The editorial board of the New York Times published a good overview piece of Donald Trump's brewing scandal over the weekend, highlighting prominent members of the cast of characters, and took note of Attorney General Bill Barr. "Mr. Barr," the editorial said, "is neck-deep in this mess."
As new revelations come to the fore, it's probably safe to say the mess is even deeper now. The Washington Post had this striking report overnight:
Attorney General William P. Barr has held private meetings overseas with foreign intelligence officials seeking their help in a Justice Department inquiry that President Trump hopes will discredit U.S. intelligence agencies' examination of possible connections between Russia and members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the matter. [...]The attorney general's active role also underscores the degree to which a nearly three-year-old election still consumes significant resources and attention inside the federal government. Current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials expressed frustration and alarm Monday that the head of the Justice Department was taking such a direct role in reexamining what they view as conspiracy theories and baseless allegations of misconduct.
While Donald Trump is likely to be impeached over his efforts to coerce a foreign government to help with his 2020 campaign, Barr has been focused on an investigate-the-investigators scheme, overseen in part by John Durham, a U.S. attorney. To that end, the Post added that the attorney general "has already made overtures to British intelligence officials, and last week the attorney general traveled to Italy, where he and Durham met senior Italian government officials and Barr asked the Italians to assist Durham."
In other words, Bill Barr has sought foreign assistance in response to conspiracy theories about the conclusions of his own country's intelligence agencies.
It was against this backdrop that the New York Times was first to report that Donald Trump pressed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to help Barr "gather information for a Justice Department inquiry that Mr. Trump hopes will discredit the Mueller investigation."
The article described it as another example of the American president "using high-level diplomacy to advance his personal political interests."
And, of course, it serves as an example of Barr using his office to play a direct role in helping Trump advance his personal interests.
Indeed, it's amazing just how frequently the attorney general's name keeps coming up. In the now-infamous call summary with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, for example, the rough transcript showed Trump telling his foreign counterpart that Barr would be in touch with him as part of the White House's political plans. It was around this time that we learned that the whistleblower complaint from the intelligence community, which also implicated the attorney general, was referred to Barr's Justice Department, which ignored it -- except to help delay its disclosure to Congress.
In her latest New York Times column, Michelle Goldberg asked, "Just how corrupt is Bill Barr?" Given the circumstances, she's unlikely to be the only one asking the question.