Attorney General William P. Barr’s testimony Wednesday, in which he again refused to produce the unredacted special counsel report and raised concerns about nonexistent “spying” on the Trump campaign, was a low point in the history of the Justice Department.
In “going off the rails,” as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) elegantly put it, Barr fed the right-wing conspiracy machine, misled Congress and defamed his own department. In an interview with my colleague Greg Sargent, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) expanded on that sentiment: “You can hire an attorney general who has applied for the job by telling you why he thinks the case against you is bogus. That new attorney general can then selectively edit the work of an independent or special prosecutor, and allow the Congress and the public to see only parts of it.” What’s more, Barr “can also initiate inquiries into the president’s political opponents.”
Barr’s effort to ingratiate him to an unhinged president was done so blatantly that he’s now blown his cover. He’s plainly not acting on the people’s behalf, but rather on Trump’s.
Lawfare blog’s Benjamin Wittes writes: “It is a fair inference from Barr’s comments [Wednesday] that he was intentionally hinting that there was something rotten at the FBI in 2016. If he was not doing so, he was being foolish indeed not to anticipate that he would be pouring gasoline on a fire.” Wittes notes that Barr “slimed people.” If he really thought something had gone awry, Wittes points out, “the proper thing to do is not to dangle those question in a congressional hearing in a fashion bound to stir up conspiracy theories. It is to find out the answers to those questions and take appropriate remedial action.”
But of course there is no there there, as we know. The investigation into Russian interference was predicated on statements an Australian official heard from George Papadopoulos. Carter Page had long been suspected of being a Russian agent. Multiple Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act judges, all appointed by Republicans, approved warrants to conduct surveillance. What in all that is of “concern” to Barr? He wouldn’t say. In true McCarthyite fashion, he made a broad, unsubstantiated and incendiary claim — holding back any factual evidence to back it up.
One wonders what FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, the career agents working under him and the larger Justice Department community think of the smear. Barr, when pressed to explain, confessed he didn’t have any facts to back of his claim, just a “concern.” Trump quickly turned around to accuse the investigators of conducting an “illegal investigation that should never have been allowed to start” and going to far as to call their work a “Phony & Treasonous Hoax!” Well, there you go: The FBI, the Justice Department and its employees have been accused of treason by the president with the assistance of the attorney general.
Wray and other senior officials at the FBI and Justice Department have the right and the obligation to speak out, denounce Barr’s insinuation and insist he at the very least clarify his incendiary remarks. If the smear is allowed to stand, permanent, serious damage will have been done to the Justice Department and FBI. Their work will be tainted and their effectiveness greatly impaired.