Dispatch, Explainers February 13, 2020

How Deep Does Barr’s Intervention Go?


Attorney General William Barr’s shocking intervention to help Roger Stone is a blatant abuse of power. It confirms that Barr sees his job as protecting Trump’s political interests rather than enforcing the law. By overturning the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendations, Barr is abandoning longstanding norms to insert himself into a range of cases that implicate Trump and his cronies. His behavior also raises important questions about whether—or how—the attorney general has intervened to protect Trump on a host of other politically sensitive matters.

  • Mueller’s criminal referrals: Appendix D of the Mueller report lists 14 referrals for “potential criminal activity that was outside the scope of the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction.” All except two—Mueller’s referral of Michael Cohen for the Stormy Daniels hush-money scheme and former White House Counsel Greg Craig for alleged violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act—were redacted for “Harm to Ongoing Matters.” (Cohen pleaded guilty to the relevant charges; Craig was found not guilty.) In addition, documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act Requests appear to show that the Department of Justice (DOJ) closed seven applications for court orders related to Mueller’s investigation on April 1, 2019, just 10 days after Mueller filed his report and more than two weeks before the report became public; it is unclear whether these are related to Mueller’s criminal referrals.
    • Were the cases that the DOJ closed on April 1 related to the criminal referrals?
    • Was Barr involved in the closing of those cases? If so, why?
    • What were the nature of the redacted referrals, and what are their current statuses?
    • Has Barr had any involvement with the redacted criminal referrals?
  • Erik Prince referral: After Mueller’s report was published in April 2019, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) made a criminal referral to the DOJ for Prince, alleging that the former Trump adviser lied to Congress about his contacts with Russian officials on behalf of the Trump transition team. More than 10 months later, on the day before the Senate voted in Trump’s impeachment trial, the DOJ finally confirmed that it was investigating Schiff’s referral. On February 11, the same day Barr reportedly intervened to reduce Stone’s sentencing recommendations, The Wall Street Journal reported that the DOJ is “in the late stages of deciding whether to charge” Prince for the contacts as well as potentially illegal arms trading.
    • Why did it take more than 10 months for the DOJ to respond to Schiff’s referral?
    • What role, if any, has Barr played in deciding whether to charge Prince?
  • Rudy Giuliani’s many potential crimes: The DOJ is reportedly investigating Trump’s personal lawyer for a variety of potential crimes, including obstruction of justice, money laundering, and campaign finance violations, apparently related to his work with corrupt Ukrainian oligarchs and officials. However, Barr also confirmed that the DOJ created an “intake process” to work with Giuliani to see if the information he claims to have on Trump’s political opponents is “verified.” Barr did not mention that Giuliani obtained said information through the same relationships with corrupt Ukrainians that prompted the DOJ’s investigation in the first place. In addition, Trump has appeared to repeatedly linked Barr’s international effort to undermine the Russia investigation with Giuliani’s crusade to do the same, including by telling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to speak with both Barr and Giuliani about the debunked CrowdStrike conspiracy theory.
    • Why has Barr created an “intake process” to obtain information on Trump’s political opponents?
    • Why is the DOJ apparently giving special treatment to Giuliani, who is reportedly under investigation by the DOJ?
    • What role, if any, has Barr played in deciding whether to charge Giuliani?
  • Mueller report redactions: Substantial portions of Mueller’s report remain redacted, with estimates varying from 6 to 12 percent of the document. Many of these redactions were made to prevent “Harm to Ongoing Matters,” including the Stone trial. The conclusion of the Stone trial should free the DOJ to remove redactions related to his prosecution, including sections that appear to describe Stone’s contacts with WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign’s interactions with Stone about those contacts. but they have not yet done so. In addition, Barr has repeatedly refused to allow members of Congress to see the full, unredacted report and has said that Congress would need to seek a court’s permission to remove redactions related to grand jury material.
    • Why hasn’t the DOJ released sections of the report relating to the now-finished prosecution of Stone?
    • Why hasn’t the DOJ provided Congress a full, unredacted version of the Mueller report?
  • Mueller’s Supreme Court case: Part of Mueller’s investigation entailed a case in which Mueller’s team sought to enforce a grand-jury subpoena for a foreign government-owned corporation. The details of the case appear to have been deliberately kept secret to the point that an entire floor of the U.S. courthouse in Washington, D.C., was cleared out prior to a hearing in the case. The corporation appealed the subpoena all the way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately refused to hear its appeal. After being repeatedly fined for contempt of court, the corporation reportedly turned over almost 1,000 pages of documents to Mueller’s team in February 2019, after which the federal court decided “the company was no longer in contempt on April 17.” The identity of the corporation has never been revealed nor has Mueller’s reason for pursuing the subpoena.
    • What is the corporation that Mueller sought to subpoena, and why?
    • Why did Mueller go to such extreme lengths to subpoena the corporation but decide against doing the same for witnesses like Trump or Donald Trump Jr.?
  • Barr’s counter-Mueller investigation: Barr has undertaken a months-long campaign to undermine the Mueller investigation. He has repeatedly alleged, without evidence, that the Obama administration improperly “spied” on the Trump campaign; accused the FBI of acting in “bad faith” in the Russia investigation; and repeatedly questioned whether it was properly predicated. Barr has reportedly pressed the governments of Australia, the United Kingdom, and Italy to help him undermine Mueller’s findings, including by requesting they substantiate a debunked far-right conspiracy theory that Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese professor who told George Papadopoulos that Russia had stolen “thousands of emails” from Clinton’s campaign, was actually an agent of Western intelligence services. He has also publicly contested DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s conclusion that the Russia investigation was properly predicated and not politically motivated. Instead, Barr has pointed to an investigation by U.S. Attorney John Durham, whom Barr handpicked to run a parallel probe and who has also publicly disputed Horowitz’s conclusion, as the final word on the subject.
    • Did Barr offer any incentives to foreign governments in exchange for help undermining the Mueller investigation?
    • What communications, if any, has Barr had with either Trump or Giuliani about his efforts to undermine the Mueller investigation?
    • What communications has Barr had with Durham since choosing Durham to review the Mueller investigation?
  • Dmitry Firtash’s extradition: According to the indicted member of Trump’s legal team, Lev Parnas, Trump’s shakedown of Ukraine involved an effort to establish a quid pro quo with Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash. Parnas told Rachel Maddow that Firtash, who was indicted for alleged bribery in 2013 and whom the DOJ has called an “upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime,” wanted the DOJ to drop its charges against him in exchange for what he characterized as damaging information about a cooperation deal from the Mueller investigation. Firtash also appears to be personally involved in efforts to fabricate dirt on Trump’s political opponents in Ukraine. (Firtash denies all allegations against him, including the DOJ’s indictment, the allegation that he has ties to Russian organized crime, and Parnas’s claim he has helped with the smear campaign against Trump’s political opponents. He is currently in Vienna fighting extradition to the U.S.) Firtash reportedly considered hiring Giuliani to represent him but instead hired Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, two conservative lawyers who are close to both Barr and Giuliani. They reportedly met with Barr after taking on Firtash as a client. According to Parnas, Barr was fully aware of the Ukraine efforts to the point that he “was basically on the team.” (The DOJ has called Parnas’s allegation “100 percent false.”)
    • What is the current status of the case against Firtash?
    • What role, if any, has Barr played in the case against Firtash?
    • Are Parnas’ allegations regarding Barr true?
    • What did Barr, diGenova, and Toensing discuss in their meeting? 
  • Michael Flynn’s sentencing: Federal prosecutors are reportedly softening their position on sentencing for Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Prosecutors had previously called for up to six months of jail time because of the “serious nature of the defendant’s offense, his apparent failure to accept responsibility, his failure to complete his cooperation in [the Virginia case] and the need to promote respect for the law and adequately deter such criminal conduct.” But last month, the DOJ attorneys shifted, saying the department would not oppose probation.
    • Did Barr apply any pressure to the prosecutors in the Flynn case to relax the sentencing?

Barr’s latest interventions on Trump’s behalf are a stark reminder that the American justice system is in the hands of a man who sees his main job as defending Trump—not enforcing the law. It is past time for the House to investigate Barr’s politicization of the DOJ.