Attorney General William Barr is racing to complete a new “report” before Thanksgiving. And if Barr’s very poor summary of the Mueller report threw Trump a lifeline by distorting the real findings of the special counsel investigation, this new report looks to be more like an atom bomb, designed to incinerate Washington by putting the whole Justice Department behind a conspiracy theory that rewrites history and declares open warfare on political opponents. And Republicans are already meeting with Barr to plan a “roll out” for this supposedly classified report in order to maximize its impact.
Barr appears to have taken the results of an inspector general report that was expected to end weeks ago, rolled it together with the investigation-into-the-investigation that he launched under the nominal control of prosecutor John Durham, and capped it all with the “findings” of a world tour that included attempts to get the Australian government, the Italian government, and the U.K. government to participate in attacks on U.S. intelligence agencies. What’s going to come out the other end could be a dud, but it could launch an effort to derail the impeachment process—and more.
Barr’s effort to create a comprehensive, all-conspiracy-theories-combined report seems to have delayed delivery of the long-expected findings from Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Republicans were generally thrilled by Horowitz’s earlier report in which he was critical of former FBI director James Comey for his handling of some classified materials. That report had right-wing news outlets clamoring over potential charges against Comey. But despite claims that the findings justified Republican attacks on the entire Russia investigation, the actual complaints were minor and led to nothing.
That seems unlikely to be the case this time. As The Washington Post reports, Barr has subsumed Horowitz’s work because “the inspector general does not have the authority to declassify information” and Barr apparently intends to release information that dips into classified documents at both the FBI and CIA to tell his story of how the Russia investigation was unjustified from the start.
Barr is having advance meetings (including one on Wednesday with Senate Judiciary chair Lindsey Graham) so that talking points and presentations can be ready in advance of an official release.
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.