Attorney General William Barr.
Photo: CBS This Morning
After the legal Establishment had granted him the benefit of the doubt, Attorney General William Barr has shocked his erstwhile supporters with his aggressive and frequently dishonest interventions on behalf of President Trump. The spectacle of an esteemed lawyer abetting his would-be strongman boss’s every authoritarian instinct has left Barr’s critics grasping for explanations. Some have seized on the darker threads of his history in the Reagan and Bush administrations, when he misled the public about a secret Department of Justice memo and helped cover up the Iran-Contra scandal.
But Barr’s long, detailed interview with Jan Crawford suggests the rot goes much deeper than a simple mania for untrammeled Executive power. Barr has drunk deep from the Fox News worldview of Trumpian paranoia.
It is hard to convey how far over the edge Barr has gone without reading the entire interview, which lasted an hour. But a few key comments illustrate the depth of his investment in Trump’s perspective.
Barr, as he has done repeatedly, provides a deeply misleading account of what Robert Mueller found. “He did not reach a conclusion,” he says. “He provided both sides of the issue, and … his conclusion was he wasn’t exonerating the president, but he wasn’t finding a crime either.”
As Mueller stated in the report and again at his press conference, he felt bound by a policy preventing him from charging the president with a crime, or even saying the president had committed a crime. Mueller’s view is that his job vis-à-vis presidential misconduct is to describe the behavior and leave it up to Congress to decide if it’s a crime. Several hundred former federal prosecutors have stated, and Mueller clearly signaled, the actions he described in the Mueller report are crimes, or would be if the president could be charged with a crime.
Later in the interview, Barr grossly contradicts Mueller’s findings with regard to Trump’s ties to Russia. “Mueller has spent two and half years, and the fact is, there is no evidence of a conspiracy,” he says. “So it was bogus, this whole idea that the Trump was in cahoots with the Russians is bogus.”
This is just a wild lie. Mueller was unable to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump and Russia. He was unable to establish this, in part, because “some individuals invoked their Fifth Amendment right,” or “provided information that was false or incomplete,” or “deleted relevant communications.” Indeed, the two Trump campaign officials most closely linked to Russian cutouts, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, refused to cooperate with prosecutors. A failure to establish a criminal conspiracy is not the same thing as finding “no evidence of a conspiracy.” Nowhere does the Mueller report say there’s no evidence of a conspiracy. Some of the potential conspiracy elements were unprovable — Mueller never figured out why Manafort gave 75 pages of polling data to a Russian agent.
Barr, amazingly, goes even farther to say the report proved “this whole idea that the Trump was in cahoots with the Russians is bogus.” In fact, the Mueller report notes that it did not even try to establish whether the campaign was “in cahoots” with Russia. The report states that it “applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of ‘collusion.’”
The report in fact finds extensive evidence that Trump was in cahoots with Russia. His top campaign officials took a meeting with a Russian agent promising them help from the Russian government. Trump asked Russia on camera to hack his opponent’s emails, and they carried out a hacking attempt that day. Trump was pursuing a lucrative, no-risk business deal requiring Russian government approval during the campaign and lying about it, making him vulnerable to blackmail by Russia. Sharing an explosive secret that could destroy your campaign in order to potentially collect a massive payoff from a party that you know is doing illegal things to help you is the definition of being in cahoots.
Barr goes on to repeat Trump’s obsession with texts capturing the political chatter of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two romantically-involved FBI agents. “It’s hard to read some of the texts with and not feel that there was gross bias at work, and they’re appalling,” he tells Crawford.
There is, in fact, nothing unusual about FBI agents expressing political opinions. An investigation by the FBI’s Inspector General “did not find evidence to connect the political views expressed in these messages to the specific investigative decisions that we reviewed.” And no serious person doubts the overall weight of political opinion at the FBI leans rightward. The bureau has never had a Democratic director, and James Comey testified that, during the campaign, agents appeared to be leaking heavily to Rudy Giuliani. (Comey violated policy by scolding Clinton, and then publicly reopening the investigation, in part due to the pressure of the leaks from the FBI’s pro-Trump cabal.) Barr’s depiction of the FBI as a bastion of anti-Trump sentiment is grossly at odds with the evidence.
Even more astonishingly, Barr proceeds from that false premise to liken the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Trump to right-wing birther conspiracies:
I think if the shoe was on the other foot we could be hearing a lot about it. If those kinds of discussions were held, you know, when Obama first ran for office, people talking about Obama in those tones and suggesting that “Oh that he might be a Manchurian candidate for Islam or something like that.” You know some wild accusations like that and you had that kind of discussion back and forth, you don’t think we would be hearing a lot more about it?
By likening the Russia scandal to birther conspiracies, Barr is tracking the arguments made by the most fanatical members of the pro-Trump commentariat, who treat it as a complete hoax. In fact, the Trump campaign had dozens and dozens of contacts with Russians, cultivating and relying on their hidden and sometimes illegal support. For Barr to liken these connections to a completely fabricated theory about Obama as a secret Muslim agent boggles the mind.
Barr portrays the Russia investigation as an effort to overturn Trump’s election:
I mean, republics have fallen because of Praetorian Guard mentality where government officials get very arrogant, they identify the national interest with their own political preferences and they feel that anyone who has a different opinion, you know, is somehow an enemy of the state. And you know, there is that tendency that they know better and that, you know, they’re there to protect as guardians of the people. That can easily translate into essentially supervening the will of the majority and getting your own way as a government official.
This is Trump’s own favorite conspiracy theory, dressed up in more elevated language than Trump himself can muster — “Praetorian Guard mentality” — but making the same ugly charge that the FBI plotted an illegal coup to stop Trump’s election.
Barr hints repeatedly throughout the interview that he has seen secret evidence he cannot share that supports his sinister conclusion. “I have not gotten answers that are well satisfactory, and in fact probably have more questions, and that some of the facts that I’ve learned don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened,” he says. “That’s all I really will say. Things are just not jiving.”
It is impossible to disprove Barr’s claim to have uncovered a secret cabal to defeat Trump. But one might wonder why this cabal chose to infiltrate Trump’s campaign in an effort to smear him as a Russian stooge, and then fail to use the dirt before the election. Indeed, even as reporters were probing Trump’s growing swath of shady Russia ties, the FBI was aggressively spinning the opposite story to the media. The New York Times reported this spin in a now-infamous story asserting “No clear link to Russia,” and “even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.”
Barr’s theory is that a partisan cabal of rabid Trump-haters decided to undermine his campaign by ginning up a phony scandal that they kept secret, even lying to the media, is like the Dr. Strangelove Soviet Doomsday machine. (The device deterred a nuclear first strike by automatically launching a response, but the Soviets neglected to tell the United States because “the Premier loves surprises.”)
The most frighteningly clarifying comment comes at the end, when Barr lays out his belief that President Trump poses no threat whatsoever to democratic norms. The threat is the “resistance”:
I think one of the ironies today is that people are saying that it’s President Trump that’s shredding our institutions. I really see no evidence of that, it is hard, and I really haven’t seen … particulars as to how that’s being done. From my perspective the idea of resisting a democratically elected president and basically throwing everything at him and, you know, really changing the norms on the grounds that we have to stop this president, that is where the shredding of our norms and our institutions is occurring.
In fact, the opposition to Trump has been marked, on the whole, by its fastidious restraint. At times Barr has used their restraint against them. Because Mueller believed his role prevents him from labeling Trump’s actions crimes, Barr says Mueller couldn’t decide if they were criminal or not. He says the relatively mild steps taken to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia during the campaign prove the concerns couldn’t have been serious. (“I’m wondering what exactly was the response to it if they were alarmed,” he sneers to Crawford. “Surely the response should have been more than just, you know, dangling a confidential informant in front of a peripheral player in the Trump campaign.”) If the FBI was investigating Trump, it proves they were out to get him, but if they tread lightly, it proves Trump was innocent.
As far as Barr is concerned, Trump has done nothing wrong, and all the shredding of norms has been done against him, not by him. Trump’s calls to jail all his opponents, his non-stop lies, his demands to punish independent media and satirists, his open conviction that law enforcement should operate at his personal command and follow him loyally, not to mention the repeated obstruction of justice detailed by Mueller — none of it concerns Barr even slightly.
Everything Barr has said and done during this investigation tells us he is not lying about this belief. The terrifying truth is that he all but surely believes every word.
In Terrifying Interview, William Barr Goes Full MAGA
Promoted links by Taboola
The Unifying Energy of ‘Same Energy’ Posts
By Brian Feldman
An improvised system for classifying and organizing the internet takes hold on social media.
7 Actually Good Things That Happened This Week
By Margaret Hartmann
Whales are back in NYC, Star Wars is real, and there was a wedding in a school gym.
A Kasich Primary Challenge to Trump Ain’t Happening
By Ed Kilgore
Once the Ohioan was perceived as a viable challenger to Trump’s renomination. Now he’d need to put on a red hat to get any sort of GOP audience.
The Abortion Wars, 10 Years After George Tiller’s Assassination
By Ed Kilgore
After demonizing late-term providers for years, the anti-abortion movement now attacks all legalized abortion, as pro-choice advocates grow bolder.
Some solid MMT humor
the national interest
the national interest
In Terrifying Interview, William Barr Goes Full MAGA
By Jonathan Chait
Attorney general insists the only norms being shredded are by people investigating Trump.
It’s hard to pick out the craziest detail here
Judy Shelton, a senior US official who is being vetted for a job on the board of the Federal Reserve, has attacked the central bank for wielding undemocratic, Soviet-style powers over markets and suggested it should not even be in the business of setting interest rates.
In an interview with the Financial Times at the Trump International Hotel in Washington this week, Ms Shelton called on the Fed to “think about whether they are doing more harm than good”. If appointed to the board, she would be “asking tough questions” about its most basic mission, she said.
… Ms Shelton has long been sympathetic to the gold standard, which the US fully abandoned in the early 1970s in favour of a flexible exchange rate for the dollar. “People call me a goldbug, and I think, well, what does that make them? A Fed bug,” she says. Her big dream is a new Bretton Woods-style conference — “if it takes place at Mar-a-Lago that would be great” — to reset the international monetary system, replacing the current regime, mostly based on floating currencies. Ms Shelton said countries should agree to tie their currencies to a “neutral reference point, a benchmark” — which she envisages to be a “convertible gold-backed bond”.
Trump’s Plan to Seal the Border by Putting Tariffs on Mexico Will Backfire
By Eric Levitz
The move threatens approval of Trump’s new NAFTA, jeopardizes the economic expansion, and could actually make Mexico less cooperative on immigration.
Spotify Is Testing a Social Listening Feature
By Brian Feldman
The new functionality hearkens back to the days of Turntable.fm.
Horrifying conditions at the border
The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General has found “dangerous overcrowding” and unsanitary conditions at an El Paso, Texas, Border Patrol processing facility following an unannounced inspection, according to a report obtained by CNN.
The IG found “standing room only conditions” at the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center, which has a maximum capacity of 125 migrants, but on May 7 and 8, logs indicated that there were “approximately 750 and 900 detainees, respectively.”
A cell with a maximum capacity of 12 held 76 detainees, another with a maximum capacity of 8 held 41 detainees, and another with a maximum capacity of 35 held 155 detainees, according to the report.
“(Customs and Border Protection) was struggling to maintain hygienic conditions in the holding cells. With limited access to showers and clean clothing, detainees were wearing soiled clothing for days or weeks,” the report states.
“We also observed detainees standing on toilets in the cells to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets,” it adds.
“Corrective action is critical to the immediate health and safety needs of detainees, who cannot continue to be held in standing-room-only conditions for weeks until additional tents are constructed,” the report states.
Andrew Sullivan: This Is What a Real Conservative Looks Like
By Andrew Sullivan
Among the key virtues is restraint — like that Robert Mueller has shown. Another is safeguarding the rule of law — see, Justin Amash.
San Francisco is the place to be this weekend
Several Democratic U.S. presidential candidates will make appearances in San Francisco starting Thursday, as the California Democratic Party Organizing Convention is set to kick off in the city on Friday.
The three-day CDP convention is the largest gathering of active Democrats in the state, with more than 3,400 delegates set to attend.
Saturday’s lineup includes 2020 presidential hopefuls U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, as well as former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Eric Swalwell, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will also appear on Saturday.
Warren Calls for Making Prosecution of Sitting Presidents Possible
By Ed Kilgore
The first 2020 candidate to call for Trump’s impeachment offers a way to make future impeachment proceedings less necessary.
This went to a weird place
Asked by CBS News’ Jan Crawford about concerns over his reputation for defending the president amid ongoing probes into the administration’s alleged ties to the Russian government and claims that Mr. Trump obstructed justice, [Attorney General] Barr appeared indifferent.
“I am at the end of my career,” Barr said. “Everyone dies and I am not, you know, I don’t believe in the Homeric idea that you know, immortality comes by, you know, having odes sung about you over the centuries, you know?”
Cory Booker and Shmuley Boteach disagree on why they’re no longer friends
Boteach said it happened in September 2015, when Booker announced his support for the Iran deal, which Boteach said was an unforgivable betrayal of Israel.
Boteach also said Booker is “trying to erase” his Jewish connections to satisfy the Democratic Party’s increasingly assertive left, which is often at odds with Israel. He noted that in his 2016 book, “United,” Booker makes no mention of their friendship or his connection to Judaism: “It’s like he’s almost embarrassed.”
…. Booker sighed heavily when told of Boteach’s contentions. He said the falling-out was not over Iran: “I have lots of friends I disagree with over the Iran deal, and we’re still friends.”
He said he withdrew from Boteach long before the Iran deal, because, he said, Boteach had begun using their friendship for self-promotion.
“Friendships are based on trust,” Booker said. “This was somebody who was using the personal in public in a way that was deeply unfortunate.”
Booker has rarely criticized Boteach publicly and declined to provide specifics.
Will Donald Trump Accidentally Start a War?
By Heather Hurlburt
When no one can tell which advisers are really in charge or what D.C. will do next, it makes an inadvertent slide into conflict much more likely.
Barr explains Mueller didn’t make a call on obstruction of justice – so he decided to do it himself
During a nearly hour-long interview in Anchorage, Alaska, CBS News chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford pressed the attorney general on a number of issues from obstruction to his new review of the Russia investigation. The attorney general said he was surprised when Mueller told him he would not decide if the president obstructed justice but said he didn’t press him on it and then, working with Justice Department lawyers, stepped in and made the decision himself based on the evidence Mueller had gathered.
Asked about the fundamental difference between his and Mueller’s views on what the evidence gathered during the Russia probe means, Barr said, “I think Bob said he was not going to engage in the analysis. He was not going to make a determination one way or the other. We analyzed the law and the facts and a group of us spent a lot of time doing that and determined that both as a matter of law, many of the instances would not amount to obstruction.”
“As a matter of law?” Crawford asked.
“As a matter of law. In other words we didn’t agree with the legal analysis, a lot of the legal analysis in the report. It did not reflect the views of the department,” Barr said. “It was the views of a particular lawyer or lawyers and so we applied what we thought was the right law.”
How the donor requirement for the third Democratic presidential debate shook the race
While the Democratic National Committee had long intimated it would raise the bar to qualify for later debates, many 2020 strategists were stunned by the 130,000-donor threshold, which doubles the requirement for the first two debates in June and July and which few are close to hitting. Some candidates questioned whether the party’s new donor threshold would winnow the field too severely, before most voters even tune in to the race.
Most declined to discuss their frustration with the D.N.C.’s rules on the record or to indicate how exactly they would shift tactics, saying their campaign plans were confidential. But campaign after campaign said the party’s donor requirements are skewing the way they allocate resources, forcing them to choose between investing in staff or pouring more money into ads on sites like Facebook, where prices are soaring to dizzying new heights. Two campaigns said digital vendors are currently quoting them prices of $40 and up to acquire a new $1 donor.
Democratic digital strategists said the unprecedented chase for small donors was encouraging poor habits aimed at simply stirring up internet interest or spamming existing email lists unsustainably, while also driving up the price of finding donors for down-ballot Democrats.
This appears to be the first time the DNC has had such a rule
With more women in the presidential race than ever before, the Democratic National Committee is requiring that each 2020 Democratic presidential debate includes at least one female moderator, Refinery29 is exclusively reporting.
“The DNC is committed to an inclusive and fair debate process,” DNC senior adviser Mary Beth Cahill told Refinery29. “That means that all 12 DNC sanctioned debates will feature a diverse group of moderators and panelists including women and people of color, ensuring that the conversations reflect the concerns of all Americans.”
Thad Cochran Was a Vestige of a Non-Racist Southern GOP
By Ed Kilgore
The late senator was one of the last representatives of a southern Republicanism that pre-dated the region’s racial realignment.
AOC has found an unlikely ally: Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez set aside their Twitter bickering Thursday to strike an unusual bargain: an agreement to work together on a bill to ban former members of Congress from lobbying for life.
The Texas Republican and the New York Democrat made the pact on Twitter after Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a report by the watchdog group Public Citizen on the number of former lawmakers who’ve headed to K Street this year.
“I don’t think it should be legal at ALL to become a corporate lobbyist if you’ve served in Congress,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
Ocasio-Cortez responded by proposing a deal: “If we can agree on a bill with no partisan snuck-in clauses, no poison pills, etc – just a straight, clean ban on members of Congress becoming paid lobbyists – then I’ll co-lead the bill with you.”
“You’re on,” Cruz responded.
just asking questions
just asking questions
Talking With Author Jared Cohen About History’s Best ‘Accidental Presidents’
By Benjamin Hart
Taking stock of the vice-presidents who rose to the nation’s top job, from the disastrous Andrew Johnson to the surprisingly successful Harry Truman.
North Korea Executes Five Officials for Failed U.S. Summit: Report
By Matt Stieb
The special envoy to the U.S. was reportedly executed on spying charges, and Mike Pompeo’s counterpart at the summit was sentenced to forced labor.
Should Democrats Reserve Impeachment for a Possible Second Trump Term?
By Ed Kilgore
Without the ultimate remedy available, a reelected Trump could truly run wild.
Trump to Open a Second Front in His Trade War
By Matt Stieb
Trump announced a tariff on Mexican goods until the migration crisis is solved. Like the border wall, it is an ineffective stab at crisis management.
The Recurring Recession Fear
By Josh Barro and Benjamin Hart
An Intelligencer chat about how seriously to take another round of inauspicious economic signals.
The only person you can trust these days is Donald J. Trump
The Navy put out a disclaimer on the McCain story. Looks like the story was an exaggeration, or even Fake News – but why not, everything else is!
Nevada Governor Vetoes National Popular Vote Bill for Some Stupid Reason
By Eric Levitz
The bill “could diminish the role of smaller states like Nevada in national electoral contests,” the governor said, stupidly.
Why a Dead GOP Operative’s Files Could Change the Electoral Map for a Decade
By Ed Kilgore
Discarded files from a GOP gerrymandering wiz could upset administration’s plans to intimidate immigrants with a 2020 Census citizenship question.
Pelosi: ‘Drunk’ Facebook Video Somehow Russia’s Fault
By Brian Feldman
The House Speaker called out Facebook for allowing the video to remain up.