Attorney General William Barr, on June 9, guardedly provided an update on what is almost certainly the Department of Justice’s most consequential active investigation. Indeed, it is possibly the most politically important investigation in U.S. history. During an interview with Fox News’s Brett Baier, the AG revealed something for which supporters of President Donald Trump have been hoping – and something that Trump’s political opponents have been dreading: that familiar names are at the center of the DOJ probe.
John Durham, a no-nonsense federal prosecutor, has already spent some months delving into the genesis of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane operation that targeted members of then-candidate Trump’s campaign team. That counterintelligence probe began in 2016 and spilled over into 2017, culminating in the appointment of a special counsel.
Why Investigate the Investigators?
Is Durham’s investigation warranted at all, though? Is it, as Democrats have suggested, a politically motivated endeavor created by a vengeful president? Barr’s explanation of its necessity is simple and beyond dispute: “For the first time in American history, police organizations and the national security organizations were used to spy on a campaign. And there was no basis for it.”
Neither the FBI nor the special counsel, Robert Mueller, discovered anything that corroborated the original premise for the investigation; that the Trump campaign had conspired with Russian agents to influence the 2016 presidential election.
The FBI went to great lengths to try to prove something that simply did not happen. Along the way, officials ignored or concealed a great deal of exculpatory evidence, altered documents, provided unverified “evidence” to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and entrapped a senior Trump administration official, Michael Flynn. Those were some but by no means all the transgressions of former President Barack Obama’s FBI, DOJ, and CIA.
According to Barr, the Durham investigation does not go as high as Obama himself or Joe Biden, his vice president. It is clear, however, that the prosecutor is looking closely at former senior officials, either within the Obama White House, the FBI or other intelligence agencies.
Abuse of Power is Not a Partisan Issue
Democrats have accused Barr of acting out of political loyalty to Trump. Former Attorney General Eric Holder once publicly described himself as Obama’s “wingman,” saying that he had the president’s back. A more open and direct pledging of allegiance by an Attorney General to a sitting president had never before been witnessed – and Democrats expressed not an ounce of concern over the statement.
AG Barr’s response to the charges is compelling, to say the least:
“[A]nd there were actions taken that really appear to be efforts to sabotage [Trump’s] campaign. And that has to be looked at. And if people want to say that I’m political because I am looking at those potential abuses of power, so be it. But that’s the job of the attorney general.”
During an election year, it is not a good look to have an active Department of Justice investigation involving politicians and/or government officials, former or current. That all changed in 2016. Even as the presidential campaign neared its final stage, the FBI was investigating not just Trump but also his opponent, Hillary Clinton. In Clinton’s case, wrongdoing was established, though the FBI could not “find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts.”
Then-FBI Director James Comey took it upon himself to make a charging decision – something he had no authority to do. Comey concluded that charges should not be brought against Clinton or any of her staff because “Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”
Barr has not indicated how long Durham’s investigation will take. All things considered, it probably would make little difference to the outcome of the 2020 presidential election: Trump’s opponents will simply not accept any findings that implicate Obama-era officials in criminal or otherwise nefarious activity and, should Durham produce no indictments, the president’s supporters will suspect a cover-up. Either way, few 2020 votes are likely to change, whether the investigation is concluded before November or continues through the election.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.