For decades now, it’s been standard practice for Republican presidents to appoint Cabinet members who oppose the mission of the department they’ve been assigned to manage. Agencies ranging from Health and Human Services to HUD to the EPA to the Interior Department — any agency that prioritizes the wellbeing of ordinary Americans, basically — have all too often been run by people who used their power to prevent, as best they could, the professionals underneath them from doing their jobs.
But at least until Donald Trump, the Department of Justice, whose law enforcement mission pleases the authoritarian impulses of the typical conservative, was largely shielded from this gut-it-from-the-inside approach. Even the most atrocious attorneys general appointed by Republicans, such as John Ashcroft and even a corrupt character like Edwin Meese, were loyal to their own staff and highly protective of their crime-fighting mission.
Then Republican voters elevated a bonafide criminal into the White House. Trump’s second attorney general, Bill Barr — a man who built his career on the “lock ’em all up” philosophy — is now waging war on his own staff at the DOJ, because some of them still believe that the crime-doing president should be investigated for all the criming.
Because Barr has decided that backing Trump against any and all attacks is more important than upholding the law, it’s time for House Democrats to seriously consider impeaching the attorney general as well as the president. Dereliction of duty is reprehensible whenever it happens and whoever does it, but it’s even more dangerous when the result, as we see here, is that a lawless president can use the cover of his corrupt attorney general as permission to cheat at elections.
On Monday, the Department of Justice inspector general, Michael Horowitz, released the findings of an inquiry into the origins of the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s collusion with a Russian conspiracy to undermine the 2016 election, which eventually became the larger investigation run by special counsel Robert Mueller. This “investigate the investigators” probe was demanded by Republicans, drunk on Trump’s claims that he has been the victim of a “deep state” conspiracy to smear him with lies. As usual, this is pure Trumpian projection — as you may have noticed, he is literally being impeached for using the power of his office to smear a Democratic candidate with lies.
Horowitz found exactly zero evidence of this anti-Trump conspiracy. against Instead, he found that while there was some slipperiness around the FISA warrant process (which is more symptomatic of the FBI’s problems overall), the FBI was doing the right thing by looking into Trump and his campaign.
None of this should come as a surprise. As anyone who actually read the Mueller report could tell you, Trump and much of his campaign staff weren’t exactly being subtle about their eagerness to conspire with Russian intelligence. Trump literally went on live TV and called on Russian agents to hack into Hillary Clinton’s email server. Multiple members of the campaign have done time due to their flagrant criminal behavior. If Trump hadn’t wielded the power of the presidency to obstruct justice, who knows what else the FBI would have found.
Trump reacted to seeing his conspiracy theories thoroughly debunked the way he reacts to everything: by lying through his teeth. Trump claimed the report shows that the investigation into him was “concocted” and that it “was an overthrow of government, this was an attempted overthrow — and a lot of people were in on it.” All of these claims are literally the opposite of the truth.
But Trump is being backed up in his odious lies by Barr, who put out a statement falsely accusing the FBI of starting the investigation “on the thinnest of suspicions” and then falsely and bizarrely claiming that “the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory.”
In fact, 34 people have been indicted, seven pled guilty and five others were convicted of crimes uncovered by this investigation. And while Mueller couldn’t find enough evidence to justify conspiracy charges against Trump when he leaves office, he did uncover enough to justify indicting Trump for obstruction of justice. If Trump weren’t protected by executive privilege, he might very well be cooling it in jail with his former lawyer Michael Cohen, his campaign manager Paul Manafort and his longtime adviser Roger Stone right now.
Barr’s stance isn’t just an episode of egregious lies to please the boss, however. It’s also about throwing FBI employees — his own staff — under the bus in order to protect a criminal president.
Barr is being called out as a partisan hack for this, as he should be, but it’s much worse than that. No matter how crappy GOP appointees may be, it’s rare — perhaps even unprecedented— for them to publicly accuse their own staff of being bad at their jobs. Or worse yet, to do what Barr is doing and accuse them of sinister conspiracies against the president. Barr is doing this in the most troubling of circumstances, when his staff was not only doing their jobs, but doing so in order to protect Americans’ right to a free and fair election.
Even FBI Director Christopher Wray, another Trump appointee, didn’t shiv his own people this way. Instead, Wray released a statement defending the FBI, noting “that the inspector general found that in this particular instance the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization.”
Predictably, Trump erupted at Wray on Tuesday morning, tweeting: “With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!” The FBI director has largely kept his head down since being named to replace James Comey. You have to wonder how long he can last now.
To be certain, Barr has always been a terrible person who has evinced enthusiasm for locking up as many ordinary people as possible — especially people of color — while making clear that wealthy white men should be allowed to commit crimes with impunity. He played a critical role, for instance, in helping to cover up the Iran-Contra scandal, encouraging President George H.W. Bush to pardon many of the principals.
But Trump, with his talent for making already bad people even worse, has turned Barr into an even more execrable specimen, a man who backs up his criminal buddies by telling lies about honorable people who work for him.
That’s why the Democrats should not limit themselves to impeaching Trump. Barr must be held to account for spreading lies about the people who work for him and did their jobs — even though many of them adore Trump — by snagging some criminals who were practically begging to be investigated with their blatant behavior. What he’s doing is obstruction of justice and abuse of power — the very definition of impeachable offenses. Democrats are no doubt already exhausted with the impeachment process, but it’s the only tool they have to try to limit this corrupt and dangerous attorney general from making an unprecedented abuse of power even worse.
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