The weaponization of the Justice Department against political enemies. The cover-up of crimes committed to protect people at the top. The abuse of courts and grand juries to produce warrants on false evidence. Gaslighting the public about nonexistent crimes. Threatening national security in an effort to solicit false testimony. Massive violations of professional ethics. Misuse of resources. Deliberate deception aimed at protecting the true criminal while generating a smokescreen of unsupported charges.
Everything that Republicans ever claimed about the horrors of the “deep state” can be found in one place: the “investigation” that former Attorney General William Barr and Special Counsel John Durham launched in an effort to obscure the facts around Donald Trump’s very real connections to Russia.
Despite taking over twice as long as the investigation he was supposed to be double-checking, Durham has still not produced his final report. Meanwhile, Barr is out there on the television circuit, being treated as if all is forgiven simply because he was smart enough to see that Trump’s attempted coup was going to fail. And the American media is still acting as if Trump’s connections to Russia were nothing serious, because they were fed a false narrative and they still refuse to correct themselves.
The behind-the-scenes analysis of the Durham investigation that was published in The New York Times on Thursday is gratifying, because it has finally generated some acknowledgement of just how bad Durham’s pretend investigation has actually been.
But it shouldn’t be that shocking. Because major aspects of the story, including how Barr attempted to rope Italian intelligence officials into creating a cover story for Trump, have been known since 2019.
Italy is adamantly denying any involvement in events around the 2016 election and throwing cold water on ludicrous conspiracy theories that link a Maltese professor, a college in Rome, and the Democratic Party. And the reason that the actual prime minister of Italy feels compelled to step in and disown this fact-free story is that Attorney General William Barr has already been to Rome twice, trying to build a case that can save Donald Trump.
The same thing applies to Barr’s efforts to undercut American intelligence agencies in an attempt to solicit false reports from U.K. intelligence.
U.K. officials report that William Barr appeared in their country with a “wish list” of items he wants to collect from agencies and individuals. Just as in Rome and Australia, Barr is continuing his world-tour “investigation” into the origins of Trump’s Russia scandal. And just as in those places, local officials are gob-smacked to see that Barr is genuinely, seriously trying to destroy U.S. intelligence agencies in the service of supporting conspiracy theories that not only declare the innocence of Donald Trump, but protect Vladimir Putin.
This didn’t happen without notice. Officials in Italy, Australia, and the U.K. raised loud warnings about the damage being done by Barr as he tried to clear Trump by any means necessary, including outright lies. That the media is now shocked, shocked to learn about Barr’s incredible misuse of his authority as attorney general, mostly shows just how much they were willing to ignore it at the time.
Ever since he stepped onto the national stage by purposely distorting the results of the Mueller investigation, Trump’s new Roy Cohn has been engaged in politicizing the DOJ and turning the department into an wing of Trump’s reelection campaign. One of his first acts was drafting U.S. Attorney John "Bull" Durham to begin a round-the-world quest into claims Trump had made against Joe Biden, the pursuit of a DNC server that never existed, and undermining the actions of his own department in the Trump-Russia investigation.
The article on Barr and Durham fills in some details, but the umbrage it has generated should have been there years ago. Instead, we got this:
The New York Times, along with other major media outlets, didn’t just swallow Barr’s distortion of Mueller’s findings wholesale, they amplified those findings, placing it in terms that not even Barr put forward and putting enormous weight behind the idea that the whole idea of connections between Trump and Russia was false.
Compare that headline to the findings of the Republican-led Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on Russian involvement in the 2016 election.
The Committee found that the Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multifaceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. … The Committee found that [Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s] presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign. Taken as a whole, Manafort's high level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services, particularly Kilimnik and associates of Oleg Deripaska, represented a grave counterintelligence threat.
To be fair, a day after that report came out, The New York Times did cover the story, saying that the findings of the Senate “echoed” the findings of the Mueller report … the one that the Times trumpeted as finding “no evidence that President Trump or any of his aides coordinated with the Russian government.”
What Barr claimed were the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the actual findings of the Republican-led Senate committee were 180 degrees apart. That’s not because Mueller did a bad job. It’s because what Mueller actually reported, and what Barr put in his “summary” of those findings could not have been more different. Then Barr strung the nation along for months with promises of a peek at the real deal, holding onto Mueller’s actual findings until his false claims had become the accepted result.
And still the Times—and other major media outlets—continued to treat Barr as a reliable source, as if his use of the Justice Department to pursue Trump’s perceived opponents and cover up Trump’s actions was legitimate.
Even now, Barr is being given massive credit for having walked away before Jan. 6. Show after show has featured Barr talking about how there was no truth behind Trump’s claims of election fraud. Only that’s not what he said at the time. In fact, Barr was a key player in helping to create the big lie.
CNN: "You've said you're worried a foreign country could send thousands of fake ballots ... what are you basing that on?"
CNN: "But have you seen any evidence?"
The fantasy that German satellites, Italian servers, or Venezuelan dictators could have somehow planted votes in an American election can be laid right at the feet of the guy who took his protege around the world, trying to co-opt American allies into participating in a lie.
This isn’t some tragic tale in which Barr and Durham were pulled into Trump’s orbit and gradually became corrupted. They were bad guys all along. They eagerly and immediately jumped into the fray, using the power Trump had granted them in an effort to distort justice, protect Trump, and influence the public. The Durham non-investigation was only one aspect of the many ways in which Barr attempted to turn the Department of Justice into Trump’s litigating army in a political war. That included Barr putting a big hose into the idea of executive privilege and inflating it into an all-purpose defense that could be used to protect Trump from anyone, anytime, on any subject.
The frustration isn’t just that Trump, Barr, and Durham have all gotten away with massive abuse of power and distortion of justice for so long. It’s that this is being treated like a revelation … when almost nothing about this story is new.
Listen to the latest episode of The Downballot for an in-depth analysis of the 2024 Arizona Senate race and the implications of Kyrsten Sinema's re-election decision. Special guest Victoria McGroary, the Executive Director of BOLD PAC, will also discuss the efforts to prevent losses among Hispanic voters and the fight against disinformation in Spanish language media.