In a properly functioning United States, the Justice Department operates independently of the White House. This hasn’t been the case since President Trump took office. For nearly two years, he harassed his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation, before eventually forcing him to resign last fall. His second attorney general, William Barr, appears to be operating in conjunction with the White House to spin the results of that investigation in the president’s favor.
Trump has also long been suggesting publicly, mostly on Twitter, that the DOJ open a new investigation into Hillary Clinton, and what role Democrats may have played in the genesis of the FBI’s investigation into the his campaign’s relationship with Russia. But has he pressured Barr to do it in private? It was the subject of a question Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) asked of the attorney general during his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.
Barr’s response wasn’t very convincing.
Sen. Kamala Harris: "Has the president or anyone at the WH ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone… Perhaps they suggested?"
AG Barr: "I wouldn't say 'suggest.'"
Barr: "I don't know."
Harris: "Inferred? You don't know. OK." pic.twitter.com/i7vnwNOQs8
— The Hill (@thehill) May 2, 2019
It grew less convincing on Thursday, when Trump told reporters at the White House that former secretary of state John Kerry should be prosecuted for violating the Logan Act, a law that prohibits unauthorized persons from negotiating with foreign entities that have disputes with the United States, and that Trump believes Kerry violated in regard to Iran.
“Everything President Trump said today is simply wrong, end of story,” Matt Summers, a spokesperson for Kerry, said in a statement. “He’s wrong about the facts, wrong about the law and sadly he’s been wrong about how to use diplomacy to keep America safe. Secretary Kerry helped negotiate a nuclear agreement that worked to solve an intractable problem. The world supported it then and supports it still.”
Trump also implied he has discussed the issue with those who have the ability to indict Kerry. “My people don’t want to do anything,” he said. “Only the Democrats want to do that kind of stuff.”
Hours after Trump said “his people” didn’t want to prosecute Kerry, Harris sent a letter to Barr asking him to clarify his non-response to her question about presidential pressure to open investigations. “In order for the American people to retain trust in the Department of Justice, the public must have confidence that the women and men who enforce our laws act with fairness and impartiality,” she wrote. “Your failure to categorically respond to my question in the negative undermines that confidence.”
Kamala Harris wants Bill Barr to clarify his testimony on whether Trump or other W.H. officials requested that he investigate Trump's perceived enemies "on the heels of the President's public call for the prosecution of former Secretary of State John Kerry." pic.twitter.com/nODlT5T8zv
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 9, 2019
Though it’s unlikely Barr will comply with Harris’s request, her concerns are urgent as Trump seeks revenge against the enemies he believes were behind the special counsel’s investigation. As the Mueller report details in laying out several instances in which Trump appears to have obstructed justice, the president has demonstrated he has no problem interfering in the work of the Justice Department. For two years, he was doing so from a defensive position; now that the special counsel’s investigation has concluded, he’s out for blood.
On Thursday, the New York Times reported that Trump has signed off on legal counsel Rudy Giuliani traveling to Europe to rustle up some evidence that will benefit his client as he tries to convince the Americans that the Mueller investigation was some sort of treasonous hoax. Giuliani will visit Ukraine, where he will attempt to convince the nation’s incoming government to pursue investigations that Trump and his allies believe could muddy the waters as to the genesis of the special counsel’s probe, possibly with the intention of building momentum for the Justice Department to launch an investigation of its own. Many on the right have claimed that Hillary Clinton worked in tandem with Ukraine to devise a reason to investigate Trump’s campaign.
As he must do with pretty much anything related to the president he’s asked to defend, Giuliani stressed that the trip isn’t illegal. “There’s nothing illegal about it,” he told the Times. “Somebody could say it’s improper. And this isn’t foreign policy — I’m asking them to do an investigation that they’re doing already and that other people are telling them to stop. And I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop it because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”
Discrediting the Mueller investigation isn’t the only reason Giuliani is heading to Ukraine. He also intends to pressure the nation’s new president pursue an investigation that could dredge up information with which the Trump campaign can smear Joe Biden, who has emerged as the frontrunner to take on the president in 2020. The Times previously reported that Biden’s son was on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukranian oligarch, and that Biden may have taken actions that benefitted that company while serving as vice president. Some have questioned the report.
Despite his own endless supply of conflicts of interest, Trump relished it, retweeting the Times reporter who broke it. He also seems convinced Biden will win the Democratic nomination. On Friday morning, he dubbed him SleepyCreepy Joe.
Looks to me like it’s going to be SleepyCreepy Joe over Crazy Bernie. Everyone else is fading fast!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2019
Biden’s campaign better safeguard their email accounts before Russia gets involved.