric H. Holder Jr. had for Barack Obama.
Mr. Trump then asked, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” He was referring to his former personal lawyer and fixer, who had been Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s top aide during the investigations into communist activity in the 1950s and died in 1986.
We are so inured to the president's contemptible behavior that such reports elicit a moment of shock and then fade into the next shameful utterance and we all move on. This comment had a bit of a longer life simply because for the next 20 months, Trump was so upset that Sessions hadn't "protected him" in the Russia investigation that he tortured his Attorney General publicly with constant insults and degrading comments, trying to get him to quit. He finally had his lackey John Kelly fire him on the morning after the midterm election.
Trump never tried to hide that he was upset his Attorney General didn't properly "protect him." He was quite open about it. And like the dying field of desiccated potted plants they are, the GOP congress was completely silent about the fact that the President of the United States believes the Attorney General's job is to ensure that the Department of Justice turns a blind eye to evidence of his criminality. They didn't care that Trump's obsession with being "protected" by the most powerful law enforcement officer in the country might just be a hint that he had some serious legal exposure. Instead, they stepped in to protect him themselves, flogging threadbare alternate investigations into Hillary Clinton, throwing up smoke screens about rogue FBI agents and otherwise ignoring the plain fact that Trump's whining about Sessions recusal was tantamount to a confession.
No one should be surprised then, that William Barr, Trump's nominee to permanently replace Sessions, will not commit to doing that even though there is ample reason to believe he should. In the first day of confirmation hearings, Barr claimed that the Attorney General has no obligation to follow the recommendations of the DOJ ethics office in such matters and when informed that most nominees for the job have agreed to do it anyway, he just shrugged and said he would make the decision himself.
That was, of course, a condition of taking the job and he knew it.
He also claimed that he would not fire Mueller except for good cause and added a very clever little flourish designed to put to rest any concerns that despite Trump's hundreds of tweets to the contrary, the president is not concerned with Mueller's integrity. Barr said he told the president he is friends with Mueller and that Mueller is a straight shooter --- which we are supposed to believe the man who ran around wailing "where's my Roy Cohn" took at face value. Sure he did.
Barr is not particularly well-informed about many of the issues surrounding this investigation but he was definitely up on the Special Counsel regulations and knows that, contrary to the common assumption, a Mueller Report would not go directly to the public and would instead be submitted in confidence to the Attorney General who will decide what the Congress and the public will be allowed to see. And he indicated that he had no intention of giving up that prerogative no matter how much he admires his good friend Bob Mueller.
That had Democratic officials more than a little bit concerned:
I wrote about Barr's potential to be a straight shooter himself, in the mode of Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski a couple of months ago. That may still be possible. There are plenty of observers in the media who seem to believe that Barr showed he was an independent guy who would call it like he sees it. But as I mentioned in that earlier piece there are also unfortunate signs that Barr may be unduly influenced by the right-wing fever swamps, even to the extent of buying into conspiracy theories promulgated on Fox News.
Questions have been raised about what Bill Barr told us for a story in 2017. Here is his full email from then responding to our request for comment. We're grateful he replied and hope this clarifies any confusion. pic.twitter.com/xTCsJSpic2
Somehow that doesn't strike me as something a "just the facts, m'am" kind of guy would say. But again, maybe he's just been foolishly relying on Sean Hannity for his news, as so many Republicans do, and will take a deep breath once he sees all the evidence his friend Bob has gathered.
As luck would have it, we all got to see a little more of it as of yesterday. Mueller dropped a big court filing about all of Manafort's lies to the Special Counsel just as Barr was finishing up his testimony. Much of it is redacted but what we can see indicates once again that there is more to this story than we, or Bill Barr, know. The biggest news is that Manafort's involvement with the administration allegedly extends beyond his tenure with the campaign and into the presidency itself.
There is another investigation into campaign finance going on presumably having to do with Trump's Super Pac Rebuilding America Now which was involved in some kind of financial shenanigans with Manafort. And apparently, Manafort lied to the prosecutors about his involvement in hiring for the administration during the Trump transition. One can only wonder who he was recommending and why. There's more about Manafort's association with the former FSB operative Konstantin Kilimnik and the filing references "other investigations" the details of which are redacted. And the court extended Manafort's former associate Rick Gates' sentencing hearing for another two months yesterday as well, indicating that he's still cooperating in the investigation.
If William Barr is confirmed, as it seems likely he will be unless something dramatic happens before the vote, it appears that he's got his work cut out for him getting up to speed on the facts. If he's been getting his information up until now from Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, he's going to be in for quite a shock.