Why it matters that AG Barr is still wrong about Russia probe

I care that the attorney general is wrong about the Russia scandal probe, but I care more about what Barr intends to do about his misguided assumptions.
Image: Attorney General William Barr holds a press conference rat the Department of Justice in Washington
Attorney General William Barr holds a press conference rat the Department of Justice in Washington on Jan. 13, 2020.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP - Getty Images file
By Steve Benen

When Attorney General Bill Barr sat down with Fox News this week, he made clear that he's still upset about the investigation into the Russia scandal. In fact, the Republican lawyer used some rather striking language, insisting the federal probe calling it "was one of the greatest travesties in American history," involving federal law enforcement taking actions intended to "sabotage the presidency."

But just as importantly, Barr said the investigation itself was started "without any basis." And that, by any fair measure, is a difficult position to take seriously. What's more, its relevance lingers for reasons that may not be immediately obvious.

As an Associated Press report noted today, the attorney general "offered no support for his assertion that the FBI lacked a basis for opening the investigation and made no mention of the fact that the bureau began its probe after a Trump campaign adviser purported to have early knowledge that Russia had dirt on Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton."

What's more, let's not forget that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a report months ago on the origins of the investigation into the Russia scandal, and he found largely the opposite of what Barr claimed this week.

The 434-page report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that the FBI and the Justice Department launched their investigation into the 2016 campaign not for political reasons, but because of evidence the Russian government was using cutouts to reach out to the Trump campaign as part of its efforts to influence the election.... Horowitz found that political bias did not taint the actions of former FBI leaders who have frequently been the subject of presidential attacks.

While the inspector general also pointed to application mistakes the FBI made, and those missteps matter, Horowitz nevertheless found that the FBI's Russia investigation was legitimate, fully justified, and untainted by political bias.

And yet, there's the attorney general saying the opposite.

At this point, some of you are probably wondering why anyone should care. After all, the Russia probe appears to have run its course. Bill Barr peddling false claims on Fox News about a scandal from the recent past is annoying, but perhaps it's not altogether relevant.

Except, it is, because as far as the attorney general is concerned, this remains a live issue. In fact, Barr tapped John Durham, a top federal prosecutor in Connecticut, to investigate the investigation based on his faulty assumptions about a "travesty" of historic proportions.

Barr even suggested this week that he's prepared to bring prosecutions against those Durham targets.

I care that the attorney general is wrong, but I care more about what Barr intends to do as a result of his misguided assumptions.