Bill Barr’s Gift to Biden’s Attorney General

He’s keeping open the investigation into the Trump-Russia probe. Fine. Here’s why that’s an invite for the next attorney general to look at Trump.

On Wednesday, Donald Trump released a 46-minute video in which he made baseless allegations of voter fraud, claiming that it was “statistically impossible” for him to have lost to President-elect Joe Biden. That came the day after Attorney General William Barr told the Associated Press that the “Justice Department has uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election.” One senior administration official said that Trump is “livid at Barr” and could fire him.

But the attorney general’s comments about the election aren’t the only thing that has the president stewing. As the Washington Post reported, Trump is “even angrier that Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham did not issue a public report of his findings before last month’s election.” Durham is the prosecutor who has been investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, and, according to journalist Murray Waas, threatened to resign if Barr continued to press him to release a report prior to the election.

Apparently, Trump wasn’t mollified that, as we only learned this week, Barr made Durham a special prosecutor in October. That extends his probe into the Biden administration. The president doesn’t care about that because his only interest in the investigation was to use it as a cudgel before the election.

It is, however, worth noting what Barr is up to with this move. According to federal regulations, a special prosecutor can only be fired by the attorney general, and it must be for reasons such as misconduct, dereliction of duty, or conflict of interest. At this point, we don’t know who Biden will nominate to be attorney general, but it is unlikely that Durham will give them grounds for dismissal. So the investigation will go on as long as the special prosecutor deems it necessary.

One thing we can count on is that Republicans will continue to promote conspiracy theories about the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. On Thursday, the Senate Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, held yet another hearing on the investigation known as Crossfire Hurricane. Over the next four years, it will become the new Benghazi, with the merchants of doubt continuing to stir up their base with unsubstantiated claims. 

Even though multiple inquiries have produced nothing of note, Barr wants to keep the Durham investigation going because the minute a report is released, the entire enterprise will begin to fade from view. But as long as there is an ongoing investigation, right-wing media and Republicans will continue to spread disinformation. As we saw with Benghazi, the focus can shift depending on who the GOP wants to disparage. That “scandal” began with a focus on President Barack Obama and Susan Rice. But when Hillary Clinton launched her 2016 campaign, she became the target. 

There is a flip side to that calculation. In 2009, President Obama came under fire from progressives for suggesting that we needed to look forward, not backward, when it came to investigating the George W. Bush administration. As Biden has made clear, it will be up to the next attorney general to decide whether or not to investigate Trump. By continuing to look backward more than four years, Barr has given the new administration permission to do the same. We’ll have to see if the next attorney general decides to take him up on that. At the top of the list of possible crimes would be to finally complete the counterintelligence investigation into whether this country had a president who, for four years, was a Russian asset.

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