We are now learning extraordinary new details about the lengths to which William P. Barr is going in service of President Trump’s corrupt and all-consuming goal of making core truths about his 2016 election victory disappear.
But this isn’t a story that only looks backward. It also looks forward. And we need to ask whether these new efforts by Trump’s attorney general are aimed at the 2020 election as well.
Barr appears determined to discredit the special counsel investigation’s finding that Russia engaged in “sweeping and systematic” interference in our election on Trump’s behalf.
Which raises the question: What if Barr’s activities — whether by coincidence or design — end up chilling how intelligence officials respond to the next foreign effort to sabotage a U.S. presidential election on Trump’s behalf?
The Post has some major new reporting that documents Barr’s efforts to enlist foreign governments in his campaign to discredit the origins of Robert S. Mueller III’s probe. Barr has made overtures to British and Italian officials, and Trump himself pressed the Australian president to assist in undermining the investigation’s genesis.
Barr has already claimed “spying” on Trump’s campaign occurred, feeding Trump’s favorite conspiracy theory of a “deep state” plot to block him from getting elected. The goal now appears to be to use the government’s investigative machinery to create the impression that the real crime was not Russian interference, for which a whole bunch of Russians were indicted, but rather the investigation itself — perpetrated by U.S. law enforcement.
Current and former officials are alarmed by Barr’s direct involvement in the investigation into the probe’s origins currently being run by John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut. As one former official tells the Post, this is “fairly unorthodox” and undercuts any hopes that Durham will be permitted to settle this in a “professional, nonpartisan manner.”
“This is designed to validate a conspiracy theory — that Russia didn’t interfere, and that the whole Mueller probe was a ‘witch hunt,’” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told me. The goal, he said, is to paint the intelligence community and FBI as the “villains in that conspiracy theory.”
Malinowski argued that intelligence officials eyeing how to respond to foreign interference in 2020 might take cues from the aggressiveness of Barr’s ongoing investigation of the investigators.
“There’s a message to our intelligence community, which is, ‘Don’t go there,’” Malinowski told me. “They’re being investigated for doing their jobs the last time.”
What’s more, Malinowski pointed out, foreign intelligence officials and governments might take a similar message from Barr’s efforts to enlist them in his current internal review.
“Are you going to share intelligence with this administration next year if you pick up evidence of Russian interference?” Malinowski noted, referring to foreign officials, who will ask themselves: “How will such information be received by the Trump administration? Do you pass along something that is clearly unwanted?”
After all, we already saw Barr publicly legitimize Trump’s corrupt attacks on law enforcement by validating the “spying” and “witch hunt” language. Barr has even appealed to us to take into account how victimized Trump felt by Mueller’s witch-hunting in evaluating Trump’s corrupt efforts to obstruct it.
What’s more, Barr’s initial summary of the Mueller report misled the country by dishonestly downplaying what it actually determined about Trump officials’ efforts to conspire and benefit from Russian interference, and by minimizing the findings on obstruction of justice.
All this feeds into the ballooning Ukraine scandal as well. One key thing that Trump demanded of the Ukrainian president in the July 25 call is help validating a whackjob conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind the 2016 email hacks. This, too, would magically make the truth about 2016 disappear — and in the call, Trump directed the Ukrainian president to work with Barr to make it true.
The Justice Department has denied any such Barr involvement. But here again, we already know that Barr’s Justice Department helped direct efforts to keep Congress from learning of the whistleblower complaint detailing that corrupt pressure on a foreign leader to interfere in the next U.S. election. Barr didn’t recuse himself from that, despite being personally named in the complaint.
Barr’s efforts in that regard are now being scrutinized by House Democrats as part of their impeachment inquiry. Which raises the question of whether these latest activities abroad will also come under House Democratic scrutiny.
Such efforts by Democrats, Malinowski suggested to me, would show that Democrats have the “back” of the intelligence community, so it isn’t dissuaded from investigating the next foreign attacks on our political system. After all, as Malinowski bluntly put it, this dissuasion appears in part to be Barr’s “goal.”