Consider these actions taken by Attorney General Bill Barr’s Justice Department since his confirmation in mid-February:
- Barr made comments in testimony on Capitol Hill that “spying did occur” on Trump’s 2016 campaign and added: “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.”
- The DOJ under Bar”s leadership locked the ability of some asylum-seekers to seek bond hearings while their cases are being adjudicated.
In short: He’s been busy! And that list doesn’t even include Barr’s decision not to pursue charges of obstruction against Trump — Mueller said there was evidence on both sides of the question but offered no recommendation — or the timing of the release of the Mueller report, on a Thursday before a long holiday weekend. (If you think that timing is accidental, I have a little company named Sears that I think has real growth potential to sell you.)
It’s also worth mentioning that the recently-announced prosecutions of Michael Avenatti, the former lawyer for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, and of longtime Democratic attorney Greg Craig made Trump happy — even though there is zero evidence that the President’s happiness was a concern of Barr and the broader DOJ in bringing those charges.
There are two ways to read the spate of pro-Trump (or anti-Trump’s rivals) moves by Barr and the Justice Department.
Theory #1: Barr is trying to soften the blow of the Mueller report
Remember that Barr is one of the VERY few people who have read the full, 300-plus-page unredacted report. (Barr will not be showing that unredacted report to Congress on Thursday.) He knows what’s in there and how bad (if bad at all) it is for Trump. And he wants to make sure that he softens the ground on which the report will land in front of the President who, as anyone who has lived on Planet siEarth over these last few years knows, is deeply bothered by even the idea that a special counsel was formed in the first place. So if Barr knows the report is going to make Trump angry, why the day before the expected release take a Trumian stance on immigration? And for good measure, throw a rhetorical bone to the President on the whole “spying” thing? (A day after Barr made his comments, Trump seized on them and went a step further, saying: “There was absolutely spying into my campaign. I’ll go a step further: In my opinion, it was illegal spying, unprecedented spying, and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again.”)
Theory #2: Barr is doing what he was nominated to do
Of all his original Cabinet picks, Trump was clearly the most disappointed in Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Although Sessions had been an early supporter of Trump and a key campaign surrogate, he quickly fell into disfavor when he chose to recuse himself from the FBI’s probe into Russian meddling — a decision that Trump, to this day, believes is the only reason a special counsel was formed. (Another potential reason? Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading the investigation.)
What all that means is that Trump was very particular when it came to picking a permanent replacement for Sessions, who he fired the day after the 2018 midterm elections. He wanted an AG who saw the world — legally and otherwise — the way he did. And that guy was Barr.
In that light, we shouldn’t be surprised that Barr has pursued a mission that strongly affirms Trump’s view of the world. He was, quite literally, the hand-picked choice of the President. We also should not be surprised then if, once the Mueller report comes out on Thursday, there are a) significant retractions of information that might be damaging to Trump or b) Barr’s letter summarizing the Mueller report released last month winds up looking very pro-Trump in hindsight.
Either way, Barr has, without question, been the sort of attorney general that Trump thought he was getting when he nominated him. That needs to be top of mind when we see the redacted Mueller report Thursday.
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