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Bill Barr Owes America Some Money
The Durham investigation was a huge waste of government resources.
Happy Friday to all my beautiful babies. I have a quicker Jackal today, mostly because it was a slow news week. My original title was going to be, “Joe Biden is Cruising to Re-Election,” which is still relevant given the good GDP news we got recently and the continued insanity of the Republican caucus. But I wanted to touch on something that was completely in my legal wheelhouse: The Bombshell™ New York Times story about John Durham’s investigation.
John Durham is a special investigator appointed by former Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.
Barr did this even though an internal report showed that the investigation into Trump and Russia was properly predicated and opened without political motive.
Durham has been on the case for four years and has turned up nothing. He is apparently writing his final report now.
Last year he brought indictments against two men who had relationships with Hillary Clinton’s Campaign: Michael Sussmann and Igor Danchenko. Durham lost both cases.
Durham is back in the news because the New York Times released a wild story about Durham yesterday. Not only is Durham pretty close to being finished with his investigation, but we also got lots of new details about how it was conducted. Spoiler: It wasn’t really on the up and up.
The Times’ report is here and worth reading in full. There are a lot of nutty factoids in it that I’ll get into below, but the thing that stands out the most to me is how involved Bill Barr was in Durham’s investigation. At every turn you see Barr trying to direct Durham and steer it to the conclusions he wants, often meeting with Durham on a weekly basis. It got so wild that one of the members of Durham’s team resigned because of the political interference from Barr. This obviously never happened with Robert Mueller’s investigation, which saw little to no interaction with Rod Rosenstein or Jeff Sessions. At one point just before the 2020 election, Barr tried to get Durham to release an “interim” report so that it would hurt Biden’s chances (sources close to Barr pushed back on this).
Ultimately Durham couldn’t release the report because (surprise) it wasn’t factual. But it highlights how bizarre Barr’s actions were throughout the investigation. All that said, the New York Times story is a bombshell for largely three reasons:
During his investigation, Durham used memos from Russian Intelligence to try and get the emails of an aide to George Soros. He was warned that the memos were unreliable and filled with misinformation, and tried to use them anyway. Durham went to a judge to get permission and was denied twice. Totally nuts, and something conservatives freaked out about when it was done to Carter Page.
Barr and Durham kept the inquiry going even after it became clear that the Russia investigation was opened properly. Moreover, members of Durham’s team resigned when he tried to ham-string charges against people like Sussmann and Danchenko. Barr specifically had hoped to use the probe to interfere in the 2020 election.
While they were investigating, Barr and Durham received intelligence from the Italians about Trump engaging in an illegal financial scheme. It was so serious that it couldn’t be ignored, but rather than assign it to another special counsel, Barr gave it to Durham. No one knows what happened to the probe.
The last point is pretty wild. Here are the details from the NYT:
On one of Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham’s trips to Europe, according to people familiar with the matter, Italian officials — while denying any role in setting off the Russia investigation — unexpectedly offered a potentially explosive tip linking Mr. Trump to certain suspected financial crimes. Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham decided that the tip was too serious and credible to ignore. But rather than assign it to another prosecutor, Mr. Barr had Mr. Durham investigate the matter himself — giving him criminal prosecution powers for the first time — even though the possible wrongdoing by Mr. Trump did not fall squarely within Mr. Durham’s assignment to scrutinize the origins of the Russia inquiry, the people said. Mr. Durham never filed charges, and it remains unclear what level of an investigation it was, what steps he took, what he learned and whether anyone at the White House ever found out. The extraordinary fact that Mr. Durham opened a criminal investigation that included scrutinizing Mr. Trump has remained secret.
Way back in 2019 - when Barr and Durham got this evidence - there were public media reports about Durham’s probe turning “criminal.” Here is how Fox News reported it:
Clearly the interpretation of the news was that Durham was investigating the FBI for criminal misconduct. In reality, Durham was actually investigating Trump himself. Here is Fox’s interpretation:
Sources told Fox News that Durham was "very interested" to question former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan, an anti-Trump critic who recently dismissed the idea. The New York Times reported Thursday that Durham's criminal review has prompted some CIA officials to obtain criminal legal counsel in anticipation of being interviewed.
The most frustrating part of all of this is that Barr was happy to talk to the Press and spin Durham’s investigation the way he wanted. Even after Mueller released the report, Barr mischaracterized it publicly and forever altered media coverage of the Mueller investigation. That’s why I was happy to see the NYT frame the Mueller investigation correctly in this piece:
A month after Mr. Barr was confirmed as attorney general in February 2019, the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ended the Russia investigation and turned in his report without charging any Trump associates with engaging in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow over its covert operation to help Mr. Trump win the 2016 election.
Mr. Trump would repeatedly portray the Mueller report as having found “no collusion with Russia.” The reality was more complex. In fact, the report detailed “numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign,” and it established both how Moscow had worked to help Mr. Trump win and how his campaign had expected to benefit from the foreign interference (my emphasis).
I think Dave Chappelle (don’t hurt me) said it best in his SNL monologue a few months ago:
Democrats were sore losers. I'm a Democrat, and I'm telling you as soon as he won, they started saying all that he's colluding with Russia, he's colluding with Russia. It was very embarrassing as a Democrat, but as time went on, we all came to learn he was probably colluding with Russia. I even look at his wife different now. His wife is beautiful, no question about it, but she looks like the kind of chick that James Bond would smash but not trust.
Chappelle’s delivery makes it funnier, but it’s truly amazing that Barr and Durham spent four years trying to dispel this factual narrative using your taxpayer dollars. What also stands out to me from the report is how convinced Barr and Durham were of their theory. Throughout the NYT piece it has people who knew Durham saying things like they were “surprised” he got caught up in a conspiracy because he was such a solid prosecutor. But the NYT also notes the similarities between Barr and Durham, namely that they are both born in 1950. As older white Boomers, my guess is that both of them have Fox News Brain.
Throughout the Trump Administration you had lots of people like Mollie Hemingway popping up on Fox News and spouting an entirely made-up conspiracy about the Russia investigation. It seems pretty obvious that Barr and Durham bought into it, largely because all of conservative media (save for a few outlets) kept repeating it. What we’ve seen happen over the past EIGHT years since Trump started his run for President is that there will always be someone who will defend him, because it is an easy way to raise your profile. Does anyone remember where people like Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany got their start? They were originally the pro-Trump people on CNN. They both took that spot because they knew very few people who were intellectually honest were ready to defend things like the Muslim Ban or child separations. It worked out for both of them: McEnany is now a contributor to Fox News (and possibly making seven figures doing it), and Lord is a commentator for every right-wing gutter outlet, from Newsmax to the Daily Caller, which sounds less glamorous until you hear he has a net worth of around $5 million.
The problem with defending someone like Trump is that there often is no defending him, so in order to mount an argument that is even halfway decent/moral, you have to make stuff up, like that the FBI worked with Hillary Clinton to stop him from winning the 2016 election, even though the FBI kept their investigation of him from the public. Makes perfect sense in a negative 4K butt chess sort of way.
The need for this sort of defense of Trump has spilled out into the greater GOP, pushing them in to more extreme beliefs. From Brian Klaas:
But the most worrying shifts have happened in the Trump and post-Trump era. While there’s limited evidence that more Americans believe conspiracy theories than in the past, conspiratorial thinking has become more politically influential. It’s now warping every aspect of our politics.
And partly, that’s because a lot of people get rich by spreading conspiracy theories. The problem with these views becoming embedded in the right-wing political mainstream is that it makes compromise impossible because the stakes are so high. After all, if you believe in the delusions of QAnon, who would want to compromise with a party that — you believe — drinks the blood of children?
I’ll use this to transition to the biggest story that dropped today: The police video of the attack on Paul Pelosi was released and (spoiler), it shows exactly what the mainstream media reported, which was that Pelosi was attacked by a deranged QAnon-supporter who was looking to hurt Nancy Pelosi. I wrote about it previously, here and here.
You would think that a video of the incident itself, court documents showing that Pelosi’s attacker admitted to his crime, and testimony from police themselves would convince people to change their minds. But instead, conservatives doubled-down and stuck to their story that this was an octogenarian and his lover having a spat. Here is an actual, serious tweet from (presumably) a real person:
A second after this, DePape starts swinging at Pelosi. Just absolutely wild that people do not believe their own eyes.
The underlying point here is that the distance between Barr and “Bobo Osbourne” really isn’t all that much. Barr got sucked into nutty theories about the Russia investigation, and the “extremely online” version of the Right has done the same with the Pelosi story. You may say to yourself, “OK, but at least Barr didn’t believe in election fraud.” That’s true, and it proves that Barr has a line. But that line did not prevent him from wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on a witch hunt that he knew was turning up nothing. And it resulted in the corrupt prosecution of two men, one of them an American citizen.
Thanks to his conspiracies, Barr actually turned the Durham investigation into all of the worst aspects he imagined plagued the Russia investigation.
This, from Greg Sargent on how things like the infrastructure bill are helping MAGA-aligned parts of the U.S. is pretty great. And it’s a reminder that just because someone voted for Trump does not mean that they do not deserve happiness and full access to the American dream.
I have to link to a local Long Island story on George Santos’s old Facebook posts.
See everyone next week.