It’s been established that President Donald Trump used his official powers to press a foreign government for help with his re-election. Now, it appears that Attorney General William Barr might also be using the authority of his office for Trump’s political gain.
The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett, Shane Harris and Matt Zapotosky report that Barr has met with foreign intelligence officials abroad to advance an investigation on the origins of the probe into Russia’s 2016 election-year meddling. The Russia inquiry culminated in March with a damning report from special counsel Robert Mueller on Trump and his circle. The president wants the Justice Department’s latest investigation to prove that the Russia investigation was an anti-Trump conspiracy from the start.
Reports on the attorney general’s trips have not provided a definitive account of what he said in his overseas meetings, including in Italy and Britain. But they range from Barr providing introductions between foreign officials and John Durham, the U.S. attorney heading the investigation, to the attorney general saying he believed that the origins of the Russia probe were corrupt. Barr also encouraged Trump to make phone calls to foreign leaders, including Australia’s prime minister, urging cooperation.
This story is not as alarming as the news that Trump secretly pressed Ukraine to produce dirt on the Biden family. The Justice Department’s investigation into the Russia probe’s origins was announced publicly, and Durham is a credible, career prosecutor who, one might presume, could conduct a fair investigation. It might even prove worthwhile if it can put to rest groundless conspiracy theories peddled by Trump and his followers — such as that Ukraine, rather than Russia, hacked the Democratic National Committee.
But these presumptions come into doubt when the attorney general and president are so personally involved. Durham’s reputation is no comfort if Barr is directing the investigation. The extremely unusual diversion of the attorney general’s precious time to a single investigation, let alone one on the margins of legitimacy, makes it only the more suspect. His involvement and that of Trump expresses a priority that the facts on the public record do not warrant — and, therefore, implies the desire for a conclusion those facts do not suggest.
The Russia probe’s origins have already been examined by Mueller, congressional investigators and an aggressive, independent press. It is undeniable that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump, that Russian cutouts interacted with people in Trump’s circle and that multiple Trump confidantes lied to investigators. Trump nevertheless insists, without evidence, that the Russia probe was a “hoax” and has all but ordered his attorney general to find evidence that casts doubt on these conclusions.
It would be easier to trust Barr’s intentions if he had not burned his credibility early on in his tenure, pre-spinning the release of Mueller’s Russia investigation report with a dishonest summary of its findings. He then accused the U.S. intelligence community of “spying” on the Trump campaign. Barr has used the imprimatur of his office to promote Trump’s favored narratives. Now, he appears to be using the investigative powers of the Justice Department to advance that agenda — no matter how baseless.