The best way to understand Bill Barr’s activities is that it is his current job to seed an ever-expanding catalog of pro-Trump conspiracies with the imprimatur of the Department of Justice. I don’t know how many civil servants Barr will purge, how selectively he’ll use declassified intelligence to damage political enemies or how much he’ll try to imprison the President’s political opponents. He clearly wants to do all these things and I’m certain he is actively working to do one and two. But to the extent he finds himself limited on those fronts, he accomplishes a lot just by this on-going lying on which there is little way for people to call him out.
Note that Barr’s implicit accusation is always vague and gives no handle for anyone to grab on to. He’s just saying the answers he got about “spying” on Trump weren’t “satisfactory”. Well, okay, what does that mean? Everything and nothing. There’s no handle to grab on to to verify or disprove it or even understand it since we don’t know what the questions were, what the answers were or what would have satisfied him.
But none of that matters because the point is to legitimize claims that the President was the victim of a plot rather than the beneficiary or quite likely the instigator of a plot. It’s a lo fi soundtrack to incipient authoritarianism.
Let’s rehearse the reality for the umpteenth time. There’s no virgin ground here. The activities Barr is talking about all met the muster of Republican Robert Mueller – in his probe he had to look at every aspect of these investigatory techniques from every angle. They all met the muster of Trump appointee Rod Rosenstein. He has repeatedly said as much. They all met the muster of Republican Jim Comey and all the other intelligence and law enforcement officials in office in 2016. Most conclusively they have been reviewed by a DOJ Inspector General’s report which went out of its way to find anything it could to please President Trump. There’s yet another investigation of these matters Jeff Sessions assigned to a US Attorney in Utah. Nothing from that either. None of these found any “spying” on the President or any of the problems Barr now claims to think may have been amiss.
Barr had a poor record coming into this job. Since taking over DOJ he has dedicated himself to using his reputation and legal bona fides, or what remain of them, and most importantly the imprimatur of the Justice Department to validate the President’s conspiracy theories and help Trump institute the rule that the law enforcement and intelligence apparatus of the country not only answers to him as President but exists to safeguard his personal interests.
Parrying congressional investigations may theoretically be in service of a principled but wrong belief in the legitimate powers and privileges of the Presidency. But none of what Barr is doing now comes under that mantle. He’s simply a majordomo of Trump’s corruption and attacks on the state.