One of the most mysterious chapters of former Attorney General Bill Barr's tenure at the Department of Justice got a little sunlight last week when the New York Times published a deeply reported piece on the Durham Investigation, Donald Trump's "investigation of the Mueller investigation." We knew that Special Counsel John Durham, a man whose reputation was one of seriousness and rectitude, had only brought two prosecutions but failed to win convictions in both. And we knew that there had been turmoil in his office with several people resigning at what seemed to be pivotal moments in the case. But, until now, we didn't know the details — and they are explosive.
The Times story, reported by Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner, essentially reveals that the investigation which was supposed to blow the lid off of the Russia investigation by proving that it was a "partisan witch hunt," was itself a witch hunt — only on behalf of Trump. Barr was enabling and covering for Trump throughout his tenure as we saw with his preemptive press conference to diminish the Mueller Report and mislead the public as to its conclusions and his willingness to back Trump's strategy to discredit Vote-By Mail during the 2020 campaign. Even when he finally deserted the sinking ship in December of 2020, his letter of resignation showered Trump with praise even as he knew he was plotting to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power. But the Durham investigation was his personal project and it turns out that it was a monstrous abuse of power.
The whole point of naming a Special Counsel is to remove the taint of political interference by keeping a distance between the politically appointed Attorney General and the investigation. Barr did not do that. In fact, he directly participated in the probe by traveling overseas to the United Kingdom and Italy with Durham to interrogate their intelligence officials about whether they helped American investigators frame Trump which apparently offended them to no end since they did nothing of the sort. Durham and Barr became bosom buddies, throwing back scotch together at the end of the work day and having dinner on a regular basis. And Barr, who was convinced that the CIA had created the whole "Russia hoax," eagerly ran interference with the Intelligence agencies for him as needed. Evidently, Durham was very taken with Barr and agreed from the get-go that Trump had been set up.
We had previously heard that Barr and Durham went to Italy on some sort of Hardy Boys expedition, but now we learn that they had been told by Italian authorities about some very credible information that Trump had committed serious financial crimes. Barr and Durham realized that it wasn't something they could completely ignore (as much as they probably wanted to) so Barr assigned that case to Durham instead of another prosecutor and opened a criminal investigation. This was then leaked to the public in a way that implied they had found evidence of criminal behavior on the part of the FBI, the intelligence agencies or possibly even Hillary Clinton. They certainly didn't let on that they were investigating Trump.
Bill Barr was enabling and covering for Trump throughout his tenure.
From what we know, Durham quietly closed that "investigation" without much fuss. Considering the rest of their behavior one can't help but suspect that he and Barr either didn't look too closely or decided that revealing Trump's crimes wasn't worth jeopardizing their crusade to expose the "deep state."
This is stunningly unethical behavior by an Attorney General. But we shouldn't be too surprised. After all, Barr got the job in the first place by sending an unsolicited letter to Trump in which he criticized the Mueller investigation by claiming that a president can't obstruct justice. In fact, Barr pretty clearly believes former president Richard Nixon's famous line "when a president does it it's not illegal" since his view, according to legal expert Marty Lederman, was that "the president has absolute constitutional authority over actions by executive branch officers in carrying out law enforcement powers given to them by Congress." If you ever wondered where Trump got the idea that the Constitution gave him the power to "do whatever I want," look no further than Bill Barr.
He and Durham colluded together for months and came up with zilch. There simply was no evidence that the FBI, DOJ, CIA or the Mueller team had done anything untoward. But that didn't stop Durham. He decided to focus on Trump's bête noire Hillary Clinton and he brought a couple of cases designed to show that she set Trump up with bogus claims of Russian collusion. That blew up in his face too. He's still in business today doing what we don't know, yet Attorney General Merrick Garland doesn't seem to be willing to pull the plug.
The Durham investigation was Barr's personal project and it turns out that it was a monstrous abuse of power.
As a New York Times op-ed by David Firestone points out, this exposè pretty much destroys Barr's attempt to rehabilitate himself with the public. He famously dissed Trump repeatedly in his January 6 Committee testimony and wrote a book in which he turns on his former boss, calling him "detached from reality" and urging Republicans not to nominate him for the presidency in 2024. But he narrows his criticism to the post-election period conveniently forgetting the previous four years of incompetence, corruption and mental instability which Barr encouraged. It's a little too little and way too late.
Unfortunately, while Barr's lame attempt at rehabilitation may have finally been put on ice by these latest revelations, the conspiracy theories that fueled it have not. As Firestone notes:
Republicans in the House are launching a new snipe hunt for proof that these same government offices were "weaponized" against conservatives, an expedition that is likely to be no more effective than Mr. Durham's and Mr. Barr's.
In fact, now that I think about it, this might be the one thing that will make Bill Barr and John Durham look good by comparison. These House extremists will air every half baked, fever dream of twitter randos and QAnon weirdos in public hearings and present them as facts. At least Barr and Durham mostly kept their conspiracy theories to themselves over scotch and prime rib. That's about the best you can say for them