Attorney General William Barr
Credit: Office of Public Affairs/Flickr

One of the staples of presidential elections has become the so-called “October surprise.” Often occurring in the final days before an election, the targets of such a surprise are constrained from defending themselves because of the lack of time to do so. As Max Boot suggests, the Trump administration could be in the process of planning several October surprises, which would mean even more chaos in the run-up to the November election.

In addition to what the president and his campaign have planned, Attorney General William Barr is all but promising to launch his own October surprise. As Ken Dilanian reports, the federal prosecutor Barr tasked with investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, John Durham, is nearing completion of his work. As a final step, Durham is in the process of arranging an interview with the man Barr has been targeting all along—former CIA Director John Brennan.

It is important to keep in mind that the attorney general came to a conclusion about this investigation before he was even nominated for his current position. For example, back in 2017, Barr told Peter Baker that he saw “more basis for investigating the uranium deal [ie, Hillary Clinton] than any supposed collusion between Mr. Trump and Russia.” And nearly a year before he determined that Trump had not obstructed justice during the Trump-Russia probe, Barr sent a letter to Rod Rosenstein criticizing the Mueller investigation and suggesting that it wasn’t possible for Trump to have obstructed justice.

As attorney general, Barr has repeatedly said that the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign and publicly stated his disagreement with Inspector General Horowitz’s findings that the FBI had evidence to support the launch of the Trump-Russia probe. Here are a few other public statements the attorney general has made.

  • He called the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian interference “one of the greatest travesties in American history,” claiming that it had been undertaken “without any basis” and that the investigators were “trying to sabotage the presidency.”
  • Referring to the Durham investigation he said, “My own view is that the evidence shows that we’re not dealing with just mistakes or sloppiness, there was something far more troubling here; and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.”
  • In Congressional testimony last month, he vowed to do everything he could “to get to the bottom of the grave abuses involved in the bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal…”

In other words, Durham’s investigation is simply cover for conclusions the attorney general reached long ago. That is precisely why Benjamin Wittes warned that the least tyrant-proof part of the government is the Justice Department. Quoting Justice Robert Jackson, he went on to describe exactly what Barr assigned Durham to do.

With the law books filled with a great assortment of crimes, a prosecutor stands a fair chance of finding at least a technical violation of some act on the part of almost anyone. In such a case, it is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it, it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books, or putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him. It is in this realm—in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense, that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies. It is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views, or being personally obnoxious to or in the way of the prosecutor himself.

No matter how inconsequential, Durham will find something. Then Barr will get to work. Tossing aside Justice Department guidelines on restrictions against interference in elections, he told Congress last month that he would not wait until after the election to release Durham’s findings once they are finalized.

Barr has left no doubt that he is in the midst of planning his own October surprise in a blatant attempt to benefit the incumbent president. That would be a stunning development, even for an attorney general who has already completely destroyed the independence of the Justice Department.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.