Attorney General Bill Barr suggested Monday that there are still lines he won’t cross for President Donald Trump — while nevertheless proving that he absolutely cannot be trusted with the power he wields at the top of U.S. Justice Department.
Despite Trump’s fevered hyping of the invented scandal he has deemed “Obamagate,” revolving around nebulous accusations of wrongdoing regarding the beginnings of the Russia investigation, Barr told reporters at a press conference on Monday that neither former President Barack Obama nor former Vice President Joe Biden is likely to be targets of criminal charges as a result of the ongoing investigations into these matters.
He explained: “As to President Obama and Vice President Biden, whatever their level of involvement, based on the information I have today, I don’t believe Mr. Durham’s work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man. Our concern about potential criminality is focused on others.”
He also appeared to tamp down hopes from many on the right wing that the investigation will result in criminal charges, pointing out that the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Bridgegate scandal showed the limits of prosecuting perceived political abuses of power.
The comments specifically indicating that there’s no reason to believe Obama or Biden broke the law sharply undercut what much of the “Obamagate” furor has been about, especially from the president himself:
In a recent text to supporters, the Trump campaign even explicitly said: “Pres. Trump: Joe Biden is a CROOK! He ILLEGALLY SPIED on my campaign.”
Many critics of Barr have feared that he would intentionally gin up charges against Biden and Obama to help Trump’s re-election. If his comments on Monday are any indication (a big if), though, he’s not planning to take this course. He’s clearly been laying the groundwork for months that he believes the Durham investigation will lead to criminal charges, in spite of clear DOJ policy against discussing ongoing investigations unless necessary. Were he planning to go after Obama or Biden, he’d probably be laying the groundwork for that, too.
But this is not a vindication of Barr. He is still, quite clearly, on a quest to undermine the Russia investigation in the eyes of the public, and he is outright lying about it for Trump’s benefit.
For example, he claimed: “The law enforcement and intelligence apparatus of this country were involved in advancing a false and utterly baseless Russian collusion narrative against the president.”
This is entirely absurd. While no charges of conspiracy were ever brought against Trump or members of his campaign, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who was sharply critical of the FBI’s conduct, nevertheless concluded that the investigation of links between the Trump campaign and Russia was properly predicated. So too did former FBI Director James Comey, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — all Republicans, and Rosenstein appointed by Trump himself. Moreover, the Mueller report documents extensive evidence of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia’s crimes, and well as many prosecuted crimes meant to cover up these connections. Barr’s claim of an “utterly baseless” narrative doesn’t pass the laugh test.
Given this fact, Barr’s further claims about Trump’s treatment by investigators are likewise risible.
“What happened to the president in the 2016 election and throughout the first two years of his administration was abhorrent,” he said. “It was a grave injustice, and it was unprecedented in American history.”
Barr never mentions when discussing criminal investigations during the 2016 election that it was Hillary Clinton, not Trump, who was openly under investigation by the FBI. It was Clinton who was publicly maligned by Director Comey during the election, despite no charges being brought against her. And it was Clinton whose campaign was likely hurt, decisively so, by the FBI when Comey announced, with less than two weeks before the election, that he was re-opening the investigation of her emails. And what was Barr himself doing at this time? He published an op-ed cheering Comey on.
As for the special counsel’s investigation during Trump’s presidency, Barr neglects to mention the extensive (and ultimately fruitless, in terms of criminal prosecutions) investigations of Benghazi. Nor does he mention the myriad investigations former President Bill Clinton faced, investigations that probed into his sex life and led to his impeachment. The claim that an investigation of Trump — which, again, found much more criminal wrongdoing and cover-ups than these other probes — was “unprecedented” can’t be taken seriously.
Barr also complained, more broadly, that he fears law enforcement is increasingly being weaponized.
“Over the past few decades, there have been increasing attempt to use the criminal justice system as a political weapon,” he said. “The legal tactic has been to gin up allegations of criminality by one’s political opponents based on the flimsiest of legal theories.”
But as New York Times reporter Peter Baker revealed in 2017, long before Barr became attorney general under Trump, he was dismissing the Russia investigation (prior to seeing the mountains of damning evidence it produced) and arguing that the FBI should be investigating — who else? — Hillary Clinton because of the bogus Uranium One conspiracy theories. Barr doesn’t dislike the weaponization of law enforcement — he embraces it.
Which is why, despite the fact that Barr is undercutting right-wing hopes that Obama or Biden will be prosecuted, he still cannot be trusted. He’s a partisan hack and a feverish Trump supporter, and he clearly won’t hesitate to do whatever he thinks he can get away with to help Trump win re-election.
And indeed, in addition to his inappropriate discussion of the ongoing Durham probe, Barr has been proving his dishonesty in case after case. He spun the Mueller report to the president’s benefit before it became public, and now he’s cooking up transparently bogus excuses for the Justice Department to go easy on Trump allies Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. Paul Manafort, the president’s convicted former campaign chair, has gotten out of prison for pandemic-related reasons despite not meeting the standard requirements for such release. Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer who testified eventually against Trump, on the other hand, has his release blocked even after he has been told he had qualified to go home.
And just last week, the Justice Department seemed to encourage the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to release innocuous reports from the Obama administration’s last days that were twisted into an attack on Biden.
So when Barr tried on Monday to reassure viewers that the department won’t open an investigation of either Trump or Biden without his personal involvement, and that “the criminal justice system will not be used for partisan political ends,” he should forgive those of us who don’t find it comforting.