William Barr is Trump with brains
My Salon column this morning:
I must have heard the words "historic day" uttered a hundred times on Tuesday and it wasn't hyperbole. The Democratic leadership announced that they have decided to charge President Donald Trump with two articles of impeachment, one for abuse of power and one for obstruction of Congress. The process is proceeding at a breakneck speed and should be concluded within the next month or so. I have no idea what any of the players intend to do after that, but I have a sneaking suspicion Trump will be happy to carry on with his own "impeachment" of the Democrats and he's got a very powerful collaborator ready to do all he can to help: Attorney General William Barr.
Barr almost certainly choreographed the release of the long-awaited Department of Justice inspector general's report into the FBI's handling of the Russia investigation to drop during this eventful week, particularly since the report was not very favorable to the right's preferred storyline. Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that while there were low-level errors and some serious impropriety in the handling of the FISA application for former Trump adviser Carter Page after he'd left the campaign, the FBI had an adequate factual basis (or "predication," in legal terminology) to begin the investigation. He also found that there was no bias, political or otherwise, that affected the process.
Unable to use his preferred method of sending a letter weeks in advance of the report mischaracterizing the investigator's conclusion in order to mold public opinion before anyone has a chance to read it, Barr was forced instead to release a statement immediately after the report's release saying that he disagreed with it, which isn't nearly as effective. In fact, Barr ended up on a different page than the White House, which simply lied outright saying the report backed up Trump's repeated insistence that the FBI leadership was a bunch of "dirty cops" who tried to destroy his campaign and overthrow his presidency.
Again, that is the opposite of what the report said.
Barr then apparently felt the need to sit down with journalists and explain that his previous comments only meant to say that Horowitz was prevented from doing a more thorough job due to pesky DOJ rules.
This explains why his hand-picked special prosecutor, John Durham, broke every rule in the book by issuing his own statement saying he also disagrees with the IG's conclusions, hinting broadly that he's onto something big. If you can't remember a federal prosecutor ever talking about an ongoing investigation this way, it's because it simply isn;t done. Well, it hasn't been done. But at least it clarified that Durham is either a Rod Rosenstein-esque toady, afraid to stand up for himself, or another Trump partisan. A straight shooter wouldn't have broken that rule. Now we know.
In the astonishing and chilling interview with NBC's Pete Williams on Tuesday, Barr made it clear that he was not prepared to stop until he found a way to nail someone in the government for having the temerity to be suspicious of the fact that dozens of Russians and Americans with Russian connections were crawling all over Trump's campaign, at the same time as the Russians were hacking into the computers of his political opponents and running a blatant propaganda campaign on social media. How outrageous of the FBI to think that might be worth looking into! (One imagines they will certainly think twice about doing that over the next year, no matter how flagrant the interference might be.)
Barr explained that his main reason for pursuing the investigation is his deep concern about the government using "the apparatus of the state, principally 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." Strangely, he wasn't the least bit concerned about the two investigations the FBI conducted into Hillary Clinton while she was running for president. Indeed, he even personally weighed in on one of them, the Uranium One and Clinton Foundation investigation, which was "predicated" on a right-wing oppo hit by the man who later became the Trump campaign CEO, Steve Bannon. Barr told the New York Times before he came back to government that he had “long believed that the predicate for investigating the uranium deal, as well as the [Clinton] foundation, is far stronger than any basis for investigating so-called ‘collusion.’”
While Barr claims to know nothing about this Ukraine business, he doesn't seem to have a problem with Trump using "the apparatus of the state" in the amount of almost $400 billion in military aid, to try to affect the outcome of the next election.
But that's no surprise. As I pointed out a while back, Barr himself is implicated in a scheme to use the "apparatus of the state" to affect the outcome of an election. I quoted Gene Lyons of the Arkansas Times writing back in 2016:
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, specifically to September 1992, when Attorney General William Barr, top-ranking FBI officials and — believe it or not — a Treasury Department functionary who actually sold “Presidential Bitch” T-shirts with Hillary Clinton’s likeness from her government office, pressured the U.S. attorney in Little Rock to open an investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Whitewater investment.
Back in those days, there were still a few Republicans with integrity, but Bill Barr was not one of them. That U.S. attorney, Charles Banks, refused to do what Barr and his associates wanted him to do. But as you no doubt remember, Republicans in the Congress grabbed the baton and ran with it. It's clear that Barr suspects the FBI was running a biased, partisan investigation because that's what he would have done in their position.
Williams asked Barr if his reasoning was based upon civil liberties concerns, and despite his earlier vacuous hand-wringing over abuse of government power, he didn't say yes. This was his answer:
I think our nation was turned on its head for three years. I think, based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by an irresponsible press. And I think that there were gross abuses of FISA. And inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.
In other words, his "concern" is political.
As I mentioned, Barr claims to know nothing about the Ukraine scandal. But according to Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, the president has asked him to brief the AG and Republican senators on all the "evidence" Giuliani collected during his recent trip to Kyiv. He's got an elaborate new conspiracy theory involving Barack Obama and Adam Schiff, featuring a brand new investigation with the DOJ and some Ukrainian crackpots. Once this pesky impeachment is dispensed with it's entirely possible that Barr will get right on it. If there's one thing that he and Trump cannot abide it's political corruption.