Attorney General William Barr has abandoned the Trump ship, after drilling two huge holes in its hull.
On Tuesday Barr poured cold water on President Donald Trump’s allegations of voter fraud, announcing that the Justice Department had found no fraud "on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election"). Of no less importance for the longer run, Barr seems to have abandoned the effort to hold top former Justice, FBI, and CIA officials (read National Security State) accountable for using their "Russia-gate" schemes to undermine Trump – both as candidate and president.
The one-and-a-half-year investigation led by US Attorney for Connecticut John Durham, appears dead in the water, floating next to the Trump ship – and sinking. Barring the unforeseen, what seems already clear is that the National Security State (aka, Deep State) will prevail yet again – this time, big time. Thus, for the foreseeable future, it will have few compunctions about interfering on the Washington political scene to nudge important things in the direction it wants – with not a thought to ever being held accountable. (For the record, Durham has charged only one person, an FBI lawyer who doctored an email relating to an application for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant.)
But wait, you say: the New York Times reports that Barr made an artful move in appointing Durham "Special Counsel", which the Times says "makes it more difficult for the Biden administration to fire him", and is "a move certain to please Mr. Trump." That may be, but only if the president continues to heed the legal insight of the likes of Rudy Giuliani.
Shrewd? Or Too Clever By Half
In reality, though, come Jan. 20, Durham will be handcuffed by President-elect Joe Biden’s Attorney General. In fact, legal commentators are now arguing as to whether Durham’s appointment as "special counsel" is legal. Let’s just assume it squeaks through by some lawyerly legerdemain, despite the Justice regulation that a special counsel must come from outside the government.
Even so, former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega and other legal minds pronounce themselves underwhelmed at the "shrewdness" attributed to Barr.
Addressing Durham’s ability to function independently in a Biden administration, de la Vega has written: "Barr hasn’t pulled off any brilliant move. The Attorney General doesn’t have to remove Durham. Durham will need approval from the AG for any significant steps. The AG will decide the propriety of proposed acts by applying the law to the facts."
On the appointing someone not outside the government issue, De la Vega joined others in pointing out that Barr’s order was not "in accordance with" one of the major federal regulations governing the appointment of special counsels.
"… a special counsel must come from outside the government," she noted, before citing the language from Barr’s letter to congressional leadership. "Barr appointed Durham ‘with the powers and authority of a Special Counsel.’
"That’s not a thing," she added.
Barr and Durham: Metamorphosis
The two have come a long way on the Russia-gate investigation. Initially as mean as a junkyard dog, they did not hesitate to openly criticize National Security State apologists when the evidence Durham accumulated indicated they should. For example, in Dec. 2019, when the Justice Department Inspector General found the FBI-mounted Russia-gate investigation "properly predicated", both Barr and Durham openly voiced strong disagreement.
By April of this year, with the Durham investigation already under way for a year, Attorney General Barr, referred directly to the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia and called it "one of the greatest travesties in American history."
As Kevin R. Brock, former FBI assistant director of intelligence, noted at the time, the word "travesty" … usually is applied to gross perversions of justice, and that apparently is the context Attorney General William Barr desired …". Barr went on to liken the FBI investigation to "sabotage" and added that he was not interested in simply getting a report from Durham. "If people broke the law, and we can establish that with the evidence, they will be prosecuted."
Barr’s change in tone is not difficult to explain. In the absence of strong political support – of a kind that a powerful, predictable president, in normal circumstances, is able to provide, there is zero percentage in crossing the Deep State. Moreover, if Trump doesn’t fire FBI Director Christopher Wray, an indispensable asset to the Deep State who has slow rolled many a White House order and FOIA request, and if Biden keeps him on, what kind of cooperation might Durham expect from the FBI and Justice.
Trump: "Something Should Happen"
As shown by his extraordinary speech released yesterday on voting, President Trump is more than somewhat distracted. He did manage to insert some familiar complaining about his antagonists in the National Security State, but without showing that he has much feel for the current the state of play or what he might try to do about it. His words speak for themselves, sort of:
What can I say? We caught Comey cold, we caught McCabe cold, we caught them all. We’re still waiting for a report from a man named Durham … . They can go after me before the election as much as they want, but unfortunately, Mr. Durham didn’t want to go after these people or have anything to do with going after them before the election.
So who knows if he is ever going to even do a report, but if you look at the lies and the leaks and the illegal acts of behavior done by so many people and their desire to hurt the president of the United States, something should happen.
The hardest thing I have to do is explain why nothing is happening with all of these people that got caught spying on my campaign. It’s never happened before, and it should never happen again to a president of the United States. All you have to do is watch the hearings and see for yourself. The evidence is overwhelming.
Plenty of Time
Truth be told, the evidence is overwhelming. In early October Trump told Rush Limbaugh that Department of Justice investigators had "plenty of time to do it. … The facts are on the table. … Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes – the greatest political crime in the history of our country – then we’ll get little satisfaction, unless I win. … If we don’t win, that whole thing is going to be dismissed."
It is a safe bet that Trump will be proven right about "the whole thing" being dismissed, now that Barr has jumped overboard – whether Durham becomes "special counsel", or not.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His duties during his 27-year career as a CIA analyst included preparing The President’s Daily Brief for Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).