On Monday, as Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee continued to flail about with their claims that the impeachment process is tainted, a long-awaited report by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General was released concluding that the FBI’s investigations into Russian interference in the election–and its probe into the activities of Carter Page, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort–were proper, grounded in fact and that there is no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions” to pursue them.
For months, conservatives have been promising that the report–and a parallel investigation launched by Attorney General William Barr–would blow “Spygate” wide open, leading ultimately to the convictions of various law enforcement officials whom they claimed had hatched the investigation as part of a coup d’état by the Deep State.
The finding should come as no surprise. The entire narrative began with a typically incoherent tweet from Donald Trump shortly after he took office. At the time, Trump’s claim that the Obama administration had spied on his campaign was too ludicrous even for Republicans to embrace. The House Intelligence Committee, then chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)–who would later become one of “SpyGate’s” most prominent advocates–sent a letter to the Justice Department demanding that they provide evidence to support Trump’s tweet. Kellyanne Conway, then a senior advisor to Trump, admitted that there was zero evidence to support Trump’s claim, but argued that it was possible that the CIA spied on the campaign through microwave ovens. When Trump resurfaced the conspiracy theory, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said, “it appears that there was an investigation not of the campaign but of certain individuals who have a history that we should be suspicious of.” His colleague, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who had pushed hard on equally dubious charges related to Benghazi, told Fox News that, having been briefed on the intelligence, he was “even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do.”
And yet, moments after the report was released, William Barr released a statement contradicting his agency’s own Inspector General. “The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” it reads in part.
More troublingly, Barr, perhaps hoping to emulate the success he had preparing the ground for the Mueller Report, blatantly mischaracterized the results of the FBI’s investigation, claiming that, “from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory.” That “exculpatory” evidence was enough to bring indictments against 34 individuals–securing prison sentences for several of them–and to demonstrate that Donald Trump engaged in a consistent pattern of obstruction that would have led to charges against anyone but a sitting president.
Whereas Barr was able to delay the release of the Mueller report for several weeks while his 5-page “summary” shaped the initial media coverage, this statement coming out after the IG’s report dropped only drives home the degree to which he sees himself as one of Trump’s personal attorneys, and the degree to which he’s willing to debase himself in Trump’s defense.
It’s easy to become inured to moves like this one, but it’s important not to do so. The nation’s highest law enforcement officer is fully invested in disseminating the regime’s propaganda and is willing to attack his own agency to further that purpose. It’s the kind of thing one might expect to see in a banana republic, but not a mature democracy with a Constitutional order that has survived for well over 200 years on the strength of its institutions upholding the rule of law.
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