Why does the attorney general of the United States keep attacking the Justice Department he leads? His latest target is the DOJ’s highly regarded inspector general, Michael Horowitz, whose report confirms that the FBI properly launched the Trump-Russia probe. The IG’s report is important, but far more significant is Barr’s escalating assault on the public’s confidence in America’s justice system, intelligence community, and free press.
Barr’s Track Record
Since his confirmation on Feb. 14, 2019, Barr has nurtured Trump’s distractions, as the Trump-Russia Timeline reveals.
Mar. 22: Mueller submits his final report to Barr, along with summaries for immediate distribution to the public. Among other things, the report concludes that: i) Russia engaged in a “sweeping and systematic” attack on the 2016 US presidential election; ii) Vladimir Putin wanted Trump to win; and iii) the Trump campaign embraced the help. Describing the factual basis for the FBI investigation that began on July 31, 2016, Mueller debunks Trump’s claim that the Bureau was out to get him. Mueller also details Trump’s obstruction of the investigation.
Mar. 24: Barr rejects Mueller’s carefully crafted summaries of the report and issues his own misleading one.
Mar. 25: In a letter, Mueller accuses Barr of promulgating a narrative that “does not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his work or his report’s conclusions. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation,” Mueller writes. “This threatens to undermine the central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”
Barr is unmoved. So as Trump’s lies about Mueller’s report — “Total Exoneration, No Collusion, No Obstruction” — infect the body politic, Barr doesn’t release Mueller’s actual summaries.
Apr. 10: Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Barr says, “I think spying did occur” on the Trump campaign. FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, rejects Barr’s politically charged characterization of the agency’s conduct as it engaged in legitimate law enforcement activities.
Apr. 18: The DOJ finally releases a redacted version of Mueller’s report, revealing Barr’s earlier deception about Mueller’s findings.
Before May 13: IG Horowitz’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation has been underway for more than a year. Nevertheless, Barr appoints US Attorney John Durham to lead another inquiry into that subject.
Sept. 13: IG Horowitz completes his report, concluding that the FBI had a proper basis for opening the Trump-Russia investigation and finding no evidence of political bias or improper motivation in the decision. He sends his report to the Justice Department and the FBI for review.
Week of Sept. 23: Barr and Durham travel to Italy where Barr asks officials to cooperate with Durham’s investigation. Barr has also asked officials in Australia and Great Britain for assistance.
Oct. 25: After The New York Times reports that Durham’s inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation has become a criminal investigation, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), co-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee tweets:
Dec. 9: The Justice Department releases Horowitz’s report. Immediately, Barr attacks Horowitz’s key conclusion about the origins of the FBI probe, saying, “The FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a US presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.”
Simultaneously, Durham weighs in with his unprecedented assault on Horowitz’s conclusions: “Last month, we advised the inspector general that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”
But on Dec. 11, Horowitz testifies that Durham’s statement surprised him. In their prior discussions before the report’s release, Durham had agreed that the FBI’s information was sufficient to open an investigation. Their only point of disagreement was whether the FBI should have launched the probe as a “preliminary” or “full” one — a distinction without a difference given the dozens of indictments, convictions, and guilty pleas that resulted.
Dec. 10: In an NBC interview, Barr goes further: “I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press.” Barr even suggests that the FBI may have acted in “bad faith.”
The End Game
“Investigating the investigators” has been a centerpiece of Trump’s strategy to discredit the Trump-Russia probe and distract attention from the actual results of the investigation: Top members of Trump’s 2016 campaign are now convicted criminals, including national security adviser Mike Flynn, campaign manager Paul Manafort, deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, personal attorney Michael Cohen, and personal adviser Roger Stone. Russians who helped Trump win the election have been indicted.
After the revelations of President Richard Nixon’s abuse of the Justice Department during Watergate, the DOJ insulated itself from presidential political interference. Under Trump and Barr, those days are gone. In fact, “investigate the investigators” has morphed into a new theme: If investigations into the investigators don’t produce the results Trump wants, keep attacking and start another one.
The loss of an independent Justice Department has catastrophic consequences. Facts and truth become casualties. Public trust erodes. Undermining confidence in the nation’s law enforcement agencies, intelligence community, and free press becomes an attack on democracy itself. And it can lead to an autocratic end game that no American patriot should embrace.
Here is a list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security:
DEC. 7, 2019: Giuliani Returns From Ukraine, Reports to Trump
DEC. 7, 2019: Cruz Blasts Media, Says Ukraine Also Interfered in US Election
DEC. 9, 2019: Zelensky Meets With Putin
DEC. 9, 2019: Horowitz Finds No Evidence of Political Bias in Russia Investigation; Finds Errors in Page’s FISA Warrant Process
DEC. 9-10, 2019: Barr Disagrees With Horowtiz’s Report
DEC. 10, 2019: House Announces Articles of Impeachment
DEC. 10, 2019: Lavrov Visits White House, Denounces Russia Investigation
DEC. 11, 2019: Horowitz Testifies Before Senate
DEC. 11, 2019: Prosecutors Seek to Revoke Parnas’ Bail
DEC. 11, 2019: OMB Issues New Legal Memo Defending Hold on Ukraine Aid
DEC. 12, 2019: McConnell Coordinating Impeachment Trial With White House
DEC. 13, 2019: House Judiciary Approves Two Articles of Impeachment