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Trump presses Barr to target his perceived enemies before election

Normally, this would be a presidency-defining moment. Under Trump, it was maybe the 17th biggest political story in the United States.
Image: Trump Signs Order For Task Force For Missing And Murdered Native Americans
Attorney General William Barr and President Donald Trump attend a signing ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House on Nov. 26, 2019.Drew Angerer / Getty Images file

It was last year when the Justice Department's inspector general concluded that there was nothing improper about the federal investigation into the Russian scandal. Attorney General Bill Barr said he didn't much care about those independent findings, and he instead tapped U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate the investigation.

Yesterday, Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo asked Donald Trump about Durham's probe, and the president was largely unrestrained in his response. From Fox News' report:

"Obama knew everything. Vice President Biden, as dumb as he may be, knew everything, and everybody else knew. And [former FBI Director James] Comey, and [former CIA Director John] Brennan, and [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper, they were all terrible, they lied to Congress," the president added. "They spied on my campaign, which is treason," he continued. "They spied, both before and after I won, using the intelligence apparatus of the United States to take down a president, a legally elected president, a duly elected president of the United States. It is the single biggest political crime in the history of our country."

Trump went on to say he hopes Durham and Barr will not be "politically correct" -- a phrase the president clearly does not understand the meaning of -- before publicly pressing the attorney general to target his perceived political enemies.

"Bill Barr has the chance to be the greatest of all time, but if he wants to be politically correct, he'll be just another guy, because he knows all the answers, he knows what they have, and it goes right to Obama and it goes right to Biden," Trump said.

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, the conspiracy theory the president described is ridiculous. No one spied on his campaign. His perceived enemies did not commit treason. No one in the Obama White House, U.S. intelligence agencies, or federal law enforcement committed "the crime of the century."

And with this in mind, it's certainly unsettling to hear Trump hysterically peddle nonsense like this. It's emblematic of a man who appears to be unraveling, buckling under the pressure of the moment.

But let's not miss the forest for the trees: the point of the president's little on-air tantrum was to press his attorney general: Trump said in order for Barr to be "the greatest of all time," the president expects the Republican attorney to go after Trump's perceived enemies post haste.

In other words, Americans heard a sitting president tell a national broadcast audience that his opponents are guilty of treason, and he expects the Justice Department to use the levers of power to target his enemies shortly before an election.

Normally, this would be a presidency-defining moment. Because of what's become of our politics, this was maybe the 17th biggest political story in the United States yesterday.

That's partly the result of the nation growing accustomed to Trump's abuses and corruption. Indeed, the Mueller Report documented multiple instances in which the president tried to dictate a Justice Department investigation into Hillary Clinton. It's become one of the scandalous staples of his term.

And by all appearances, Bill Barr is playing his role without objection. The attorney general appeared on a conservative talk show yesterday -- on the heels of a different conservative talk show appearance earlier in the week -- and said he expects the Justice Department to release information about the investigation into the investigation soon. "We are gonna proceed with this investigation and not put it on hold right now during election season," Barr said.

Later, as part of an entirely different conservative talk show appearance -- it's as if the attorney general is on a far-right media tour during an election season -- further committed to releasing information from the supposedly independent Durham probe before voters cast their ballots.

"[W]e certainly are aware of the calendar," Barr added yesterday.

I bet he is.