Confirmed: Attorney General William Barr has turned the Department of Justice into the chief enforcement arm of Donald Trump’s criminal enterprise.
Within the past week, the question continually arose: How did the Justice Department and the White House counsel get involved in blocking the Trump-related whistleblower complaint from being reported to Congress, as is required by law? Now we know the answer to that question, and it turns out Barr is the guy pulling the strings.
The intelligence community inspector general and the director of national intelligence (DNI) both referred the whistleblower complaint to the Justice Department for investigation, according to The New York Times. The department’s criminal division reportedly reviewed whether Trump’s actions violated campaign finance law and concluded they did not, because what Trump was requesting did not amount to a “thing of value.” That is, on its face, ridiculous. The entire reason Hillary Clinton narrowly lost the Electoral College while winning the popular vote in 2016 is because she was under investigation for much of the campaign, even though the FBI ultimately concluded she had done nothing criminal. The air of suspicion—the constant “but her emails” refrain—ate away at support for her candidacy. If Joe Biden’s entire candidacy was similarly haunted by the specter of misconduct, it would absolutely benefit Trump (i.e. be a thing of value). This was yet another hatchet job by Barr.
So what appears to have happened is the Justice Department was alerted to the complaint, and its lawyers reasoned Trump’s conduct fell short of a potential criminal violation warranting further investigation. But then Barr’s DOJ took two other steps: it appears to have gotten the White House counsel involved, and it authored an Office of Legal Counsel opinion designed to prevent the director of national intelligence from forwarding the complaint to Congress. As The Washington Post reported last week:
White House counsel Pat Cipollone has been engaged in the matter since shortly after the whistleblower action surfaced, officials said, helping to identify legal obstacles to the sharing of information that could be politically damaging to Trump.
The DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion reasons that preventing election interference doesn’t fall within the jurisdiction of the director of national intelligence (DNI), another laughable conclusion. In fact, former DNI Dan Coats dedicated a great amount of his efforts toward preventing election interference in 2020.
House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff called the opinion “startling” during his Wednesday press conference, adding that the notion that election interference doesn’t fall within the DNI’s purview is an “absurd claim.”
“It’s a sad fact that the director of national intelligence would agree to be bound by that view,” Schiff said, adding that the determination would be the chief subject of his panel’s hearing on Thursday with acting DNI Joseph Maguire.
But Schiff also homed in on what Barr’s pervasive involvement in this entire episode represents. “The fact that the president of United States would invoke the attorney general sends a further message to the Ukrainian president,” Schiff said of Trump’s phone call with President Zelensky, “This is not just me asking; this not just Rudy Giuliani asking; this is the United States government asking and we plan to effectuate that through the Department of Justice.”
As Schiff noted, it’s obvious why William Barr worked so hard to keep the notes of Trump’s call from public view, and why he labored to bury the whistleblower complaint.
Ever since the release of the redacted Mueller report, people have argued that the attorney general of the United States is acting like Trump’s personal lawyer. Now Barr has turned the entire Justice Department into Trump’s personal law firm, as well.