The Washington Post
As the political world struggles to digest the enormity of Attorney General William Barrâ€™s profound corruption of his role on President Donald Trumpâ€™s behalf, itâ€™s worth stepping back and surveying a distilled version of what we know, now that special counsel Robert Muellerâ€™s redacted report has been released:
- Russia launched a massive attack on our political system, undermining the integrity of our elections, to elect Trump president.
- U.S. law enforcement launched an investigation primarily aimed at getting to the bottom of that attack, so we could fully reckon with what happened and ensure the integrity of future elections.
- Trump tried in multiple ways to derail that accounting of this massive attack on our political system - and then tried to bury the truth about that derailment effort - in a manner that was at best corrupt, and at worst criminal.
The simplest way to understand much of what Barr has done - and what Trumpworld will be doing to impede inquiries going forward - is that itâ€™s mainly aimed at obscuring the broad contours of that larger story.
The point here is not that everything theyâ€™re doing is deliberately aimed at this end. Itâ€™s that this bigger story is at the center of everything - and by â€śbiggest crime of all,â€ť I mean Trumpâ€™s most monstrous wrong - and thus efforts to keep smaller truths from coming out will inevitably be about obscuring that larger story.
1. The Barr summary. Barrâ€™s summary quoted the Mueller reportâ€™s claim that he had not established criminal conspiracy, but Barr omitted the sentence fragment saying the Trump campaign â€śexpectedâ€ť to â€śbenefitâ€ť from Russian help. Barr also took Muellerâ€™s words out of context to omit the conclusion that Trump was motivated to obstruct the investigation because it â€śwould call into question the legitimacy of his electionâ€ť by spotlighting Russian interference.
This allowed Trump to claim total exoneration on the details, but on that larger story as well: It obscured Trump and his campaignâ€™s embrace of Russian interference and his extensive efforts to prevent an accounting of it. We now know Mueller was deeply concerned that this had profoundly misled the public about the gravity of what he had found, that is, in a big-picture manner.
2. Barrâ€™s clearance of Trump on obstruction. At the hearing, Barr engaged in extraordinary verbal gymnastics to argue that, when Trump ordered former White House counsel Donald McGahn to get Mueller fired - which he then pressed McGahn to lie about - he didnâ€™t actually quite mean that.
This is deeply questionable, because in this case, Mueller flatly concluded there was â€śsubstantial evidenceâ€ť Trump had acted with corrupt intent, â€śto deflect or prevent further scrutiny.â€ť But as legal experts tell The Washington Post, whatâ€™s crucial here is that Barr went beyond claiming Trump shouldnâ€™t have been indicted, per Justice Department policy, and strained to argue that the underlying misconduct itself was no big deal.
Similarly, in a big moment, Barr declared Trump could terminate the investigation if he believed he was being â€śfalsely accused,â€ť and it wouldnâ€™t display â€ścorrupt intent.â€ť This basically puts Trump above the law, but, like the above example, it also clears Trump of the underlying misconduct - Trumpâ€™s efforts to derail an investigation into a Russian attack on our election were no biggie, because he decreed heâ€™d been unfairly swept up in that investigation.
Barrâ€™s constant efforts to downplay the importance of the original investigation itself are important to keep in mind. Which leads us to . . .
3. The replacement narrative. When Barr validates Trumpâ€™s conspiracy theories about â€śspyingâ€ť on his campaign, heâ€™s propping up the alt-narrative that Trumpworld has been spinning - that the investigation was illegitimately aimed at removing Trump, and that investigators corruptly overlooked the real criminal - Hillary Clinton.
The idea that there was no legitimate basis for the probe is a backdoor way of saying that the Russian assault on our political system, irrespective of any criminal conspiracy with it, was not worth investigating (and by extension, that tacit Trumpworld collusion with it is also no biggie).
Indeed, Barr has basically copped to all those things. At the hearing, Barr validated the idea that Clinton may have been the real colluder, cast doubt on the investigationâ€™s genesis, and even declined to say that the Trump campaignâ€™s embrace of Russian help mattered.
Many Republicans are all in with this narrative, which you saw when GOP Senators used the hearing to steer the subject back to Clinton as the real colluder and the deep state plot against Trump.
Whatâ€™s stunning about all this is that Barr does not appear to be a conspiracy theorist. Heâ€™s playing footsie with this alt-narrative for cynical instrumental purposes, and these other Republicans probably are as well.
4. The coming obstruction. Imagine Mueller testifying to Congress about the relative merits of the real narrative (Trump corruptly impeded an investigation into an attack on our election and then tried to cover that up) versus the alt-narrative (deep state coup), and you see why Barr is reluctant to agree to a date for Muellerâ€™s testimony.
Similarly, the White House may try to block McGahn from testifying - since he might vividly inform the public on the true nature of Trumpâ€™s efforts to impede that investigation into Russian sabotage.
Meanwhile, Trumpâ€™s blockading of Democratic efforts to access his finances - through closeting his tax returns and lawsuits against outside entities - may be about obscuring foreign financial entanglements, an apparent target of Democratic investigations.
Trump continues to refuse to acknowledge the Russian attack ever happened, because so doing would diminish the greatness of his victory. Worse, this has cramped the governmentâ€™s efforts to combat the next attack. Barr is helping to quasi-validate this, while minimizing Trumpâ€™s corrupt and likely criminal efforts to bury a reckoning with all of it.
Itâ€™s doubtful this will all go according to plan. There are too many constraints built into the system. There are too many ongoing investigations for Trump to outrun. But we should be clear about whatâ€™s being attempted: The stage is set for an investigation of the investigators, and the supplanting of a real crime with a fictional one.