If Berman had left and allowed Barr to fill his position with Trump supporter Jay Clayton, a corporate attorney who has never prosecuted a case, at any level, in his life, it’s a very good bet that Steve Bannon and his co-conspirators would not have been arrested on Thursday. That alone seems to explain both Barr’s efforts and Trump’s tweet.
Before Barr put out his Friday evening missive announcing that Berman was “stepping down,” it’s clear that Barr and Berman had been speaking for some time. Trump had ordered Barr to fire Berman, Barr had offered Berman a different role at the Justice Department, and Berman had refused—all before Barr attempted to simply bypass the U.S. attorney by issuing the statement. The replacement of Berman with Clayton was also a very unusual move in two ways. First, it’s typical for U.S. attorneys to serve out a term, as they are often replaced at the end of the election year. Secondly, when a U.S. attorney leaves, the usual pattern is to use the attorney’s deputy as an acting attorney until a replacement can be approved. Telling Berman to leave with just months remaining in the term and attempting to insert non-prosecutor Clayton seemed wrong in every way.
In his congressional testimony Berman explained that, "I told the Attorney General that there were important investigations in the Office that I wanted to see through to completion.” It’s clear now that one of those investigations was into We Build the Wall and the theft of money by a group of Trump associates including Trump campaign CEO Bannon. Eventually Berman agreed to leave, but only if he was replaced by his deputy, experienced prosecutor Audrey Strauss, as acting U. S. attorney. It was Strauss who signed the indictment against Bannon and others.
Considering the timing, it seems almost certain that Barr had been briefed on the investigation. The indictment makes clear that the crimes involved dated back to December 2018—a month before We Build the Wall was formerly organized as a nonprofit corporation. Barr was very probably aware of the investigation some months ago.
It now seems likely that Barr informed Trump of the investigation before Trump wrote his tweet putting some distance between himself and We Build the Wall—including his claim that an organization founded by Bannon, supported by Trump campaign stalwarts, and praised by Donald Trump Jr. was created “to make him look bad.”
Had Berman left quietly, it seems very unlikely that inexperienced Trump supporter Clayton would have proceeded with the indictment. By refusing to simply disappear, Berman maintained the visibility of his office and ended up being able to hand over investigations to Audrey Strauss rather than see them head for the circular file.
There are a lot of things that William Barr should be talking about right now, but add these to the list:
- When was Barr made aware of the investigation into We Build the Wall?
- When did Barr tell Trump about the investigation?
Because right now it absolutely looks like Barr attempted to push a U.S. attorney out in order to make an investigation into Trump’s campaign manager go away.
It’s also not clear this is over. After all, Kobach waved a banner for the organization when he announced his Senate candidacy in 2019. He was also instrumental in bringing other Republicans like Tom Tancredo into the organization, and acted as the group’s attorney. It’s very, very hard to believe he didn’t know about the graft that was going on.
How far does this rot extend? And what other sealed indictments are waiting to be opened?
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