Trump’s Outrageous Pressure Campaign against Bill Barr
So what crime would you be charged with, Mr President?
In the last few weeks of the campaign, President Trump berated William Barr, the attorney general who served him and the country well. Trump's increasingly violent complaints relate to the investigation into his 2016 campaign launched by the Obama administration. As directed by Barr, the origins and conduct of this investigation have been under investigation since early 2019 by John Durham, a respected Connecticut prosecutor.
Trump believes Barr and Durham did not persecute senior officials in the Obama administration, not least Vice President Biden, Trump's opponent in this election, and former President and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trump's opponent in the last election.
It's becoming increasingly clear that Clinton played a huge role in the implementation of the Trump-Russia narrative that Obama intelligence and law enforcement officials puffed up into counter-espionage and criminal investigation. She accused Trump of engaging in a cyber espionage conspiracy with the Kremlin to sabotage her campaign. The allegation was largely based on Russia's alleged hacking of Democratic National Committee emails to which Trump had not attached any evidence.
Even before the DNC hacking, Obama's CIA director John Brennan and Clinton hit the Trump-Russia drum of the "agreement". and after the hacking, Obama's FBI Director James Comey officially stepped in to conduct an investigation. The investigation relied heavily on bogus political opposition research provoked by the Clinton campaign - notably the retention of Christopher Steele, an incompetent and strictly anti-Trump former British spy, who held a "dossier" of unconfirmed innuendos and obvious material errors brought out and most likely Russian disinformation.
Attorney General Barr has called the Trump-Russia probe a "travesty" because it was triggered in the slightest way and continued long after the apparent lack of evidence. The investigation continued well into Trump's presidency, forcing him to endure the appointment of special adviser Robert Mueller and rule under a cloud of suspicion until Mueller finally released him 27 months after his tenure. Democrats cited the existence of an investigation as a reason Trump could not exercise normal powers of office, such as appointing Supreme Court judges. To date, Congress Democrats have been combing Mueller's report for reasons for further impeachment.
The Obama administration and federal investigators have clearly abused their powers on this matter. However, abuse of power does not often lead to criminal acts that are codified by the Federal Criminal Code. This fact was brought to the advantage of the president during his Ukrainian misfortune in 2019, when he used his authority over the conduct of foreign affairs to pressure an ally to conduct a politically favorable investigation. Congress Democrats were frustrated at finding a crime that matched the abuse.
The Justice Department doesn't seem to find one in "Russiagate" either, at least not fast enough or high enough in the political food chain for Trump. The President railed on Twitter last week about the "TREASONOUS PLOT" and verbally abused Barr in friendly talk-radio interviews for failing to prosecute Obama officials.
Trump's headstrong invocation of treason brings the problem into sharp relief. Aside from being outright political rhetoric, as a legal matter - which Barr has to take into account - it is sheer nonsense. The presidency is not the nation. A president is an official and a presidential candidate is a mere public figure. Neither of them is the United States, which must be waged at war to instigate treason. Under federal law, treason by the close cousins of treason, also touted as a potential charge by Trump supporters, also requires evidence of conspiracy to use violence against the nation and its government.
There is a reason that control against abuse of power in our system is largely political and not legal. The discretion in the exercise of the government's police and intelligence powers must necessarily be broad, since the potential threats to national and public security are infinite. If a presidential candidate had indeed conspired with a hostile nation against vital American interests, an incumbent government would have not only legitimate authority but also a duty of investigation, regardless of political considerations. Fear of prosecution would cripple a government at the nation's peril. When the incredible powers of the executive are abused, the Constitution equips Congress with the means to discipline an administration and even to remove headstrong officials from office.
Prosecution is obviously only appropriate if there are clear violations of the law. The only officer who has been prosecuted by Durham so far is a former FBI attorney who tampered with a document critical to the Bureau's affidavit in the FISA court for a surveillance warrant. Barr rightly insisted that only such "meat and potato crimes" meet Justice Department standards. There will be no extravagant reach, no "creativity" of the prosecutor to get Obama officials online. In fact, Barr announced weeks ago that Obama and Biden are not the subject of Durham's criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, Barr has vowed that there will ultimately be a narrative account of the Trump-Russia investigation. This is appropriate to account for government wrongdoing, especially when the Department of Justice and the FBI are involved. This is in line with the Attorney General's duty to oversee the conduct of law enforcement, which in the case of the Hillary email investigation was conducted by the Inspector General of the DOJ in the process of preparing a public report.
The attorney general is admirably aware of his role in our system of government and is determined to uphold the norms that govern that system. We would like the same to be true of the President of the United States.
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