Trump Needed a Distraction. Barr Gave Him One

Thursday night, the New York Times reported that the investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe being conducted by U.S. Attorney John Durham, which was originally described as an “administrative review,” had become a criminal investigation. That comes on the heels of leaks indicating that the probe is focusing in on the role of the CIA and former director John Brennan.

At the Federalist, Margot Cleveland summarized the message to the world of right wing conspiracy theorists.

The evidence suggests, however, that Brennan’s CIA and the intelligence community did much more than merely pass on details about “contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign” to the FBI. The evidence suggests that the CIA and intelligence community—including potentially the intelligence communities of the UK, Italy, and Australia—created the contacts and interactions that they then reported to the FBI as suspicious.

These are the questions Barr and Durham should be asking themselves to arrive at the bottom line: Were the Russia connections contrived by the CIA, and was Brennan the plotter-in-chief hoping to prevent a President Trump—or to destroy him later?

As the story goes, the issue isn’t that, in the summer of 2016, the CIA was noticing that there were a host of suspicious contacts between Russian agents and the Trump campaign. All of those were actually contrived by Brennan in order to frame the president. Furthermore, the CIA colluded with the intelligence services of some of our allies in order to implement their nefarious plot.

What Cleveland doesn’t want her readers to know is that just this week Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte blew a hole in that story when he told reporters that Italy did not play a role in the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. So did Barr’s witch hunt become a criminal investigation before or after that piece of the puzzle was completely debunked?

The idea that all of this is now a criminal investigation being conducted by the Justice Department is reverberating through right wing media—giving them the opportunity to reinvigorate their conspiracy theories. Julie Kelly, at American Greatness, captured what it means to Trump’s enablers by reminding readers that Attorney General Barr once compared the “deep state” to the Praetorian Guard of the Roman empire.

The race is on to see who will survive—the duly-elected president of the United States or a modern-day Praetorian Guard comprised of former law enforcement and intelligence officials tasked with taking down that president.

As Barr gets closer to the key people involved in concocting the phony Trump-Russia collusion hoax—which included the use of powerful surveillance tools and government informants—House Democrats are escalating efforts in their attempt to impeach Trump before Barr’s department starts issuing indictments.

That is the story Trump and his enablers wanted to tell before the president’s abuse of power became obvious. They promoted the idea that the entire impeachment effort was launched because the deep state was on the verge of being exposed. As you can see, the announcement about Barr’s investigation becoming a criminal probe has allowed them to renew that argument.

It is worth examining whether the story in the New York Times is the bombshell everyone assumes it to be. Perhaps the most important qualifier comes with this statement: “It was not clear what potential crime Mr. Durham is investigating, nor when the criminal investigation was prompted.” The source of the story is “two people familiar with the matter,” which indicates that they are either part of the investigation or are privy to the details of what is happening. And yet, the only thing those sources gave the Times is that the “administrative review” has become a “criminal probe.” They wouldn’t even say when that development occurred, much less what prompted the change.

Why did these sources leaked this information at this particular moment? While we don’t know the answer to that question, it is important to keep in mind that this has been a terrible week for the Trump administration as everyone scrambles in search of a defense for the president’s behavior. What they needed more than anything is a story to distract the media and change the narrative to something more favorable to Trump. I would postulate that Barr sent a couple of his minions to the New York Times to give them just that.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.