Interestingly enough, Michael Horowitz does not appear to be attending the meetings on how to release information supposedly based on the material he assembled. But then, the investigation Barr is conducting has moved far beyond the sort of internal chastisement that might be delivered by Horowitz. The investigation he and Durham are conducting is now a criminal investigation, and is “pursuing potential crimes.”
But not crimes in the sense of the hundreds of connections between the Trump White House and Russia. Or crimes in the sense of Trump’s obstruction of the Russia investigation. Certainly not crimes in the sense of Trump directly lying to investigators in the written answers he provided to the special counsel’s office.
Instead, Barr is directly attempting to put some proof behind the claims that Donald Trump was trying to extort out of Ukraine: That there was never any real contact between Russia and the Trump campaign, that the DNC servers were not in fact hacked by Russia, that Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud was a CIA plant put in place to lure George Papadopoulos, that Australian official Andrew Downer was an instrument of U.S. intelligence, and that Ukrainian hackers conspired with Hillary Clinton to make it seem as if Russia stole data from the DNC and presented it to WikiLeaks, when all the while it was a scheme to justify launching an investigation into the Trump campaign.
Barr and his associates have been racing to complete this report so that it can be dropped on the impeachment inquiry before the holidays. Major parts of the report apparently remain unwritten, but the fact that the publicity campaign is getting underway in advance of the report’s completion is not exactly a sign that this is going to be a contrite “nothing major found” report. And Barr has been at the center of forwarding Trump’s conspiracy theories and supporting attacks on the intelligence community. He’s already said, “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. I think spying did occur, but the question is whether it was adequately predicated and I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”
The report coming back could declare no evidence to support Trump’s conspiracy theories and say that Barr found that “spying” to be “adequately predicated.” Don’t count on it. And don’t count on there not being indictments.
Barr did not shift to a criminal investigation because he doesn’t intend to arrest someone. There are going to be claims of serious wrongdoing. They are going to be aimed at not just creating a distraction to derail the impeachment hearings, but to provide “evidence” that Trump’s requests for investigations by Ukraine were justified. The question is going to be whether they are merely awful and damaging to the nation, or absolutely incinerate the rule of law.
Next week, open hearings are set to begin in the House impeachment inquiry, and it seems very likely that actual articles of impeachment will be getting a vote before the end of the year. So far, the best defense that Republicans have dreamed up is claiming ignorance—not attending meetings, not reading transcripts, and openly declaring that they’re not about to start.
But when Barr speaks, they’re all going to be listening.
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