Billy Barr Makes Excuses for His C- Durham Investigation Report Card

Either Billy Barr didn’t believe his bullshit would withstand even the obsequious questioning of Pierre Thomas or Pete Williams, or he felt the need to re-set the expectations for the Durham investigation that he set sky high when it started, because one of his first exit interviews was with WSJ’s propagandist Kim Strassel.

There’s the typical propaganda in here: Strassel’s attempt to claim all the politicized decisions he made were instead brave tough choices and she reports Barr’s admission that he came in to end the Russian investigation without noting that, in the past, he admitted when he came in he didn’t know anything about.

But there’s an interesting framing that suggests Barr knows he badly oversold his claims about the Mueller investigation and the FBI investigation that led to it, and oversold his Durham investigation even more.

Of the Russian investigation, Barr first claims, as fact, that a small group of people used the Russian investigation to topple the Trump “administration,” ignoring the illogic of that claim, since had they really wanted to thwart Trump, they would have done so during the election.

He reminds me why he took the job in the first place: “The Department of Justice was being used as a political weapon” by a “willful if small group of people,” who used the claim of collusion with Russia in an attempt to “topple an administration,” he says. “Someone had to make sure that the power of the department stopped being abused and that there was accountability for what had happened.” Mr. Barr largely succeeded, in the process filling a vacuum of political oversight, reimposing norms, and resisting partisan critics on both sides.

A paragraph later, Barr says that Mueller should have done the work he claims Durham is doing, by refusing to take in garbage (we’ve already seen abundant evidence that Mueller chased down disinformation, including the Steele dossier, as disinformation).

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham’s appointment should not have been necessary. Mr. Mueller’s investigation should have exposed FBI malfeasance. Instead, “the Mueller team seems to have been ready to blindly accept anything fed to it by the system,” Mr. Barr says, adding that this “is exactly what DOJ should not be.”

In-between the two, Barr reiterated his bullshit claim that there was no evidence of “collusion.”

Mr. Barr describes an overarching objective of ensuring that there is “one standard of justice.” That, he says, is why he appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate the FBI’s 2016 Crossfire Hurricane probe. “Of course the Russians did bad things in the election,” he says. “But the idea that this was done with the collusion of the Trump campaign—there was never any evidence. It was entirely made up.” The country deserved to know how the world’s premier law-enforcement agency came to target and spy on a presidential campaign.

Ignore for a second that a passage of the Mueller Report that Barr stalled to declassify until the height of the election showed that Mueller referred the investigation into whether Roger Stone conspired with Russia to the DC US Attorney, ignore that Paul Manafort lied about what he and his partner the Russian spy were doing, ignore that Barr and Trump will attempt to make both of those ongoing investigations go away with pardons issued in minutes or days.

Barr suggests that Mueller’s conclusion that he didn’t have enough evidence to charge a conspiracy equates to claims of “collusion” being “entirely made up.” That is, if there’s not enough evidence to charge a crime, then even the lower level non-crime of “arglebargle” didn’t happen, even though SSCI staffers said it did.

So, for the Mueller investigation, Barr suggests no garbage should come in, and if no indictments (aside from the 30 or so that did) come out, then there was nothing to see there.

From there, Barr proceeds to make two paragraphs of excuses as to why Durham has found nothing in the same 20 months that Mueller indicted over 30 people, 3 corporations, and paid for much of the investigation.

Mr. Durham hasn’t finished his work, to the disappointment of many Republicans, including the president, who were hoping for a resolution—perhaps including indictments—before the election. Mr. Barr notes that Mr. Durham had to wait until the end of 2019 for Inspector General Michael Horowitz to complete his own investigation into the FBI’s surveillance. Then came the Covid lockdowns, which suspended federal grand juries for six months. Mr. Durham could no longer threaten to subpoena uncooperative witnesses.

“I understand people’s frustration over the timing, and there are prosecutors who break more china, so to speak,” Mr. Barr says. “But they don’t necessarily get the results.” Mr. Durham will, and is making “significant progress,” says Mr. Barr, who disclosed this month that he had prior to the election designated Mr. Durham a special counsel, to provide assurance that his team would be able to finish its work. The new designation also assures that Mr. Durham will produce a report to the attorney general. Mr. Barr believes “the force of circumstances will ensure it goes public” even under the new administration.

Again, Durham has brought one indictment in the time that Mueller had indicted 33 people (and even the least-politicized investigation into Hunter Biden has gone on longer than the entire Mueller investigation). Which maybe explains why Barr offers up excuses why Durham hasn’t found anything except what Michael Horowitz found for him, the Kevin Clinesmith document alteration.

He offers more, later, but not before he uses a different tack to explain away the futility of his examination. He explains, in passing, that the scope has gotten smaller. He doesn’t mention something he has already admitted in the past — that Durham spent a lot of time (on boondoggle trips to Europe, Barr doesn’t say) chasing down and disproving George Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories. He does, however, confess that Durham determined before October that the CIA didn’t just make shit up.

The biggest news from Mr. Durham’s probe is what he has ruled out. Mr. Barr was initially suspicious that agents had been spying on the Trump campaign before the official July 2016 start date of Crossfire Hurricane, and that the Central Intelligence Agency or foreign intelligence had played a role. But even prior to naming Mr. Durham special counsel, Mr. Barr had come to the conclusion that he didn’t “see any sign of improper CIA activity” or “foreign government activity before July 2016,” he says. “The CIA stayed in its lane.”

Let me interrupt and observe that Barr bitched that Mueller “blindly accept[ed] anything fed to it by the system,” but here admits that two things he personally fed to Durham — Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories and politicized claims that the CIA had it in for Trump — were garbage. Barr has just confessed he did what he accuses Mueller (with no evidence) of doing.

Several paragraphs later, Barr asserts, as fact, that the politicized Jeffrey Jensen investigation he ordered up (again, garbage in) concluded that Flynn’s prosecution was “entirely bogus.”

Also outrageous, in Mr. Barr’s view, was the abuse of power by both the FBI and the Mueller team toward Mr. Trump’s associates, especially Mr. Flynn. The FBI, as a review by U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen found, pulled Mr. Flynn into an interview that had “no legitimate investigative basis.” The Mueller team then denied Mr. Flynn’s legal defense exculpatory information and pressured Mr. Flynn into pleading guilty to lying.

Mr. Barr didn’t order a review of the case until Mr. Flynn petitioned to withdraw his guilty plea in January 2020. Mr. Jensen’s review then made clear that the case “was entirely bogus,” Mr. Barr says. “It was analogous right now to DOJ prosecuting the person Biden named as his national security adviser for communication with a foreign government.” The Justice Department agreed to drop the charges in May, although Judge Emmet Sullivan spent months contesting the move until Mr. Trump finally pardoned Mr. Flynn. Mr. Barr declines to comment on Judge Sullivan’s maneuvering.

Except, of course, “Sullivan’s maneuvering,” (AKA, being a judge) rejected that claim, and pointedly found the claims Barr invented were unpersuasive given the claims that Bill Barr’s own DOJ had already made in his court. The legally valid conclusion is that Barr’s talking shite here, to say nothing of whatever Strassel is doing.

Then, going back a bit, Barr describes Durham’s narrowly circumscribed scope (assuming Biden’s AG doesn’t expand it to look at how Barr and others undermined the Russian investigation, including by committing the same crime Kevin Clinesmith pled guilty to). We’re down to a dead-ender investigation into the FBI agents (presumably, unless Biden’s AG expands the scope, excluding Bill Barnett, whose Jensen interview report conflicts with his own actions on the Flynn case).

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham’s probe is now tightly focused on “the conduct of Crossfire Hurricane, the small group at the FBI that was most involved in that,” as well as “the activities of certain private actors.” (Mr. Barr doesn’t elaborate.) Mr. Durham has publicly stated he’s not convinced the FBI team had an adequate “predicate” to launch an investigation. In September, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified a document showing that the FBI was warned in 2016 that the Hillary Clinton campaign might be behind the “collusion” claims.

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham is also looking at the January 2017 intelligence-community “assessment” that claimed Russia had “developed a clear preference” for Mr. Trump in the 2016 election. He confirms that most of the substantive documents related to the FBI’s investigation have now been made public.

SSCI has already judged Barr is wrong about the latter point. So Barr is basically left with the Steele dossier and those who used it as they would any other informant report, especially an informant report from a former intelligence partner.

Barr is, you’ll be unsurprised to know, lying when he claims, “most of the substantive documents related to the FBI’s investigation have now been made public.” More on that in time for January 21, I hope.

So thus far, Barr offers the following excuses, after narrowing the scope to eliminate all the worse-than-Steele dossier bullshit he introduced.

  • Had to wait for Horowitz to find the only crime
  • Too careful
  • Too much sickness
  • Too many conspiracy theories (all included by Barr) to debunk
  • [Unstated: Too many boondoggles]
  • A prosecutor whose team altered documents (like Clinesmith) made a claim a judge shot down

Having done all that, Barr then resorts to the inverse of the attack he makes on the 34-indictment Mueller investigation:

The attorney general also hopes people remember that orange jumpsuits aren’t the only measure of misconduct. It frustrates him that the political class these days frequently plays “the criminal card,” obsessively focused on “who is going to jail, who is getting indicted.”

The American system is “designed to find people innocent,” Mr. Barr notes. “It has a high bar.” One danger of the focus on criminal charges is that it ends up excusing a vast range of contemptible or abusive behavior that doesn’t reach the bar. The FBI’s use “of confidential human sources and wiretapping to investigate people connected to a campaign was outrageous,” Mr. Barr says—whether or not it leads to criminal charges.

Never mind that Barr claims the FBI used wiretapping to investigate “people connected to a campaign,” which is false (the use of informants is true, except Barr is not here complaining that the FBI counts the use of informants against everyone else as one of the most unintrusive means of investigation, which would be the proper conclusion Barr should take from his discomfort at how they were used here).

Barr’s final excuse for the fact that he’s been making grand claims of abuse for years but found nothing is that no one has been put into an orange jumpsuit yet. “The American system is “designed to find people innocent,'” Billy Barr told WSJ’s propagandist. And so people shouldn’t assume that his two year witch hunt has come up dry.

The issue — says the guy turning a no conspiracy charge into a no collusion claim — is that the American system is, “designed to find people innocent.”

Bill Barr claims he believes in, “one standard of justice,” even while making wild accusations for years that have turned out (his narrow scope implicitly admits) to be false. But he apparently believes in two standards of performance. John Durham’s single prosecution over 20 months, on a charge gift-wrapped for him by Michael Horowitz — that’s smoking gun proof of abuse. But Mueller’s 37 indictments, including obstruction-related charges for Trump’s campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, lawyer, rat-fucker, National Security Advisor, and coffee boy, along with an ongoing investigation into the rat-fucker for conspiring with Russia. That’s nothing, “entirely made up.”

There’s still room for abuse and it’s clear Durham doesn’t understand what he’s looking at. But in the end, Barr’s micromanaged witch hunt couldn’t match what Robert Mueller did. And Barr is probably feeling pretty insecure about that on the way out.

21 replies
  1. yogarhythms says:

    Dr Ew,
    “ But in the end, Barr’s micromanaged witch hunt couldn’t match what Robert Mueller did.”WSJ’s access journalism at it’s finest. Billy’s ticket is punched his bags are packed and his uber is enroute. Not so fast pardons are coming, Solar Winds are coming, Gov’t shutdown is coming, Covid 19 relief is coming and GA runoff is coming …Season 45’s AG#2 cliffhanger is a must read.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    If the American legal system is designed to find people innocent, it would surprise a lot of people in orange jumpsuits. (I suspect Barr is just venting his disapproval of that ridiculous innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt standard.)

    Were Barr’s statement true, he employs way too many prosecutors – or too few – because American prisons have swelled to the point of giving birth to the prison-industrial complex. But a simpler explanation of reality is that Bill Barr is again blowing smoke out of his ass, in the forlorn hope of getting away undiscovered.

    • emptywheel says:

      I increasingly think his frustrations abt this term all stem from him NOT being a prosecutor, meaning he could be outflanked by people who had to anticipate the law in that kind of adversarial fashion

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        Maybe he means White people with means? And tell that “designed to find people innocent” (“innocent” not being something our system can ever find anyone) to those on federal death row whom he still plans to kill.

  3. Valley girl says:

    I rarely comment here b/c I don’t feel that I have anything insightful or thoughtful to add. And the standard of thinking writing from you Dr. Emptywheel, and from many of those who comment is first rate.

    But I do read here regularly. daily, more than daily. And pay attention to the news.

    I have no explanation for my reaction to reading Barr’s twisted fucking bullshit, as presented in WSJ- but I am feeling over the top angry in a way that I haven’t felt in quite a while. And frustrated. With fantasies of .. uh, never mind the details.

    Marcy, I don’t know how you can do what you do here without totally losing it.

    • harpie says:

      I realized yesterday that I am feeling absolutely incendiary,
      occasionally interrupted by moments of extreme sadness.

    • Eureka says:

      VG and harpie, I was having that rare, new rage emotion recently, but to different stories (the vaccine delivery snafus; continued/worse problems w/DeJoy’s Post Office). I was calling it “rage at impotence” in the face of some controlling party (person) putting forth a false narrative — their story as the story, when you know they are FOS — itself in the face of life and death consequences (literally and figuratively, as each happens so much lately).

      It flashes when someone with the power of an audience smugly repeats falsehoods, over and over and over, or otherwise obstructs our way of life. But those kinds of malfeasance happen so often lately, I don’t know why any given instance becomes reaction-worthy, either.

      I think it comes from our country being taken apart (in a worse way than ever), besides the needless death all around us. It’s a new era of our common culture; I’m feeling like we could learn a lot from a study of cross cultural emotions within and without the US (parts both unrecognized and known as subject to the tin-pot dictator lifestyle; the extremes of each urban and rural poor in America come to mind, besides destinations abroad). [Autocracy creep here — mapped onto the neoliberal way — resembles spreading of the blights of poordom (viz. powerlessness, futility) to all classes but the oligarchy and its minions.]

      Mortality salience from someones trying to kill you, thy name is (impotent) rage (impotence). Or trapped carrot syndrome (nod to The Simpsons movie).

  4. dashc says:

    Barr is of the opinion that the winners write history. Truth and facts be damned. Barr thought he was a winner so he wrote whatever he wanted. Truth and facts be damned. Unfortunately for Barr, the winners will write history but in this case the truth and facts will be damning.

  5. Rapier says:

    We know Mueller won’t speak up. What a tragedy.

    Speaking of tragedy Muller was two weeks on the job of FBI director when Pan Am 103 got blown up and soon after Barr became AG. They worked closely together. By coincidence they are going to charge someone else in that 32 years on. 270 were killed. The hunt went on.

    Boeing’s 737 Max, the frankenplane, a disgrace, a flying kludge based on a 40year old design, had 2 crashes killing 346. The first batch out of stupidity, the last negligent homicide. The day after that Boeing’s CEO was pushing not to have it grounded. Trump nixed that in possibly the best thing he ever did. Boeing’s stock should be back to where it was in a year or two. So shareholders suffered a bit of purgatory for 3 years. Talk about suffering. My heart breaks for the shareholders.

    And Barr will piss in the general direction of Mueller and Trump would shit on Muller if he could, and Mueller will remain silent. Go figure

  6. Montana Voter says:

    You’ve got a lot of stuff in that post. But, Boeing stock has doubled in price while bleeding true value over the past hour years due to Trump’s tax bill which allowed executives to have the company by their stock options at fire sale values with beneficial tax treatment as capital gains. A classic inside “pump and dump” of a company ready to implode. They can’t fix the engineering so they are cheating on the tests. Where did Trumps first FAA Secretary come from? Oh yeah, Boeing.

    • PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

      What’s crazy is the whole scheme was to beat out airbus without spending the resources to develop a new line; they stuck the engines further up and called it a day. Which they knew would increase the risk of stalls to the point they considered CAS. And one sensor was all it took! No training for pilots! Seems criminally negligent to me.

  7. Mitch Neher says:

    From the WSJ article: “The country deserved to know how the world’s premier law-enforcement agency came to target and spy on a presidential campaign.”

    And what I still want to know is how the FBI remained clueless about the June 9th, 2016, Trump Tower meeting between the Trump campaign and paid agents of The Russian Federation until Jared Kushner alluded to it in his revised SF86 submission?

    If the FBI is going to target and spy upon presidential campaigns, then the FBI really ought to find out about things like the June 9th, 2016, Trump Tower meeting before someone who attended said meeting applies for a security-clearance background-check from the FBI.

    Conversely, if the FBI simply must remain totally clueless about threats to the national security of the United States, then the FBI really ought not to target and spy upon presidential campaigns.

    Unless I’m missing something.

    Maybe it was supposed to be a surprise. And the FBI didn’t want to spoil it.

  8. Bay State Librul says:

    Just more of the bullshit from Kim S and the WSJ frozen waffles.
    What a mathematical circle jerk.

    “In Barr’s calculus, the crimes don’t count because they’re not collusion, and the collusion doesn’t count because it’s not a crime. So despite being receptive to Russian assistance, seeking out more of it, and exploiting its illegal fruits, Barr considers Trump’s campaign totally innocent because none of those acts could be proven to violate a law. Yet the FBI’s decision to investigate these acts, which produced numerous criminal convictions, was deeply wrong, even if it didn’t violate the law” Chatt

  9. John Langston says:

    Barr certainly doesn’t have the same opinion about the justice system is “designed to find people innocent” if they’re poor, atheists, black or democrats. Hell, he was complaining about DAs that didn’t throw the book at low level non violent suspects is Philie. I suppose being on his side and having a healthy checkbook might help.

  10. skua says:

    I’m impressed by, and suseptible to, the propaganda that Strassel writes.

    If anyone in a Goebbels-type position needs to mislead and misinform people like me then they need a Strassel as an underling. And if the law is closely followed, that Strassel would be unlikely to share the legally-suspect fate of Lord Haw-Haw.

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