Attorney General William P. Barr has a dilemma: how to purge federal law enforcement of the politicization that has left its reputation in tatters, while simultaneously ensuring accountability in one of modern history’s most politically combustible criminal probes.
That probe, conducted at Barr’s direction by John Durham, the United States Attorney for Connecticut, is scrutinizing the origins and predication of what even the attorney general has taken to calling “Russiagate.” This is the “investigation of the investigators,” focusing on the Obama administration’s — in particular, the FBI’s — counterintelligence and criminal investigations into claimed suspicions of Trump “collusion” with Russia. Based on rank hearsay and speculation, much of it sourced to the Hillary Clinton campaign and since discredited, Obama officials developed a theory that Donald Trump had been complicit in the Kremlin’s hacking of Democratic Party emails. The Kremlin’s supposed goal was to snatch the 2016 presidential election from the heavily favored Hillary Clinton and force Trump, under threat of blackmail, to do Vladimir Putin’s bidding in the Oval Office.
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Durham’s probe has drawn the rapt attention of our mercurial president, who, in familiar Trumpian understatement, describes the Obama gambit as “treason.” Ditto for the restive Trump base, which longs for the Democrats’ comeuppance after a three-year “witch hunt,” first by the FBI and then by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. With Election Day less than three months away, Barr has indicated that decisions about whether criminal charges should be filed are imminent.
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That prospect, of course, infuriates Trump antagonists, though they welcomed prosecutorial zeal when their nemesis was in the crosshairs of Mueller’s team, which was heavily laden with activist Democrats, many drawn from the Obama Justice Department. But that was then, in the midterm-election cycle, when Democrats were retaking the House, with the attendant control of its subpoena and impeachment powers.
Hence Barr’s dilemma. Now 70, he was enticed in 2019 to return to the Justice Department, 27 years after his first stint as the nation’s top law-enforcement officer. This was not by any personal connection to the president, whom he barely knew; Barr acted out of reverence for the institution. The Justice Department is foundational to the rule of law, and over the last decade, it had veered from its essential commitment to non-political decision-making.
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