At a Thursday afternoon press event, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney “co-signed Trump’s confession” by openly admitting that military aid to Ukraine was held up over the issue of forcing that country to open an investigation into … Hillary Clinton’s email. In just one event, Mulvaney moved at least two rungs up the ladder that leads from “I didn’t do it” to “Yeah, we did it, so what?” And to make that clear, Mulvaney underlined the whole statement by saying, “Get over it.” But it seems that not everyone was so eager to jump on the extortion-is-not-a-problem-now train. And the person most eager to stay off this ride appears to be the same one who was most responsible for fishing Trump out of his last self-generated swamp—Attorney General William Barr.
No sooner did Mulvaney stop speaking than the Department of Justice was out with a statement to make it clear that it had no idea what he was talking about. “If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation of any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us,” it said.
This isn’t the first time the DOJ has at least feigned shock over issues connected to the Ukraine scandal. When the White House released the not-a-transcript of Trump’s call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, it included at least three references to Barr. After delivering a threat that former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was “going to go through some things,” Trump followed up by telling Zelensky, “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it”—where “it” was the investigation Trump wanted Zelensky to start into the company where Hunter Biden served on the board. If that wasn’t clear enough, Trump then said, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.” And finally, Trump closed the call by repeating, “I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call.”
However, Barr says he never called Ukraine, wasn’t aware of Trump’s attempts to generate political dirt by withholding military aid, and was “surprised” and “angry” to find himself roped into the Trump-Giuliani scheme. Barr reportedly did not find out about the call until weeks later and claims that he never actually called Zelensky or anyone else to forward the scheme.
It’s not as if Barr isn’t still out there, traveling around the world and trying to dig up support for the same conspiracy theories that Giuliani has been pushing. But when it comes to Ukraine, Barr seems to be pretending that there’s still a wall between the White House and DOJ … even though he’s the one who smashed it down.
In what seems like an astounding coincidence, Barr visited with FBI and U.S. attorneys in New York just as Giuliani clients, associates, assistants Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were being picked up and indicted after attempting to flee the country. It’s become clear since then that Giuliani is also under criminal investigation directly related to his role in Ukraine. The best reason for Barr to stay away from Giuliani is that he has access to DOJ files that make it possible for him to understand just how neck-deep in a conspiracy investigation Trump’s personal attorney really is.
It’s not that Barr won’t do anything for Trump; it’s that he doesn’t want to let Giuliani’s chaotic mess swamp the nice, neat set-up he’s been building for Trump through the “special investigation” conducted by federal prosecutor John Durham. Barr has invested heavily in Trump’s demands that he poke holes in the Russia investigation. He’s given Durham essentially unlimited authority to question his own colleagues and to uncover protected sources. Barr and Durham even traveled together to Rome for the sole purpose of adding weight to a conspiracy theory that Joseph Mifsud, the Russian contact for Trump adviser George Papadopoulos, was actually a CIA plant positioned to set the whole “trap” in motion.
Barr isn’t treating the “investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation” as a trivial matter, and he’s not leaving it up to Durham. He’s taking direct, personal control of the investigation and hurrying it along at maximum velocity. What Barr is doing undermines the key findings of his own department in careful investigations carried out over years. Given enough time, he will deliver for Trump on a theory that takes Russia out of the Russia investigation and allows the whole event to be turned into the “witch hunt” that Trump always claimed it was. Barr did it before with his “summary” of the Mueller report and his instant dismissal of obstruction charges, and there seems almost no doubt that he will do it again, given time.
After all, Barr protected the team involved in Iran-Contra. Making scandals go away over time is his absolute specialty. He’s perfectly willing to undermine the FBI, Robert Mueller, and half the people in the DOJ to give Trump the “Hillary dun it” that he wants.
But what Barr does not want is to be put in a position where he has to collect all the loose papers and spilled drinks that Rudy Giuliani has left over half of Europe. For Barr, Giuliani is an infection on his perfectly serviceable and carefully supported conspiracy theory. An infection that’s already spread to two indicted cohorts and a looming investigation that’s visible to way too many people.
Giuliani is getting bulls#it on Barr’s bulls#hit. And Barr doesn’t like it.