Attorney General William P. Barr has been a skeptic about the origins of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election since even before the Nunes memo. And on Monday, he offered yet another curious comment framing the whole thing in a pretty pro-Trump and anti-FBI way.
In an interview with the New York Times, Barr explained the questions he wants the investigation of the investigators to answer. Pay close attention to the second sentence.
"What we’re looking at is: What was the predicate for conducting a counterintelligence investigation on the Trump campaign?” Barr said. “How did the bogus narrative begin that Trump was essentially in cahoots with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election?”
First, we could deal with the reasons the FBI might have legitimately suspected or at least wanted to investigate a potential Trump campaign conspiracy with Russians. They included:
- A Trump campaign adviser (George Papadopoulos) telling a foreign diplomat that Russia had dirt on Clinton.
- Trump hiring a campaign adviser (Michael Flynn) who attended a dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- Trump hiring a campaign adviser with Russian ties (Carter Page).
- Trump hiring a campaign chairman (Paul Manafort) who worked for a Russia-allied president of Ukraine.
- Trump himself asking the Russians, publicly, to hack opponent Hillary Clinton’s emails, after we learned Russia had already done something similar with other Democrats.
And this doesn’t include the Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-tied lawyer who offered dirt on Clinton — which we learned about in 2017 — nor does it include Trump associates repeatedly obscuring their contacts with Russians. The idea that Barr would regard potential cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia as a specious theory unworthy of some kind of investigation is a little difficult to swallow. And just because an investigation doesn’t prove wrongdoing doesn’t mean it was wrong to investigate in the first place, as Barr well knows.
But more than that, the framing of Barr’s second sentence seems to give away the game. He describes the idea that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia as a “bogus narrative.” But he’s not talking about the broader political debate over it; he’s talking about it in the context of law enforcement. He’s tacitly ascribing the “bogus narrative” to the investigators.
There were political actors and pundits who were over their skis in declaring this to be a conspiracy, but this suggests law enforcement had decided what happened from the jump. Merriam-Webster defines narrative as “a way of presenting or understanding a situation or series of events that reflects and promotes a particular point of view or set of values.” In other words, it connotes a particular bias or agenda.
This is not the first time Barr has talked about these things in a slanted way. In interviews back in May, he repeatedly described things that occurred in the investigation as “strange,” without elaborating. He has called what the FBI did “spying,” even though law enforcement officials up to and including FBI Director Christopher A. Wray don’t use that term and/or think it to be too loaded. And as far back as 2017, he suggested the evidence to investigate the Clinton-Uranium One conspiracy theory was “far stronger than any basis for investigating so-called ‘collusion.'” He said the FBI was “abdicating its responsibility” by not “investigating various ‘national security’ activities carried out during the election.”
This is a guy who sounds like he developed strong feelings long ago — before, even he has admitted, he was privy to all the information — that the collusion investigation was unfounded and launched for suspicious purposes. And his commentary to this day is consistently uncharitable to the law enforcement personnel who serve beneath him.