William Barr testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be attorney general of the United States on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 15, 2019.
Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Satisfying Trump, AG Barr investigates the investigation


The Rachel Maddow Show, 5/13/19, 9:58 PM ET

Barr indulges Trump with another probe of Trump-Russia inquiry

Rachel Maddow shares new reporting from the New York Times that Attorney General William Barr is assigning the U.S. attorney in Connecticut the task of investigating the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation, at least the third such
It wasn’t long after the release of the Mueller report that the Republican message featured an important contradiction. Donald Trump, for example, declared that there should be “no more costly and time-consuming investigations,” a message echoed by other Republicans who’ve insisted that Congress should “legislate not investigate.”

At the same time, however, the president and his allies have also demanded an aggressive probe into the origins – or as Trump calls it, the “oranges” – into how the probe into the Russia scandal began in the first place. It created an awkward political dynamic: Republicans want an end to investigations – except for the investigation into the investigators.

Attorney General Bill Barr appears to care far more about the latter position than the former. Indeed, the New York Times reported that Barr has assigned a federal prosecutor to “examine the origins of the Russia investigation.”

John H. Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut, has a history of serving as a special prosecutor investigating potential wrongdoing among national security officials, including the F.B.I.’s ties to a crime boss in Boston and accusations of C.I.A. abuses of detainees.

His inquiry is the third known investigation focused on the opening of an F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation during the 2016 presidential campaign into possible ties between Russia’s election interference and Trump associates.

The president’s attorneys are delighted, but the rest of us probably shouldn’t be. As Rachel noted at the end of last night’s show, we still don’t know what happened to the counter-intelligence investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, but the attorney general is nevertheless moving forward with another examination of the probe itself.

If the Times’ report is correct, it suggests John Durham’s probe will run concurrently with the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation into the investigation, the John Huber investigation initiated by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the probe launched by the inspector general of the Justice Department.

It’s against this backdrop that Barr effectively said, “Let’s launch another one.”

And why is that? The attorney general can speak to his own motivations, of course, but it’s probably not a coincidence that Barr is following the path Donald Trump wants to see: one in which the Justice Department acts in concert with the White House’s political agenda.

This may get worse before it gets better: the president told Politico late last week that he believes it would be perfectly “appropriate” for him to speak with his attorney general about launching an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, one of his leading 2020 rivals.

If I were to rank the most alarming aspects of Trump’s presidency, his vision of weaponizing law enforcement would at or near the top.

For his part, Barr told senators last week, “We have to stop using the criminal justice process as a political weapon.” It’d be more reassuring if the public could have greater confidence that he and his boss were committed to such a principle.

Donald Trump and Justice Department

Satisfying Trump, AG Barr investigates the investigation