Bill Barr is heading out the door at DoJ, and this afternoon the WSJ's Kim Strassel wrote up an valedictory interview with him. Barr is obviously eager to convince the public that he was a total success as AG, and Strassel and the WSJ are just as eager to assist him. In the process Barr says a lot of great sounding things, but it's difficult to fit it all into a coherent and satisfying whole.
First things first, however. You can read the interview if you're willing to pay the WSJ for the privilege and, as a concession to the less 'pecunious' class, the Journal provides a video at the web version of the article that's free of charge--it features some of the more outrageous assaults on Barr. Here's the link:
William Barr: ‘One Standard of Justice’
The departing attorney general talks about John Durham, Robert Mueller, Hunter Biden, Mike Flynn and the flak he’s taken from both parties.
Barr starts off by explaining why he he came back to take the AG gig after Jeff Sessions had to be put out of his misery:
He reminds me why he took the job in the first place: “The Department of Justice was being used as a political weapon” by a “willful if small group of people,” who used the claim of collusion with Russia in an attempt to “topple an administration,” he says. “Someone had to make sure that the power of the department stopped being abused and that there was accountability for what had happened.” ...
Mr. Barr describes an overarching objective of ensuring that there is “one standard of justice.” That, he says, is why he appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate the FBI’s 2016 Crossfire Hurricane probe. “Of course the Russians did bad things in the election,” he says. “But the idea that this was done with the collusion of the Trump campaign—there was never any evidence. It was entirely made up.” The country deserved to know how the world’s premier law-enforcement agency came to target and spy on a presidential campaign.
A small group of "willful" people abusing the power of the DoJ--how ... regrettable. But, as others have noted, somehow there were no righteous people--either at the FBI or at DoJ itself--who were willing to blow the whistle on these few "willful" people. Why not? I think we know why not--they feared for their careers if they stuck their necks out, which tells you all you need to know about that supposedly small group of people. And the fact that the Horowitz and Durham investigations turned into such prolonged tooth pulling operations confirms that impression. There was no rush of people coming forward to assist the investigators.
That business of "one standard of justice" and stopping the abuse--how did that work out in practice?
In his resignation letter Barr rightly points out to President Trump:
Your record is all the more historic because you accomplished it in the face of relentless, implacable resistance. Your 2016 victory speech in which you reached out to your opponents and called for working together for the benefit of the American people was immediately met by a partisan onslaught against you in which no tactic, no matter how abusive and deceitful, was out of bounds. The nadir of this campaign was the effort to cripple, if not oust, your Administration with frenzied and baseless accusations of collusion with Russia.
And yet President Trump was "impeached", basically, for investigating Biden Inc.'s corrupt activities in Ukraine. At that time Barr was fully aware that Trump had solid reasons for urging an investigation. If Barr had spoken up and simply confirmed that DoJ was actually investigating the Bidens based on highly credible information then an injustice both to President Trump and to the nation might well have been avoided. Yet Barr is unapolagetic for not having spoken up. He even acknowledges that "the Justice Department’s rule against confirming probes involving office-seekers is 'not absolute'". But somehow the principle of "one standard of justice" meant--to Barr--that a President should be unjustly "impeached" while criminals should remain unnamed. Nor would any effective declassifications take place to call out those who were using "abusive and deceitful" tactics, making "frenzied and baseless accusations" that Barr knew to be false. Funny how "one standard of justice" works sometimes.
No doubt Michael Flynn is enjoying a laugh about that "one standard of justice" too. Barr is properly scathing about the treatment of Flynn:
Also outrageous, in Mr. Barr’s view, was the abuse of power by both the FBI and the Mueller team toward Mr. Trump’s associates, especially Mr. Flynn. The FBI, as a review by U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen found, pulled Mr. Flynn into an interview that had “no legitimate investigative basis.” The Mueller team then denied Mr. Flynn’s legal defense exculpatory information and pressured Mr. Flynn into pleading guilty to lying.
And yet, Barr admits--no, he seems to assert as if he's taking credit for some righteousness on his part:
Mr. Barr didn’t order a review of the case until Mr. Flynn petitioned to withdraw his guilty plea in January 2020.
In other words, despite an enormous outcry on Flynn's behalf and well publicized information about the "outrageous" and legally indefensible persecution of Flynn that Barr refers to, Barr sees it as a badge of merit that he held off taking any action whatsoever--by his account--until Flynn got some sense and replaced his conflicted lawyers with Sidney Powell. If that hadn't happened, apparently Barr would have been totally down with an innocent man being saddled with a felony. Will there ever be any of that accountability Barr talks about, justice time for the FBI and Team Mueller persecutors of Flynn? Or does Barr think the pardon was good enough? I have to say, I'm no longer holding my breath.
And speaking of the Flynn pardon, itself a result of gross abuses of judicial ethics by Sullivan and a major injustice to Flynn--well, Barr isn't speaking of it:
Mr. Barr declines to comment on Judge Sullivan’s maneuvering.
One is left wondering whether, if Barr had a mouth full of it, he'd ever say it. At least we know Sidney Powell will say it.
Another major point that Barr harps on is that, basically, DoJ can only hold people to account through intra-departmental administrative procedures or prosecution:
The attorney general also hopes people remember that orange jumpsuits aren’t the only measure of misconduct. It frustrates him that the political class these days frequently plays “the criminal card,” obsessively focused on “who is going to jail, who is getting indicted.”
One danger of the focus on criminal charges is that it ends up excusing a vast range of contemptible or abusive behavior that doesn’t reach the bar. The FBI’s use “of confidential human sources and wiretapping to investigate people connected to a campaign was outrageous,” Mr. Barr says—whether or not it leads to criminal charges.
Yet what specific actions did Barr's DoJ take to remind people of those truths? We've already noted that in the case of the fake impeachment against President Trump justice could have been served short of criminal prosecution if necessary--by a timely disclosure of directly relevant information. Perhaps that would have jeopardized a successful prosecution, but that remains a speculative issue. The important point is that some issues of overriding importance to the nation may justify accepting that risk, in the interests of justice and the health and well being of our constitutional order. The general public could well be excused if they thought that Barr held to the very view that he claims to reject--that orange jumpsuits really are the only measure of misconduct. That impression results from his repeatedly over cautious adherence to standard DoJ norms rather than aggressively seeking justice.
The same considerations come into play with regard to Barr's remarkable statement about the CIA--a statement that is getting top billing in media accounts of the interview:
The biggest news from Mr. Durham’s probe is what he has ruled out. Mr. Barr was initially suspicious that agents had been spying on the Trump campaign before the official July 2016 start date of Crossfire Hurricane, and that the Central Intelligence Agency or foreign intelligence had played a role. But even prior to naming Mr. Durham special counsel, Mr. Barr had come to the conclusion that he didn’t “see any sign of improper CIA activity” or “foreign government activity before July 2016,” he says. “The CIA stayed in its lane.”
To put this in proper perspective we have to bear in mind that Barr is referring to "the CIA" more or less as an institution. In that sense it appears to be true that, especially with regard to the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) which fueled the continuation of the Russia Hoax after President Trump's inauguration and largely justified the Mueller Witchhunt, the CIA analysts played a largely honorable role. The CIA analysts assigned to the ICA project objected strenuously to inclusion of the Steele material in the ICA (at the insistence of the FBI), and they also objected strongly to CIA Director John Brennan's intervention to slant the ICA against Trump. In that sense it's fair to say that "The CIA stayed in its lane."
The difficulty with that statement, however, arises when considering the role that Brennan played. Brennan personally overruled the strong consensus of his analysts, insisting on including dubious assessments of supposed Russian efforts to aid Trump and harm Hillary in the 2016 election. Certainly Barr himself asserts that the notion of actual collusion was "entirely made up."
Now, again bearing in mind that Brennan can argue--and probably did so argue to Durham when interviewed--that his intervention in the ICA was simply an erroneous assessment, that should not be the end of the matter from the standpoint of justice. True, making a mistaken assessment is not something a person can be prosecuted for. Nevertheless, having made that mistake immediately before Trump's inauguration, Brennan has continued to vilify President Trump in the most outrageous terms, in the face of all the evidence that has been brought forward to show how mistaken--and that's giving Brennan the total benefit of every doubt--Brennan was. Indeed, the phrase "frenzied and baseless accusations" that Barr uses in his resignation letter fits Brennan's conduct over the past four years to a tee.
Barr makes much of the danger in focusing solely on criminal prosecution as the sole standard for judging behavior, and he's right to do so. Sadly, in our contemporary society it appears that anything goes--short of behavior that can actually be prosecuted:
One danger of the focus on criminal charges is that it ends up excusing a vast range of contemptible or abusive behavior that doesn’t reach the bar.
In that light, Barr's words of exoneration regarding the CIA--while understandable with regard to the institution, and in particular with regard to the analysts who worked on the ICA--falls short of his own standards when we consider the conduct of the CIA's Director, who is, after all, the public face of the institution. The CIA analysts who worked on the ICA may well have been honorable, but it was Brennan's biased and "mistaken" overriding of their honorable work that ended up being embodied in the ICA and was presented to the world has a highly reliable view based on sound intelligence. In light of that, to say that "The CIA stayed in its lane" really doesn't cover the case. That statement will be used and misused by the same persons whose tactics--as Barr so aptly said in his resignation letter--were "abusive and deceitful", knowing no bounds of decency. Barr knows this as well as anyone in Washington, so to make such an unqualified statement regarding "the CIA", without drawing any distinctions, is a distinct disservice to President Trump--as surely as Barr's premature dismissal of election fraud was also a disservice.
For the rest, Barr says that Durham's investigation is now
tightly focused on “the conduct of Crossfire Hurricane, the small group at the FBI that was most involved in that ...”
In that regard Strassel points out that
Durham has publicly stated that he’s not convinced the FBI team had an adequate “predicate” to launch an investigation ...
and that the FBI had every reason to know that the Hillary campaign was behind the Russia Hoax.
As John Cleese might say: John Durham--master of the bleeding obvious.
The only hope offered by Barr that Durham might offer up anything in the nature of the Big Picture of what happened to Trump is that Barr says that
Durham is also looking at as well as “the activities of certain private actors.” (Mr. Barr doesn’t elaborate.)
One assumes that would include Glenn Simpson. Will it also include other individuals close to the Clinton inner circle, such as Michael Sussmann? Will Durham address the vast range of contemptible behavior that was systematically gaslighted the American people for four years--not just the Hillary campaign itself but the Adam Schiff memo and other notorious examples? I'm not holding my breath.
In many ways Barr proved to be an exemplary Attorney General. In ordinary times he might have ended his tenure regarded as one of the greatest AGs we've had. Unfortunately, in this time of constitutional crisis he will be judged to have suffered from a too constricted vision of doing justice. He talks of going beyond the limited view of setting the bar for acceptable conduct as criminal prosecution, but in practice he has done little to alter that view. To change public perception is a difficult task, one that cannot be achieved quickly--something like changing the course of a supertanker. Rather than attempting to educate the public, Barr has been content--or so it seems to me--to speak to other lawyers like himself rather than taking on the role of being an educator of the American public. I realize that's asking a lot, but it would have been easier had he exemplified his principles more clearly in the conduct of his high office when the demands of justice required a more expansive view.
UPDATE: With regard to Barr's failure to speak out effectively about Biden Inc. either at the time of the fake impeachment or later, Brett Tolman's words--which can be found here: Brett Tolman Takes Bill Barr To Task--are worth rereading. Partial quote, and note that Tolman speaks of an "absolute duty", in contrast to Barr's seeming self satisfaction with his own behavior:
MACCALLUM: [Returns to Tolman and poses the question--Yes, Barr was cautious in his response a year ago, but did "we" deserve to know more about all this during the election--from Barr? After all, we're now hearing that there are FOUR investigations going on into "the family," Biden Inc.!]
TOLMAN: Well, first of all I think it's great that you had that moment. You were one of the few asking those tough questions. I think by his [Barr'] response we can certainly see, there was some knowledge there. There was something--he was trying to be careful. They have a policy in the Department of Justice to not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, but you hit on the issue that is important, and that is: What we saw happen AFTER that was stories about Russia disinformation, 50 plus former intelligence officers indicating that there was nothing here, that this [Giuliani's information] was from Russia. At that point I believe the Attorney General absolutely had an obligation to correct the record, to make sure that that was not the case, that there was information to suggest that they were at least going to look into it. And that's OK for the American people to know, that they [DoJ/FBI] had credible leads into potential laundering of money or the movement of money that might have been illegal, involving Hunter Biden. That shoulda been said. There was enough time to do that prior to things ramping up in the election.
MACCALLUM: [If Joe Biden wasn't implicated, could Barr have spoken out sooner?]
TOLMAN: I mean, this is something where the Attorney General, who--Certainly he's 'old school'. He was Attorney General many, many years ago before we were in the political atmosphere that we are. But this called for a different response, and I think what we're going to see now is, a lot of the details coming out, and people are gonna be frustrated, they're gonna be upset. Because let me tell you, it's not just the laptop that triggered this investigation. When you have suspicious activity reports that are being filed by financial institutions, and you have the laptop, and then you have Bobulinski, you have the makings of a fairly large scale investigation into the illegal movement of money that is involving multiple people. That's a conspiracy.
This is from an email that I dashed off earlier this morning. My point, not completely articulated, is that in these extraordinary times standard departmental policies and procedures could not possibly be sufficient to the situation. That's a view that Barr vehemently disagreed with:
My guess is that at some point Barr got cold feet--particularly with regard to CIA and foreign intel services, Brits, Aussies, Italians. It was leaked in a UK paper that UK intel was saying, What's Barr trying to do, bring down the whole intel apparatus? IOW, too big to bring down. I suspect that the FBI was chosen as a handy (and most deserving) scapegoat. Certainly little of this could have happened without the FBI on board--CI pretty much can't happen without the FBI, even if foreign tips are received. However, there was also all sorts of "improper" meddling going on at DoJ, with the embryo of Team Mueller interfering re Manafort even before the election without warrant--Horowitz documented that and other instances.
This is another failing. When he changed the focus of his investigation Barr owed it to the Chief Executive to brief him in on the big picture of how he wanted to proceed--after all, Barr openly acknowledges that this was a "coup", an attempt to bring down an administration using LE and intel agencies, in cooperation with purely political operatives. The president has a need to know, but Barr seems never to have truly shared his big game plan with Trump.
Finally, Jeff Carlson has done an assessment of Barr that's balanced but critical (Where Bill Barr Failed the President). It's a lengthy article, but one portion jumps out at me. Carlson cites Barr's House testimony from July 28:
Barr later continued, saying, “We’re not going to interfere [in the election]. In fact, I’ve made it clear. I’m not going to tolerate it … Any report will be, in my judgment, not one that is covered by the policy and would disrupt the election.”
And he again noted that the investigation wasn’t focused, nor was it expected to focus, on either Obama or Biden, saying “I’ve already made it clear that neither candidate is under [investigation].”
Again we see that Barr places rigid adherence to policies and procedures above safeguarding our constitutional order. His bizarre reasoning seems to have been that such "fair" adherence to rules would convince the Dems to behave with decency. Did this irresponsible position--irresponsible, in view of all that had long been known about Biden Inc.--contribute to encouraging the MSM and Big Tech to ignore and even censor all attempts to draw attention to the Hunter and Joe Biden corruption saga? I have to believe so. Certainly his words can and will be cited in defense of the news suppression that occurred.
Compare that to Tolman's assessment. Barr's conduct was inexcusable. He has disgraced himself.