After Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his report yesterday afternoon on the FBI's investigation into the Russia scandal, Donald Trump and his team were left in a difficult position. After all, Horowitz had just exposed months of presidential rhetoric as brazen lies and shredded each of Trump's conspiracy theories about a "witch hunt," launched by the "deep state" in federal law enforcement.
Within two hours of the inspector general's findings reaching the public, Team Trump was reduced to simultaneously arguing to Americans that Horowitz's report was (a) an accurate assessment that totally vindicated all of the president's ridiculous claims; and (b) was an inaccurate assessment that the public should reject.
Apparently unable to experience shame, Bill Barr embraced the latter tack.
Attorney General William Barr on Monday rejected a key conclusion of an investigation conducted by his own agency's watchdog that a probe into Russian interference into the 2016 election was justified.Barr, in a lengthy statement, called the FBI's investigation into Moscow's interference "intrusive" and said it had been launched "on the thinnest of suspicions" -- even though the Justice Department's inspector general report released Monday concluded that the overall probe was justified and not motivated by politics.
There is a familiarity to the circumstances. When then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report was completed, the attorney general tried to pre-spin it -- before anyone could read the findings for themselves -- as great news for the White House. The dishonest political ploy, by design, muddled the public's understanding of Mueller's investigation.
Yesterday, Barr tried to do effectively the same thing, except this time, the attorney general didn't get a head start -- and the document the Republican lawyer tried to spin was readily available, and there was no need for the public to rely on Barr's agenda-driven rhetoric.
We're learning quite a bit about how this attorney general approaches his unique and powerful responsibilities, and none of what we're learning is good.
Complicating matters is the other statement released yesterday afternoon.
In addition, John Durham, U.S. attorney for Connecticut -- whom Barr tapped in May to conduct a special investigation into the larger question of whether any of the U.S. government efforts to investigate Russian election interference involved improper surveillance of the Trump campaign -- also criticized the IG report."Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report's conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened," Durham said in a statement.
As a Washington Post analysis added, "It's the kind of thing that wouldn't be surprising from Barr, whose heavy-handed handling of the Mueller report was hugely controversial and misleading.... But Durham is someone who rarely speaks publicly. It's hard not to read that statement as him aligning with Barr's approach to these matters."
And given that Durham is currently overseeing an ostensible criminal investigation, the fact that he'd weigh in with a political statement at all was "bizarre," according to David Laufman, who served as the Justice Department's top counterintelligence official in the Obama and Trump administrations.
Understating matters, a Vox report added, "Altogether, it made for some highly unusual pushback against the Justice Department's internal watchdog, raising further questions about the mysterious Durham investigation, as well as concerns over the department's politicization under Barr."