Sen. Harris asks DOJ Inspector General to probe whether Trump asked Barr to investigate ‘enemies’

KQED News / YouTube Interview with Senator Kamala Harris 1550609022.jpg...
KQED News / YouTube

Trump’s descent into the Nixonian tactic of requesting the Department of Justice to investigate his political enemies is amply documented. The redacted report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller notes three separate instances of Trump asking then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate what Trump imagined as crimes committed by Hillary Clinton, and Trump has publicly (in the form of Tweets) called for her criminal investigation on multiple occasions.

However, when asked this week by Senator Kamala Harris whether Trump had made similar demands of him thus far in his tenure, current Attorney General William Barr inexplicably refused to answer. 

Sen. Harris: Attorney general Barr has the president or anyone at the white house suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?

Barr: I wouldn’t, uh —

Harris: Yes or no?

Barr: Could you repeat that question?

Harris: I will repeat. Has the president or anyone at the white house ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone? Yes or no, please, sir.

Harris: The president or anybody else?  Seems you would remember something like that and be able to tell us.

Barr: Yeah, but I’m trying to grapple with the word “Suggest.” I mean, there have been discussions of matters out there that they’ve not asked me to open an investigation.

Harris: Perhaps they’ve suggested?

Barr: I don’t know. I wouldn’t say suggested.

Harris: Hinted.

Barr: I don’t know.

The exchange between Harris and Barr is linked below.

He “doesn’t know.”

Harris is absolutely right. Being asked to cross a well-marked line between the AG’s mission statement and engaging in politically-motivated criminal behavior by a Chief Executive is something we would expect an Attorney General to remember quite well.

Perhaps the most despicable aspect of Barr’s obvious attempt to avoid the question is that we already have evidence of a concerted and coordinated effort on the part of the Trump administration to gin up a political smear of the current Democratic frontrunner, Joe Biden.  As reported here and elsewhere,  Trump is marshalling his resources in right-wing media and employing his personal counsel, Rudy Guiliani, to trade political favors with foreign countries in exchange for creating falsified information with which to attack Biden. Given Trump’s past, and a well-demonstrated propensity to abuse presidential power, this suggests not only that Barr is lying, but that he is doing so to cover up a potential crime.

Biden isn’t the only target of Trump’s plan to further abuse his powers. As pointed out by ThinkProgress, he amplified on the same theme this week in one of his pathological Tweetstorms:

Thankfully, Senator Harris is having none of it. In a letter addressed to Inspector General Michael Horowitz, the DOJ’s appointed “watchdog,” Harris has urged the IG to conduct its own investigation of the truth or falsity of Barr’s statements.

In a letter to the Inspector General Friday, Harris called Barr’s inability to answer her question “an alarming response that strikes at the very heart of the rule of law and threatens to undermine the longstanding independence of the Justice Department.” She requested that he investigate whether Barr ever received or acted upon “such improper requests.”

***

“There must be no doubt that the Department of Justice and its leadership stand apart from partisan politics, and resist improper attempts to use the power of federal law enforcement to settle personal scores,” Harris wrote.

The day after Harris had questioned Barr, Trump singled her out, calling her “nasty.” Harris responded that she didn’t particularly care what Trump called her.
We have a president of the United States whose primary interest — I think that has been clear as a result of what we know as a result of the Mueller report — his primary interest has been to obstruct justice. My primary interest is to pursue justice.

As Marianne Levine, writing for Politico, reminds us, Harris is the second Democratic Senator this week to formally demand an investigation of Barr’s conduct by the Inspector General. Senator Mazie Hirono sent a similar letter Tuesday, concerning Barr’s deceptive and misleading characterization of the contents of the Special Counsel’s report.

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