William Barr Plays the Conspiracy Card
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William Barr Plays the Conspiracy Card

The Attorney General Backs Radical Republicans’ Claims That the Government Was Out to Stop Trump’s Election

Attorney General William P. Barr is digging himself a hole. Rather than building transparency and trust in his judgment, the attorney general went before two congressional hearings this week and showed himself to be all but an agent of Trump.

By turn, Barr was evasive about how he took his actions about the special counsel report, intransigent about making the full report available, secretive about whether he shared details with the White House and, after all this, willing to do the president’s bidding about opening new looks at the origins of the whole Russia question altogether.

His pattern of responses, each just this side of the line of partisanship, reflected a desire to control access to whatever was learned in two years of investigation by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Barr is doing nothing for public understanding, and a lot to give sustenance to Trump and others who see the investigation itself as a conspiracy.

It is a huge disappointment to see careerist and respected lawyer Barr acting simply as a shield for the president.

The president’s eagerness to jump all over the lack of criminal charges to declare victory and “total exoneration,” which even Barr does not echo, shows exactly why Democrats in particular, but any awake citizen, might just want to know what happened here.

Now it may be, as Barr always promised, that even with substantial redactions, the Mueller report that he says he will release next week actually provides some answers about the degree to which Trump campaign associates had substantial contacts with Russian operatives during the election campaign or understood that Russians were interfering with the campaign. It may even be that we will get some official accounting of how Trump and the White House played fast and loose with the truth to commit deeds that others would review as possible obstruction of justice.

But for me, it is a huge disappointment to see careerist and respected lawyer Barr acting simply as a shield for the president.

Barr not only drew his own conclusion that there was no obstruction of justice in summarizing the top-line results of the special counsel’s report. But now, he wants a panel to review “spying” on Trump associates in the campaign. Barr was clear in saying that surveillance had occurred and that he wanted to look anew at whether there were enough “predicates” for justifying any surveillance of Americans, namely people like Carter Page, a Trump campaign associate who was meeting with Russians.

“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It’s a big deal,” said Barr, noting that there are long-held rules to prevent intelligence agencies from collecting information on domestic political figures. “I’m not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it’s important to look at that,” he said. “I’m not talking about the FBI necessarily but intelligence agencies more broadly.” Talk about handing a live political grenade to the president.

It was precisely on the basis of such reports that former FBI head James Comey, Deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein obtained the appropriate FISA court documents to start and to renew authorized surveillance of Page and others. That, in turn, led to looking at information from the so-called Steele dossier, raw intelligence from a former British spy who had collected information about Russian contacts, and finally to the start of a counterintelligence investigation about Russian influence in the Trump campaign.

Combined with some bad behaviors by two or three FBI agents who disliked Trump personally, Republicans in Congress have been ceaselessly pursuing the line that the whole of the Mueller investigation was biased and off to a bad start.

For you and me, the great hope was that we would finally get some clarity about all of this and about meetings between Trump campaign figures and Russians at the Trump Tower and lots of other related material from Mueller. But where we stand is that information for which we are hungry is being kept behind privacy chains by Barr, who also saw fit to interpret something from what he read from Mueller to give a mostly clear summary.

None of the underlying questions here about what is being done to halt a future Russian – or now other country – influence campaign during our elections. None of it really explains the strange affinity for all things Russia that Trump maintains, up to destroying notes of private conversations with Russian premier Vladimir Putin, for changing Republican Party policy planks to a more favorable Russian view or for any of the million other dangling strings of the 2016 elections.

Instead, we have entered a Twilight Zone version of truth-telling, in which only certain information is deemed acceptable, in which secrecy is the continued preference and in which, whether by intention or happenstance, the president is cleared of any wrongdoings that took two years to conclude. We’re not fixing anything that is wrong, because we won’t acknowledge that anything wrong has occurred.

Barr has one more chance here in the anticipated release of even the redacted report to produce enough material to make for an understandable version of events and then to testify more openly and completely about his own role.

Let’s hope he takes it.

April 12, 2019