The single biggest threat to Congressional Democrats’ efforts to impeach President Donald Trump may be the ongoing probes into the genesis of the Russia collusion conspiracy theory and how it sparked an FBI counterintelligence operation and then a special counsel investigation. Perhaps sensing that their entire house of cards may collapse under the weight of these probes, Senate Democrats have written to Attorney General William Barr, demanding – in reality – that he stop doing his job.
Ten Democrats from the Senate Judiciary Committee signed the letter citing the “appearance of a conflict of interest.” According to a report from The Hill, the Senators wrote:
“Impartial enforcement of the law is essential to give the American public confidence in the Justice Department’s work. Your personal connection to these matters creates the appearance of a conflict of interest and gives rise to questions about whether the Department is being used to advance the president’s personal interests.”
Ironically, an apparent failure to impartially enforce the law is precisely why many Americans have little confidence in the Department of Justice. The very fact that the DOJ has now opened a criminal investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia collusion hoax demonstrates that the attorney general has reasonable cause to believe that certain FBI and DOJ officials did not act impartially and may have broken laws.
As for Barr’s “personal connection” to “these matters” – the Russia affair and Trump’s suggestion that the Ukrainians investigate corruption – it is not entirely clear what the Senate Democrats are implying. There is no evidence that Barr himself has any personal connection to either of these issues: His connection to them is that he is the attorney general and, therefore, bears the ultimate responsibility for seeing that potential corruption and criminality are thoroughly investigated.
Unless there is an entire dimension to this story that has been kept secret, it seems as though Democrats are demanding the attorney general simply refrain from carrying out the duties and obligations of his appointment.
The same tactic was used against Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, and it appears obvious that Democrats believe the best way to kill an investigation – or, at least, to influence that investigation in their favor – is to demand the removal or recusal of the person in charge, should that person not be politically aligned with themselves. A further irony, then, is that Democrats accused Trump of precisely the same thing when he fired FBI Director James Comey.
Everything Is a Conflict of Interest
At least in the case of Sessions, the Democrats, it could be said, had a legitimate argument: The former attorney general would have been overseeing an investigation into possible wrongdoing by a political campaign with which he was personally associated. Barr, on the other hand, has only a professional interest in the Russia and Ukraine affairs. He has no personal connection to either one. He stands to gain nothing of a personal nature from either matter.
An example of a clear conflict of interest would be if the House of Representatives voted to impeach the president and several senators currently vying to challenge Trump in 2020 took part in his impeachment trial. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) each have a personal – and, one could argue, financial – interest in seeing Trump removed from office. Not one of these senators has even considered recusing themselves from a potential impeachment trial, demonstrating that Democrats have no regard for conflicts of interest unless those conflicts are, for themselves, potentially problematic.
Ultimately, of course, everything that happens in politics could be seen as tainted by conflicts of interest if one cares to connect enough dots. Unless there is clear evidence that a sitting president has committed an impeachable offense and significant bipartisan support, the very impeachment of any president could be viewed as driven by people who have conflicts of interest.
The real problem for Democrats is that Attorney General Barr is very clearly determined to unearth the truth behind the opening of the FBI operation that targeted Trump’s 2016 campaign. He and his top prosecutor, John Durham, have gone to great lengths to untangle the web of informants, foreign sources, and uncorroborated allegations behind Crossfire Hurricane – an operation that just happened to be initiated, directed, and contributed to by a collection of individuals who had one thing in common: None of them wanted Donald Trump to become president. Was that not, in itself, a conflict of interest?
The impending release of the DOJ inspector general’s report on potential misleading of a FISA court by the FBI undoubtedly has Democrats worried – if for no other reason that when the report is released, it will dominate the news cycle for some time and completely overshadow the impeachment effort. Couple that with the news that Barr and Durham have now escalated their administrative review of the Russia affair to a criminal investigation and there is little wonder that Democrats have become desperate to force Barr to stand down.