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Opinion Bill Barr’s bogus investigations keep coming up short

President Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr step off Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Sept. 1. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

There are many analogies one might use to describe the problem affecting Republicans right now: drinking the Kool-Aid, being stuck in the bubble, getting high on your own supply. What it comes down to is that the president, his campaign and those working to reelect him have managed to convince themselves their insane conspiracy theories are true, and if only the public is made aware of what’s really going on, President Trump will win reelection in a landslide.

But they keep running up against reality.

You can see it in this story, which won’t get much notice but is emblematic of their whole misconceived strategy:

The federal prosecutor appointed by Attorney General William P. Barr to review whether Obama-era officials improperly requested the identities of individuals whose names were redacted in intelligence documents has completed his work without finding any substantive wrongdoing, according to people familiar with the matter.
The revelation that U.S. Attorney John Bash, who left the department last week, had concluded his review without criminal charges or any public report will rankle President Trump at a moment when he is particularly upset at the Justice Department. The department has so far declined to release the results of Bash’s work, though people familiar with his findings say they would likely disappoint conservatives who have tried to paint the “unmasking” of names — a common practice in government to help understand classified documents — as a political conspiracy.

This was just one of several bogus investigations Barr has ordered to come up with something, anything that might prove that President Barack Obama’s administration executed a massive conspiracy to destroy Trump. Barr recently revealed that the official he sent on one such errand, John Durham, will not be delivering his report on the beginnings of the government’s investigation of the Russia scandal before the election after all. Trump described the delay as “a disgrace.”

We don’t know exactly why Durham’s report won’t be coming out before the election, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t because Barr got a sudden attack of conscience and decided he should follow Justice Department guidance and tradition on not taking steps that could influence a campaign just before Election Day.

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Far more likely is that Durham just couldn’t find the goods. There was no nefarious conspiracy to uncover, no high-level wrongdoing to prosecute, no blockbuster revelations that would provide fodder for a dozen episodes aired by Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.

The same is true of the unmasking story. Justice Department sources told The Post that “the findings ultimately turned over to Barr fell short of what Trump and others might have hoped, and the attorney general’s office elected not to release them publicly.”

We should quickly explain what “unmasking” means, because it does not mean revealing someone’s identity publicly, despite what you might think.

Imagine you’re a high-ranking national security official reading a report on the activities of suspicious foreign agents in the United States. “Known spy Boris Sneakovski was recorded speaking by telephone to [American citizen] at 3 am on January 21st,” you read. So you say, “I’d like to know who that American was.”

You make the unmasking request, and intelligence officials tell you who the American was. That’s unmasking. It happens all the time.

And in 2016, in some cases the person unmasked turned out to be an associate of Trump. Which is proof not that there was an anti-Trump conspiracy — after all, the official making the request wouldn’t have known that before they made the request — but that Trump’s associates had an awful lot of suspicious contacts with Russian nationals.

This is one of those stories that when you learn the basic facts about it, you say, “Oh, well that’s not a scandal at all.” But within the right-wing bubble where the president and his most ardent fans reside, it most certainly is. Because everything touching on Obama or Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden is a scandal.

Every bit of seemingly innocuous information is actually proof of their fiendish plans and sinister crimes. If we keep pulling on the strings, all will be revealed. And then the public will reject them as one and reelect Trump.

So they keep trying. No Durham report, no unmasking revelations? There are plenty of other fake scandals in the works. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to release some Clinton emails before the election, because … his boss wants him to. Wednesday even saw the release of a bizarre story about Hunter Biden, courtesy of Rudolph W. Giuliani, that reeks of disinformation — no, I won’t link to it — as though a significant number of undecided voters is just waiting to hear more about Hunter.

But what if the Obama administration was actually one of the most scandal-free in decades? What if undecided voters aren’t actually clamoring to hear more about how the Russia scandal was all a big frame-up and the FBI should never have investigated the Kremlin’s efforts on Trump’s behalf? What if the things that preoccupy the Fox News audience won’t actually determine the outcome of the election?

What if the president himself can’t stop obsessing over these conspiracy theories not because he’s a political genius whose attempts to turn the entire government into an arm of his campaign will soon be vindicated by revelations of horrifying Democratic misdeeds, but because he’s corrupt and deluded?

No, that can’t be it. We just have to dig deeper, and the awful truth will be revealed. Someday.

Watch Opinions videos:

Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center warns that the president is doing the work of our foreign adversaries by undermining the legitimacy of the U.S. election. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Evan Vucci/AP/The Washington Post)

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