When Donald Trump appointed William Barr, the special counsel report was already underway. So simply hijacking the results, crafting a warped “summary” of the results, and blocking both Congress and the public from seeing the truth until Trump had time for a few thousand repetitions of “completely exonerated” was probably the most that could be done. But since the law-dicing attorney general was on hand for the start of the Ukraine scandal, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Trump asked him to simply make it all go away from the beginning.
As The Washington Post reports, Trump asked Barr to hold one of his patented “nothing wrong right here” news conferences to declare that Trump had broken no laws in his phone call to Ukraine. Barr declined to do so, and the lack of that news conference is still stinging Trump who has “mentioned Barr’s demurral to associates in recent weeks.” That’s the Post’s way of saying that Trump is still cursing a blue streak about it.
It’s not as if Barr didn’t hand Trump a waiver over the whole thing. The Department of Justice was supposed to forward the whistleblower complaint to the FCC to deal with potential violations of campaign finance law—because asking a foreign government for something of value in the 2020 election is only the most obvious abuse of power in Trump’s actions toward Ukraine. Instead, the DOJ never sent anything to the FCC, and instead produced a note that no action was “warranted” in part because they couldn’t determine the value of Trump’s request for an investigation into Biden and the 2016 election.
Trump apparently still wanted Barr to hold a press conference to repeat his “no quid pro quo” claims, possibly because he felt his supporters would be unimpressed with something they had to actually read. But no one should be taking the failure to go before the lights as an indication that there is some kind of schism between Barr and Trump. Barr is not just completely on board with attempts to sabotage the impeachment inquiry, he’s working hand in hand with both the White House and congressional Republicans to deliver a report in the next few days expressly intended to undermine the impeachment process and dangle the prospect of criminal prosecution over perceived Trump “enemies.”
Barr’s refusal might have stung Trump a little. But that people found out about that refusal has Trump snarling.
In a series of tweets on Thursday morning, Trump attacked the “degenerate” Washington Post for “making up” this story with multiple sources. Because Trump can completely live with the idea that he’s a crook. He cannot live with the idea that he can’t get his own staff to do whatever he wants. The first story is about honesty. The second one is about power. Trump knows which one he’d rather have.
However, there is one interesting apparent line between Trump and Barr. In his call to Ukrainian President Zelensky, and in other communications between the White House and Ukrainian officials, there are multiple examples of Trump insisting that he’s going to put Zelensky or others in touch with Barr so that Barr can be directly involved in the scheme to dig into the Biden family or the convoluted conspiracy theory related to the 2016 election.
But Barr has made it known that, despite what Trump said multiple times in the “transcript” of his phone call, these conversations never took place. “The President has not asked the Attorney General to contact Ukraine—on this or any other matter,” said Barr’s spokesperson. “The Attorney General has not communicated with Ukraine—on this or any other subject.”
That’s extremely odd, not just because Trump clearly thought nothing of inserting Barr into a situation where he had already inserted his personal attorney and a motley collection of officials including smart glasses Rick Perry. It’s also odd because the 2016 investigation that Trump wanted Ukraine to conduct concerned exactly those issues that have had Barr running to Rome, London, and Australia. If Barr has genuinely not spoken to anyone in Ukraine, it would seem to indicate that he’s trying to draw an artificial line through the middle of Trump’s “there were no Russians” theory. How that would work is completely unclear.
Since Barr has no problem simply ignoring facts that he doesn’t like, and making assertions without evidence, this surely isn’t a matter of concern over facts. The question then is why Barr is so insistent that he hasn’t put a toe in Kyiv.