Barr hunts for signs of plot to undermine Trump
New details emerged this week of a months-long effort by the Justice Department to unearth political motivations for the FBI’s investigation into links between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. In a meeting in Rome last week, Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is heading the current inquiry, sought to secure the cooperation of Italian officials in the investigation of the FBI’s sources. The meeting represented at least the third time that Barr has personally intervened in the matter. President Trump also personally intervened at Barr’s request, pressing Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to assist Barr’s inquiry. Both the president and the attorney general turned to Britain as well, with Barr asking British intelligence officials to help Durham and Trump asking U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson for help, as well.
Barr has justified the inquiry, announced in April, by saying U.S. government officials may have “abused their power” and “put their thumb on the scale” to spy on Trump’s election effort. The FBI started looking into the Trump campaign after campaign aide George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat in May 2016 that he’d heard Russia had “thousands” of emails that could damage Hillary Clinton. It later emerged that Papadopoulos’ source for the information was a Maltese professor named Joseph Mifsud who had links with the Russian Foreign Ministry. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has claimed Western intelligence agencies used Mifsud—who has since vanished—to entrap Papadopoulos with phony allegations. The prospect of information on Mifsud reportedly prompted Barr’s trip to Rome. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) said Barr’s investigation “is designed to validate a conspiracy theory,” and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the attorney general has “gone rogue.”
What the editorials said
It’s obvious now that Barr is using the “authority of his office” for Trump’s political gain, said The Washington Post. By lending priority to an investigation “on the margins of legitimacy,” he’s made it clear that the awesome powers of the Justice Department will be used to muddy the indisputable findings of the Mueller report—“no matter how baseless” the allegations he’s pursuing. “Democrats want to stop Barr from investigating what happened in 2016,” said The Wall Street Journal, and the attacks on him look very much “like a preemptive warning to steer him and Durham off the case.” There are still plenty of questions to be asked about the origins of the Russia investigation. We hope Barr “won’t be deterred” from seeking the answers.
What the columnists said
Barr has broken “the first rule for any attorney general,” said Harry Litman in The Washington Post. By going on a “personal globe-trotting mission” to prop up the administration’s wacky, “half-cocked” conspiracy theories, he’s abandoned any pretense to “sound judgment” and the “impartial apolitical administration of justice.” He’s also setting a chilling precedent for any intelligence or law enforcement officials—not to mention foreign allies-—who might uncover evidence of election interference on Trump’s behalf in the 2020 election, said Greg Sargent, also in The Washington Post. The implicit message conveyed by Barr’s actions is you’ll get investigated for protecting America’s electoral integrity, as the FBI did in 2016.
Asking foreign allies for help with “credible, established investigation” into “the Russia hoax” is Barr’s job, said Kaylee McGhee in WashingtonExaminer.com. Since what transpired in 2016 “is an international affair involving multiple countries,” it’s perfectly justifiable that the attorney general would request such cooperation and President Trump would help him obtain it with phone calls to other foreign leaders. What took place was fully reasonable and legal.
“To Trump, the attorney general is just another lawyer who should be aggressively advancing his personal interests,” said Matt Ford in NewRepublic.com. And Barr has certainly obliged. By chasing down wild conspiracy theories and investigating the “already well-documented” origins of the Russia investigation, Barr has bent to “Trump’s whims” and unscrupulously turned the Justice Department into just another “instrument of Trump’s political interests.” It shouldn’t be this way; since Watergate, the Justice Department has rightfully maintained “a degree of separation between its investigatory powers and the White House’s political interests.” Unfortunately, though, Barr is acting like just “another Roy Cohn, or Michael Cohen, or Rudy Giuliani.”
Reuters, Airman 1st Class Mandy Foster/U.S. Air Force ■