Every time Attorney General Bill Barr appears in public, it becomes clearer just how well-versed he is in the language and conspiracies that burble up out of the far-right’s fever swamps.
Take a look at the interviews Barr gave to Fox News and the Wall Street Journal this week. While enumerating the steps he will take to investigate the origins of the Russia probe, Barr — intentionally or by osmosis — repeated numerous talking points used by conservative ideologues over the years to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
On Fox News and Capitol Hill, Republicans have insisted that President Trump and his associates were subject to illegal surveillance during the 2016 campaign. They have also contended that the entire probe was based off of the notorious Steele dossier — an opposition research product about the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia — and that U.S. government officials like former FBI director James Comey actively worked to influence the outcome of the election.
Relevant detail — like the fact that the Steele dossier was not, in fact, the source of the Russia probe, and that the Trump campaign appeared willing to accept any help Russia was willing to offer — go unmentioned. So, too, does the fact that Hillary Clinton was also being investigated by the U.S. government throughout the 2016 campaign, a fact that Comey reminded the world of one week before voters went to the polls. That probe was based in part off of opposition research accusing her of abusing her position as Secretary of State for personal financial gain.
Barr’s interviews reveal the extent to which the sitting attorney general is willing to legitimize and advance this misleading conservative narrative on the Russia investigation. Take a look below:
‘Thumb on the scale’
In his interview to the Wall Street Journal, Barr cautioned that, “just like we need to ensure that foreign actors don’t influence the outcome of our elections, we need to ensure that the government doesn’t use its powers to put a thumb on the scale.”
Contrast that with Rep. Mark Meadows’ (R-NC) accusation that the FBI was “putting their thumb on the scale to undermine Donald Trump” during the 2016 election:
Folks, this stinks to high heaven. If this is anything what it looks like–the FBI changing course on investigation, putting their thumb on the scale to undermine Donald Trump and essentially help Hillary Clinton–that is as wrong as it gets. This demands further investigation.
— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) January 24, 2018
Devin Nunes and his counterintelligence concerns
In the interview with Fox, Barr described his view of what the “real” origins of the Russia investigation were: a bogus counterintelligence probe in which the Obama administration illegally surveilled U.S. citizens working for the Trump campaign.
“To use that to conduct counterintelligence against an American political campaign is a strange—would be strange development,” Barr said.
That sounds an awful lot like the narrative which came out of the House Intelligence Committee when it was under control of the GOP during the first two years of Trump’s term.
Take a look at what former House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo last year.
“It took a long time to actually get this… the original intelligence, the original reasons that the counterintelligence investigation was started,” Nunes said. “This is really important to us because a counterintelligence investigation uses the tools of our intelligence services, that are not supposed to be used on American citizens. So we’ve wanted to know what intelligence they had that actually led to this investigation.”
Rats, rats everywhere
During Barr’s appearance on Fox, host Bill Hemmer broached the topic of whether the Justice Department has a rat infestation.
Barr suggests Comey, Clapper, Brennan were plotting against President Trump. pic.twitter.com/tyZA3MZoyC
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) May 17, 2019
Hemmer asks Barr, “Do you smell a rat at this point?”
To which the attorney general replies, “I don’t know if I’d describe it as a rat. I would just say that the answers that I’m getting are not sufficient.”
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee made a similar point in 2018, implying that he smelled a rat in the FBI with respect to its treatment of Trump.
— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) January 27, 2018
Rudy’s noose and Barr’s
Barr also told Fox that he is reviewing a January 2017 meeting at Trump Tower, where then-FBI director James Comey told Trump about the allegations contained in the Steele dossier.
Comey memorialized the meeting in notes he wrote down immediately afterwards, which is standard practice at the FBI. Yet conservatives have seized on that practice as an attempt to “entrap” Trump. The right has also argued that the Steele dossier was the basis for the entire Russia investigation, claiming the opposition research allowed the FBI to obtain FISA warrants to monitor Trump campaign associates’ communications during the campaign.
In response to a question about the time period between the 2016 election and Trump’s inauguration, Barr said that “there were some very strange developments during that period. That’s one of the things we want to look into.”
After Hemmer followed up, Barr said, “such as the handling of the meeting on January 6, between the intelligence chiefs and the President, and the leaking of information subsequent to that meeting.”
Yesterday, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani made a similar point about the same encounter on Fox, saying, “the reality is that Comey is, the noose is tightening around his neck really bad.”
“Comey in January told the president [the Steele dossier] was ‘salacious and unverified.’ How did it become ‘salacious and unverified’ over five months? When they used it in affidavits in which Comey says on the top of the affidavit that it’s verified, in footnote five, page 15, he says it’s reliable, not unverified,” Giuliani said, tying it back to the dossier’s supposed role in convincing a judge to issue the FISA warrants. “In other words, he either lied to the President or he lied to the court. I’m betting on he lied to the court and we call that perjury Jim and Brennan may be a witness against him.”