But believe it or not, there’s even more going on.
We now have the readout of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and, as damning as it is, we still await the whistleblower complaint that put us on the road to impeachment, which Trump administration is withholding from Congress.
Which brings us to one William P. Barr, the attorney general of the United States and someone who has proven that there are almost no lengths he will not go to in order to protect President Trump.
What we have learned so far raises the possibility — even if at the moment nothing has been proven and we have more questions than answers — that Barr could be involved in the president’s wrongdoing, an attempt to cover up that wrongdoing, or both.
First, note that in his phone call with Zelensky, Trump repeatedly said that he wanted Barr involved in the effort to dig up dirt to use against Joe Biden.
First, Trump brought up CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity company that helped investigate the Russian hacking of Democratic National Committee computers, in an apparent reference to some ludicrous right-wing conspiracy theory. “I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it,” Trump said. They then moved on to the subject of Biden, and Trump said that “I will ask [Rudolph W. Giuliani] to call you along with the Attorney General.”
Trump went on: “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.”
And then again: “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to [have] Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.” And then one more time: “I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call.”
As Rep. Adam B. Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a news conference Wednesday, Trump invoking Barr “adds another layer of depravity to this conversation,” because it made clear that the U.S. government and Trump’s personal attorney would be working together to force Ukraine to aid Trump’s reelection bid.
Which raises some questions. We know that Giuliani pressured Ukraine to open an investigation that might produce some dirt on Biden and his son. Was Barr involved, as the president wanted? Did he communicate with any Ukrainian officials? Did he have any communication with Giuliani, who was apparently running a kind of shadow State Department? And if Barr did, what could that possibly have to do with his job as America’s chief law enforcement official?
The Justice Department just issued a denial, saying Trump never asked Barr to get involved with Ukraine. Even if that’s true (and let’s just say we should keep an open mind), Barr’s part in this story doesn’t end there.
On Tuesday, Schiff sent a remarkable letter to the attorney general, in which he raised the possibility that the Justice Department “has participated in a dangerous cover-up to protect the President.”
To remind you, when a whistleblower files a complaint with the inspector general of the intelligence community, the IG determines if the complaint is credible and is of “urgent concern.” If it is, the director of national intelligence then must pass it on to the intelligence committees. Not if the DNI wants to, not if he thinks it has merit, not if he’s in the mood — the DNI “shall” give it to Congress, the law states. But he didn’t.
Why? The Justice Department gave the DNI a written legal opinion justifying his refusal to turn over the whistleblower’s complaint. In his letter, Schiff asks why this happened, suggesting that the Justice Department shouldn’t have overridden what the IG’s conclusion requires the DNI to do:
In effect, the Department appears to have usurped the IC IG’s fact-finding role in an unprecedented manner, and then disguised its reversal of the IC IG’s findings in a purportedly non-partisan legal opinion from the OLC.
In what Schiff referred to in his news conference as a “completely contorted rationalization,” they said that in fact this whole matter was outside the purview of the intelligence community, and therefore it doesn’t constitute an “urgent concern,” and therefore the DNI doesn’t have to turn over the whistleblower’s complaint to Congress.
The Justice Department is run by William Barr, and given the magnitude of this matter, it seems impossible that at a minimum he wouldn’t have been kept informed of every development. What was his role in the production of the opinion telling the DNI to keep the whistleblower’s complaint secret?
At this point we should remind ourselves that the entire reason Barr is attorney general is that he made clear that, unlike his predecessor, he would make protecting Trump his highest priority.
One can’t help but be reminded of the surreal moment at a Senate hearing in May when Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) asked Barr if the president or anyone else in the White House had asked or suggested that he open an investigation of anyone. At first, Barr pretended that he didn’t understand the question, as though it were too complex to grasp. Then he spent long seconds gazing into space and muttering before finally claiming he just didn’t know whether that had happened or not.
Perhaps we’ll be able to find out. One thing we know for sure is that if Donald Trump wanted to use the powers of government to cover up his misdeeds, William Barr would be the first person he’d call.