After the release of the Mueller report, a lot of people began to question whether we could believe what the attorney general says, which is an extremely disturbing prospect. Many of his characterizations of the report fit the description of “lies of omission.” For example, the Mueller team was very clear that Russian interference in the 2016 election was designed to benefit Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. But Attorney General Barr consistently characterized the interference as focused on sowing discord in our political process. Similarly, he claimed that the special counsel had found that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. But Mueller was very clear that, while there were numerous contacts, the evidence didn’t meet the legal standard for a conspiracy.
With the release of the report by the Justice Department inspector general, it is now clear that the attorney general is attempting to mislead the American public once again. On Tuesday, Barr was interviewed by Pete Williams. Here is just a portion of that exchange.
Barr begins by saying that he accepts the part of the IG report that documented errors in the FISA warrant process. But the report also stated that (1) the FBI had sufficient evidence to open the investigation, and (2) they uncovered “no documentary or testimonial evidence” that political bias affected how officials conducted the investigation.
On the second point, Barr later says during the interview that he thinks the FBI acted in “bad faith” during the process of the investigation. He provides no evidence for that claim that would contradict the IG’s findings, however. It appears that the attorney general reached that conclusion based on his own assumptions rather than the facts, which is exactly the kind of bias he is criticizing.
But on the finding that the FBI had sufficient evidence to open the investigation, Barr said this.
From a civil liberties standpoint, the greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government used the apparatus of the state, principally the law enforcement agencies and the intelligence agencies, both to spy on political opponents, but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election.
The attorney general basically repeated one of the most egregious lies Trump has told over the last three years.
Just to be clear, the IG report documented that the FBI opened investigations into four people who, at various times, were part of the Trump campaign: Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page. Horowitz found that there was nothing illegal or improper about the methods used to investigate whether any of those men were acting as a Russian agent within the campaign.
Furthermore, the “incumbent government” (meaning the Obama administration), wasn’t spying on a political opponent. The FBI was aware of the fact that the Russians were executing a significant campaign to influence the 2016 election and had reason to question whether someone working on the Trump campaign was involved. They opened an investigation into the four possible candidates, not the campaign itself.
The idea that the investigation was used in a “way that could influence the outcome of an election” is absurd. Zack Beauchamp explains why.
The existence of the Trump-Russia investigation wasn’t officially confirmed until March 2017 — and the most prominent leak during the campaign was pro-Trump, resulting in an iconically false New York Times headline: “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia.” Why would the FBI keep its evidence against Trump secret until after the election, if it was trying to influence the outcome?
Finally, it is impossible to ignore the irony of the attorney general expressing concern about an administration using the “apparatus of the state” against a political opponent in a way that “could influence the outcome of an election,” given that those words mirror one of two articles of impeachment drafted against the president he is so intent on defending.
Beauchamp refers to this statement from Barr as “disturbingly Orwellian” and suggests that it is part of a “truth-annihilating strategy.” Whether or not it fits the definition of a lie, it is clearly an assault on the truth. That assault comes from the same man who believes that “militant secularists” seek “organized destruction” of “God’s eternal law,” based on the speech he gave at Notre Dame. One has to wonder whether Barr believes that telling the truth is part of “God’s eternal law.”
Be that as it may, that speech by Barr gave us some insight into why, as Philip Bump suggests, he has become the the attorney general Trump was looking for. In Barr’s mind, it is acceptable to use any means necessary to fight the existential battle being waged by so-called “militant secularists.” When Franklin Graham said that those who oppose Trump are engaging a “demonic power” in a spiritual battle, the attorney general’s statements indicate that he would agree. Under those circumstances, an abandonment of the truth to defend the most corrupt man to ever occupy the White House is somehow justified.