Taylor’s key mention of Barr comes in a very damning passage. Taylor recounted that he’d learned that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, had informed Ukraine that the frozen military aid would be conditioned on launching the “investigations” Trump wanted.
Taylor then testified that on a call, Sondland stated that Trump told him he wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “publicly” pledge investigations — which would undercut the fact of Russian sabotage of the 2016 election and help smear potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden. Taylor claimed Sondland told him the money was dependent on this.
Taylor then adds:
We also discussed the possibility that the Ukrainian Prosecutor General, rather than President Zelenskyy, would make a statement about investigations, potentially in coordination with Attorney General Barr’s probe into the investigation of interference in the 2016 elections.
Two senior U.S. officials seriously discussed a plan in which the attorney general of the United States would publicly coordinate with a foreign government to help Trump absolve Russia of culpability for an attack on our political system, by helping to repudiate our intelligence services’ conclusion about that culpability.
That’s the goal of Trump’s demand for Ukraine’s investigation into 2016 — to validate a conspiracy theory which holds that Ukraine hacked Democrats’ emails and set up Russia to get blamed for sabotaging the election for Trump.
To understand why this matters — and why it’s so ominous — we need a quick recap.
Barr keeps popping up in this scheme
On his July 25 call, Trump pressured Zelensky to help validate the 2016 Ukraine conspiracy theory and to help smear Biden — and instructed Zelensky to work with Barr to get it done. After the partial call transcript was released, the Justice Department denied that Trump had directed Barr to do this.
Then acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney also implicated Barr. Mulvaney defended Trump’s demand for Ukraine to investigate the 2016 conspiracy theory by suggesting it was legitimate to ask Ukraine to help with an “ongoing investigation” by the Justice Department.
That was a reference to the fact that Barr is reviewing the legitimacy of the origins of the Russia investigation. That, of course, is something Trump hopes will discredit that investigation, along with his efforts to get Ukraine to cast doubt on its findings.
Once again, the Justice Department denied the implications of Mulvaney’s claim, asserting there was no quid pro quo to compel Ukraine to cooperate with Barr’s review.
This pattern is already problematic. Barr wants his review into the origins of the FBI investigation (which became the special counsel probe) to be seen as legitimate and apolitical.
But inconvenient facts keep tying it directly to Trump’s corrupt efforts to pressure Ukraine to validate 2016 conspiracy theories, casting serious doubt on its legitimacy, and making it look like an effort to carry out Trump’s corrupt political demands.
Now that has happened again. If Taylor is right, Sondland — who has been taking direction from Trump — seriously discussed the prospect of Barr actively validating Ukraine’s “investigation” by making a joint statement about it with Ukraine.
This happened, we now know, at a time when the military aid was being withheld to make that investigation happen.
Consider: Trump himself, his acting chief of staff, and a key ringleader of the whole scheme (Sondland) have all apparently connected Barr’s review directly to Trump’s pressure on Ukraine. That suggests there’s still a lot we don’t know about the overlap between the two.
The Justice Department also declined to investigate the whistleblower’s charges even after a CIA lawyer made a criminal referral of them — which should also be revisited in light of what we now know from Taylor’s revelations.
“There’s a reason why the Justice Department has been so nervous and jumpy about Ukraine, and why they’ve distanced from this every time they have the chance,” former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller told me. “I feel like there’s more yet to come out.”
At a minimum, as Jack Goldsmith notes, you’d think the Justice Department would go further in flatly declaring that Barr’s review is in no way associated with Trump’s corrupt Ukraine machinations, and with Trump’s (and Mulvaney’s) use of the Justice Department to confer legitimacy on them, to avoid further tainting Barr’s review.
But here’s the thing: We can’t rule out the possibility that Barr’s review will be just as nakedly political as what Trump is doing. The Justice Department has announced that the review is vaguely looking into Ukraine’s role in 2016. And Barr has already worked to enlist other foreign governments in this effort.
So is it that far-fetched that involving Ukraine was really part of the plan?
All this is ominous. Trump’s propaganda has been about distracting from the steady drumbeat of actual revelations by casting doubt on process — the whistleblower is discredited, impeachment is a coup, etc.
Just as Barr employed base dishonesty to misrepresent the special counsel’s findings, so one can easily see Barr releasing the findings of his review right when impeachment hits a climax, to spread around further fog and confusion.
The fact that Sondland was apparently discussing something so blatant as having Barr validate Ukraine’s sham investigation as part of Trump’s corrupt scheme should prompt us to redouble the questions about Barr’s role here.