Dispatch April 12, 2019

Bill Barr Goes Full Nunes

After more than two years of trying to shut down the Russia investigation, Trump has finally found his man to do it. It’s not just that Attorney General William Barr still refuses to release the full Mueller report to Congress. Now, he’s pushing the same conspiracy theories as such notorious Trump accomplices as former House Intel chairman Devin Nunes, undermining the very investigation he was supposed to be overseeing by questioning the origins of the Russia investigation.

This has been a favorite tactic for Trump and his accomplices in Congress since the investigation started almost two years ago.

  • Trump’s allies in Congress, led by the inimitable Nunes, have turned every hearing into an opportunity to relitigate the question of why the Russia investigation began, subjecting witnesses to endless questions about Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok while showing no interest in actually getting to the bottom of Russia’s attack on American democracy.
  • While the House’s efforts to derail the investigation were the most blatant, the Senate got in on the game too: In more than two years of investigating, the majority’s only criminal referral was for Christopher Steele, whom they baselessly alleged made false statements to federal authorities about his now-famous dossier.
  • It’s also been one of President Donald Trump’s favorite lines of attack: He’s tweeted dozens of times casting aspersions on the origins of the Russia investigation, often falsely claiming it began because of the Steele dossier.
  • Every time, the claims have fallen apart almost immediately, not least because we already know why the Russia investigation started: because George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat about the Kremlin-linked professor who gave him a heads-up about Russia’s attack.

Barr used Wednesday’s testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee to push the repeatedly-debunked conspiracy theory that the FBI illegally spied on the Trump campaign.

  • Barr told the panel he believes “spying did occur,” and that a review of the origins of the Russia investigation was necessary to determine “whether it was adequately predicated”—only to admit he had “no specific evidence” to back it up his suspicions.
  • Trump’s congressional accomplices have been pushing some form of this conspiracy theory for almost two years, from “unmasking” to “Spygate” to Nunes’s infamous memo, which only proved that even Trump administration officials thought there was reasonable basis to believe there was a Russian asset on the Trump campaign.

We shouldn’t have expected anything less from “Cover-up General” Bill Barr.

  • Barr telegraphed his Trumpist thinking back in 2017, when he told The New York Times there was more basis for investigating the long-debunked anti-Clinton Uranium One conspiracy theory than the Russia investigation.
  • Barr said he saw no problem with Trump’s repeated calls for investigations of his political opponents, and that the Department of Justice was “abdicating its responsibility” by not investigating the Clinton Foundation.
  • That’s all on top of his behavior during his first tenure as Attorney General, which included not only authorizing the pardons that completed the Iran-Contra coverup but also referring Senate Republicans’ entirely unfounded complaints about Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh to the DOJ’s criminal division for further investigation.

When firing the FBI Director wasn’t enough to end the probe, Trump pushed his attorney general to fire the special counsel. When his first attorney general refused to do so, Trump found a new one who had already telegraphed his intention to clear the president of any potential charges and push the politically-motivated investigations Trump has demanded since taking office. Now, Barr’s gone even further, pushing discredited conspiracy theories to justify burying the Mueller report.

Bill Barr will not hold the president accountable. There was never any reason to expect he would. The question now is whether Congress will step up and fulfill its constitutional duty to do so.