WASHINGTON — It took him three tries, but President Trump has finally found, in William P. Barr, the attorney general he’s wanted all along. That is, an attorney general who appears loyal to Trump and seemingly willing to protect the president when necessary, defy Democrats in Congress and investigate Trump’s perceived enemies in the so-called “Deep State.” In his first public appearance since Special Counsel Robert Mueller finished his investigation, Barr did the president proud across two days of testimony before Congress this week.
On Tuesday, Barr told the House Appropriations Committee that he plans to give lawmakers a redacted copy of Mueller’s report “within the week,” but that he has no plans right now to release the full, unredacted version of the report or any of the underlying evidence demanded by House Democrats. “I don’t intend at this stage to send the full, unredacted report to the committee,” he said. When asked whether anyone in the White House had read the report or received a briefing from the DOJ on its contents, Barr refused to give a straight answer. “I’ve said what I’m going to about the report,” he said.
A day later, while testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Barr did even more to satisfy the demands of the president. In an exchange with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), he confirmed that he plans to investigate the origins of the DOJ’s counterintelligence investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign. That probe, code named “Crossfire Hurricane,” began in the summer of 2016 and examined possible connections between members of Trump’s team and Russia’s interference in the election. Crossfire Hurricane laid the groundwork for Mueller’s appointment as special counsel in May 2017, which ultimately resulted in indictments, guilty pleas or convictions for 34 people and three companies. Several of those charged or found guilty, including the president’s former campaign chairman and his first national security adviser, were part of Trump’s inner circle for a period of time.
Trump supporters and right-wing media figures dubbed the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign “Spygate.” In a particularly chilling Wednesday morning rant, Trump called the Mueller investigation an “attempted coup” while accusing those responsible of treason. “Everything about it was crooked,” he told reporters outside the White House. “What I’m most interested in is getting started on … going back to the origins of exactly where this all started.”
Trump claims the Mueller investigation was "treason," an "attempted coup" pic.twitter.com/U5fZiVKtP9
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) April 10, 2019
That’s exactly what Attorney General Barr told the Senate he would do. When Sen. Shaheen asked Barr whether he thought the Justice Department spied on the Trump campaign, he replied that he thought “spying did occur, yes.” Barr clarified that he wasn’t preemptively blaming the FBI for wrongfully spying on the Trump campaign, only that he was zeroing in on a “failure among the group of leaders there at the upper echelon.” In other words, he has his sights set on people like former FBI director James Comey and Comey’s former deputy Andrew McCabe, both of whom Trump has criticized repeatedly for their role in the Russia investigation. (Later, Barr clarified that he was not in possession of any evidence that points to FBI malfeasance.)
Barr’s testimony on Wednesday has Democrats concerned. “The top law enforcement officer of the country should not casually suggest that those under his purview engaged in ‘spying’ on a political campaign,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said in a statement. “This type of partisan talking point may please Donald Trump, who rails against a ‘deep state coup,’ but it also strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions. The hardworking men and women at the DOJ and FBI deserve better.”
Did Comey and McCabe make mistakes at the FBI? Of course they did. Comey will forever be remembered for his gross mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, and the DOJ’s own inspector general found that McCabe had misled his FBI colleagues about a leak to the media in the final days of the 2016 campaign. But Barr’s most recent performance in front of Congress doesn’t leave the impression that he’s intent on restoring faith in the Justice Department’s independence and rebuilding the FBI’s credibility. To the contrary, Barr, who auditioned for attorney general by sending to DOJ leaders a memo sharing his theory that presidents are above the law, is fulfilling his duties in just the way Trump wants him to.
“Why were the first two attorney generals gotten rid of?” Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, tells Rolling Stone. “On the first, the president was very clear: He’s not protecting me from the investigation, so he’s fired, day after the election. Second guy was hired for the same purpose, but was very temporary and was clearly unqualified. The third guy was hired for the same purpose: Protect the president from the investigation, and he’s done his job.”