Mr. Toad’s wild interview – or why AG Barr keeps me awake at night.

Pete Williams’ interview with AG Barr on NBC stopped me in my tracks. The man is dangerous because he is totally amoral, has no qualms about violating the balance of powers established in the Constitution, and is quite persuasive as long as you don’t look too hard. I am quoting verbatim some of what he said to so upset me. We should remember that, hanging over the interview, is the central irony that Barr is questioning whether there was sufficient predication for the FBI to launch an investigation into the Trump campaign – while Trump was blatantly and illegally pushing Ukraine to launch an investigation into the Bidens based on long disproved allegations that Joe Biden improperly used his position as vice-president to extract favors for himself and his son Hunter.

“…. FROM a civil liberties standpoint, the greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government use the apparatus of the State, principally the law enforcement agencies and the intelligence agencies, both to spy on political opponents, but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time in history that this has been done to a presidential campaign – the use of those counterintelligence techniques against a presidential campaign, and we have to remember in today’s world presidential campaigns are frequently in contact with foreign persons and indeed in most campaigns there are signs of illegal foreign money coming in, and we don’t automatically assume that the campaigns are nefarious and traitors and acting in league with foreign powers. There has to be some basis before we use these very potent powers in our core First Amendment activity and here I felt this was very flimsy. Basically, I think the department has a rule of reason, which is, at the end of the day, is what you’re relying on sufficiently powerful to justify the techniques you’re using? And the question there is: “ How strong is the evidence? How sensitive is the activity you’re looking at? And what are the alternatives?” And I think, when you step back here and say: “What was this all based on?” it’s not sufficient. Remember, there was [sic] and never has been any evidence of collusion, and this campaign, and the president’s administration, has been dominated by this investigation into what turns out to be completely baseless.”

What is so dangerous here in what Barr says? He starts with a very reasonable point of view, that it would be dangerous for an incumbent government to use its powers against its opponents. But then in true Trump victimology fashion, he ignores the proven fact that Trump tried to use diplomats to push Ukraine to investigate his rival Joe Biden, and he insinuates instead that maybe the “incumbent government” of Obama directed the FBI to start an investigation of the Trump campaign. He tries to normalize the notion that some campaigns might illegally accept foreign money – which has been proven in the case of the Trump campaign, but not in Obama’s or Clinton’s. He also claims that there was never any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Actually, according to the Mueller report, conspiracy could not be proven, which is a different thing altogether. And an investigation that Barr describes as “baseless” and Trump repeatedly called a hoax and a witch hunt did yield an impressive number of indictments and convictions among Trump campaign staff and, later, in Trump’s inner circle.

If your jaw has not dropped to the floor yet, keep reading. Here is another verbatim quote:

“…. AFTER the DNC hack and the dumping through Wikileaks, in July, they get this information that this somewhat vague statement was made in a bar and they jump right into a full-scale investigation before they even went and talked to the foreign officials about exactly what was said. [….] They didn’t do what I think would normally be done under those circumstances, which is to go to the campaign, and surely there were people in the campaign who could be trusted, including a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the governor of New Jersey, a former US attorney – there were people you could talk to. And what I find particularly inexplicable, is that they talked to the Russians, but not to the presidential campaign. On August 4, Brennan braced the head of Russian intelligence. He calls the head of Russian intelligence and says: “We know what you’re up to. You better stop it.” [….] President Obama talked to President Putin in September and said: “We know what you’re up to. You better cut it out.” They go and confront the Russians, who clearly are the bad guys, but won’t go to the campaign and say: “What is this about?”

So… what is going on here and why is this dangerous? In a segment not quoted verbatim, Barr has already diminished the importance of George Pappadopoulos (“a 28-year old campaign volunteer” – who nevertheless is photographed sitting at a table with Trump and major campaign officials). Pappadopoulos , according to Barr, makes a “somewhat vague statement”  “in a bar” to  a “foreign” diplomat – actually an Australian diplomat, but “foreign” carries an element of danger to a segment of the population. He mentions a Wikileaks “dump on the campaign” – the word “dump” absolves the campaign of any complicity in acquiring illegally obtained information. Yet Barr manages to mention Hillary’s “secret” (rather than “personal”) servers.

I cannot help but snicker when I wonder what Barr would say if the FBI had decided to saunter to the doorstep of any campaign but Trump’s in order to inform them that they were doing something illegal. Alerting a suspect to the fact that you are on to them is not usually approved investigative methodology! Furthermore, what Barr criticizes as “intrusive methods” actually protected the Trump campaign from the same level of scrutiny the Clinton campaign was being subjected to at the same time. CAMPAIGNS GET DEFENSIVE SECURITY BRIEFINGS TO PROTECT AGAINST FOREIGN INTERFERENCE. ONCE THE FBI SAW SIGNS OF INTERFERENCE IN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN, AND THOSE WENT UNREPORTED, THERE WAS REASON TO INVESTIGATE. The AG knows this.

Barr tries to make the CIA and President Obama look suspect because they confront the Russians, brushing aside the fact that the FBI and the Obama administration could have made suspicions of the Trump campaign public, as the FBI did with the Hillary email fiasco. Yet they did not. And Barr seems oblivious to the fact that one of his trustworthy members of the Trump campaign, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, had already been guilty of some shady behavior, especially the Fort Lee Bridge lane closure of 2013.

Barr was interviewed because he cast doubt on the validity of the Justice Department (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) report, which found no political bias in the predication for the investigation into the Trump campaign, although he found some irregularities in the process of obtaining FISA warrants. Barr questions the methodology used by the IG:

“ HE CAN only talk to people who are, essentially, there as employees, and he’s limited to the information, generally, in the FBI, but his approach is to say, “if I get an explanation from the people I’m investigating that is not unreasonable on its face, I will accept it as long as there’s no contradictory testimonial or documentary evidence. […] We have to wait until the full investigation is done. […] Durham is not limited to the FBI. He can talk to other agencies. He can compel people to testify. […] That is the point at which a decision has to be made about motivations.”

Why is this dangerous? Barr manages to impugn the career employees of the FBI, and would like their testimony to be considered dubious because they are government employees. His goal is to involve other agencies, preferably question political hires until he reaches the conclusion he is fishing for. This is an effort to further dismantle federal agencies and orderly processes. The inspector general is an indispensable figure in federal agencies; his role is to ensure that the rule of law is followed. Barr is conducting an attack on the very role of the IG.

Further along in the interview, Barr will claim that the wires only produced exculpatory evidence, which was later suppressed by the FBI – and yet the Mueller report produced a lot of witches in its witch hunt! He revives the claim that the Steele dossier was the basis for the investigation, and was totally debunked – not true, although some aspects of it have. He drops hints that “things were done” – cue in music from a leftover Halloween tape! He claims that “the [FBI] case collapsed after the election” – based on what? He also blames the press for “silly” coverage and public confusion, claims he “hasn’t looked into” Ukraine, explains away his foreign travel as a necessary evil, since he had to introduce Durham to the various intelligence agencies of European countries where they are looking for the Holy Grail.

Barr, though, left out a description of the circumstances under which the FBI, in July 2016, opened its investigation. In a very short time, several things happened that the FBI would have been remiss to ignore:

  1. Pappadopoulos boasted of Russian help to the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign did not contact the FBI.
  2. Trump openly called for Russia’s help in getting Hillary’s emails.
  3. Manafort, already a target of FBI investigation, got on Trump’s campaign.

We should brace ourselves for another iteration of the Benghazi syndrome. In the words of former FBI agent Frank Figliuzzi, “The AG is shopping for outcomes, not searching for facts. He’s more interested in dragging this out with John Durham.” While I agree that the AG’s interview was part of an effort to distract from the upcoming impeachment vote, it should not be ignored. Barr will not be as crass or lumbering as Trump, who described FBI personnel as “scum” in tonight’s rally in Hershey, PA – and called IG Horowitz an appointee of Barak Hussein Obama, just to hear the boos of his cult audience. Barr is the serpent in the grass, and very dangerous indeed.

Disclaimer: Marie-Anne wrote this post while in a state of anger and agitation. Any mistakes are hers only, and her views do not always reflect those of the Rockwall County Democrats – we are a nice diverse bunch, which is exactly what we should be. And we push back against attacks on our democracy.

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