There has been a remarkable convergence of talking points from members of the Trump administration, members of Congress, and Republican operatives about the Mueller investigation lately. That is hardly unusual in the cult-like party that Republicans have become. What is disturbing is the actual talking point seems to be laying the groundwork for the termination of the Mueller investigation.
Then Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker went out of his way at an entirely unrelated event to opine, “I am comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed either through the various means we have, but right now, the investigation is, I think, close to being completed, and I hope we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible.” The idea that the Mueller investigation would be wrapping up soon seemed highly unlikely since Mueller had just indicted Roger Stone three days earlier and, assuming Stone goes to trial as he has threatened, that case will not end for months at the earliest. But it was clearly a marker that Whitaker wanted to put out to the public.
That was followed up with an equally bizarre statement from Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI) Chairman Richard Burr who stated, “If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia”. This again, was remarkable because we learned days earlier that Paul Manafort, at the time Trump’s campaign manager, was passing critical private polling information to the representative of his Russian creditor while apparently discussing the lifting of sanctions and the recognition of Russian sovereignty over parts of Ukraine. As Manafort is reported to have said, this was a “win-win”. It was also a conspiracy that any lay person would describe as collusion. Contra Burr, then, the collusion has already been shown. The only remaining question is whether Trump knew and authorized it. Yet Burr, thinks this is the appropriate time to wrap up the SSCI’s investigation and issue a report basically absolving the Trump campaign.
Let’s take a moment to digress and explore why Burr would be offering such disinformation. While he has received praise for handling the investigation responsibly and in a bipartisan fashion, that may be solely because it looks that way when you compare him to his counterpart in the House, Devin Nunes, who has actively impeded the investigation. The reality is that Burr has made some troubling choices and statements throughout the SSCI’s investigation.
Burr actually signed on as a Trump national security advisor on that fateful day of October 7, 2016 when the US intelligence community released a statement that the Russians were interfering in the election, the Access Hollywood tapes were released, and Wikileaks dropped its first batch of hacked Podesta emails. It was an unusual decision considering that Burr was a member of the Gang of Eight who had already been briefed on the fact that the Russians were interfering in the election and attacking our democracy in support of Donald Trump.
In a remarkable betrayal of our country, Republicans refused to go along with a bipartisan statement condemning the Russian actions. And Burr, in a tight re-election campaign and with full knowledge of the Russian efforts to aid Trump, decided to hitch his wagon to the Trump train. On October 3, in direct contradiction to the briefing he had received, Burr stated, “I have yet to see anything that would lead me to believe” that the Russians were attempting to help elect Trump. That was just one of many similar misleading statements Burr was to make about Russian interference during the run-up to election day, including multiple whoppers during a debate in his Senate election.
In another remarkable coincidence, Burr was the top Senate recipient of NRA money during the campaign, $6.2 million, the most the Association had ever spent on a down-ballot race, and Mother Jones has uncovered evidence that the NRA’s PAC may have been illegally coordinating its spending with the Burr campaign. In addition, other reports suggest that the NRA’s dark money PAC received enormous sums of Russian money that was used to support the Trump campaign and perhaps other down-ballot Republicans.
So Burr was already fairly tainted when he began the SSCI’s Russian investigation and it could be argued that he had even more reason to recuse himself from the investigation than little Jeffy Sessions. Once in charge of the investigation, however, his curious statements and actions continued. He unilaterally announced the Committee would not be looking into collusion, a move which prompted so much pushback from Democrats and the press that he was forced to retract it. Like Nunes, Burr was recruited by the White House to deny press reports about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, reports that we now know, and he knew then, were true and just the tip of the iceberg of the campaign’s interactions with Russians. Burr has slow-walked the investigation as much as possible, refusing to issue subpoenas and limiting its resources. And he refuses to hold public hearings involving any Trump campaign officials. And just last week, Burr implied that Christopher Steele was refusing to cooperate with the Committee, when in fact Steele had supplied written answers to the Committee’s questions last August that were apparently sufficient enough to allow the Committee to withdraw its subpoena of Steele. In addition, Burr has refused to brief SSCI staffers on the extent of Russian interference in the 2018 election.
Please read Ryan Goodman’s deep dive into Burr’s questionable actions during the 2016 campaign and subsequent investigation from which much of the above was gleaned. It is pretty eye-opening. Someday, God willing, McConnell, Ryan, Burr, Nunes, Jordan, Graham, and many other GOP leaders will have to answer why they refused to not only defend this country when it was under attack from a foreign adversary but actively abetted and covered up that attack. But I digress.
Burr and Whitaker have both intentionally gone out of their way to give the impression that no evidence of collusion has been uncovered and the investigations are winding down, despite all the evidence to the contrary. It is more than a coincidence that this disinformation campaign is occurring in the lead-up to William Barr being confirmed as Attorney General.
Barr’s refusal to commit to releasing the full Mueller report when it comes out is a worrying sign. But, as David Lurie points out, Mueller’s report could be of limited value to Congress if Barr simply enforces current regulations which he committed to doing during his confirmation hearing. According to Lurie, “Under the governing regulations, a special counsel’s final report is supposed to be limited to a discussion of his decisions whether or not to charge particular individuals. And given that Mueller lacks authority to prosecute Trump, the report may well contain limited material about the president. But Barr’s recent statements also suggest that he may argue that the DOJ cannot divulge the information that Congress most urgently requires: the actual testimony and other evidence prosecutors have gathered regarding Trump’s conduct”.
The only way for Congress to get a hold of Mueller’s evidence at that point would be to start impeachment proceedings, subpoena the report and all the evidence Mueller has gathered, and then hope that the Supreme Court follows precedent, established by at least two other cases including Watergate, that Congress is allowed to get such materials as part of an impeachment proceeding when Trump fights that action in Court. Of course, relying on this current Supreme Court is a dubious proposition.
Barr is well qualified to fill the role he has been given now, namely protecting a president and his Republican operatives for being held accountable for their illegal actions. As G.H.W. Bush’s Attorney General, he recommended that Bush, as one of his last acts as President, provide pardons to six top Reagan and Bush administration officials involved in the Iran Contra affair in which Bush himself was implicated. As Barr himself boasted, “I favored the broadest pardon authority. There were some people just arguing just for Weinberger. I said, ‘No — in for a penny, in for a pound.’ ” Those pardons effectively kneecapped the investigation of Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh and effectively ended the Iran Contra investigation.
Expect Barr to use similar legal tactics to kneecap the Mueller investigation. Whitaker and Burr have laid the groundwork for doing so. His 20 page memo outlining why the Mueller investigation should not be allowed to pursue an obstruction of justice investigation against the President is the roadmap to ending that part of the inquiry. The DOJ policy that the President can not be indicted will be used to shut down other areas of the Mueller investigation that directly implicate Trump. Barr’s job is to replicate his success during Iran Contra in protecting the president and his criminal co-conspirators from justice and accountability and he has the experience to do just that.
Matt Schlapp is a conservative activist and chair of the American Conservative Union. His wife, Merecedes, serves in the White House Communications office. (Another digression: Trump’s Washington kingdom is filled with incestuous courtiers. Interestingly, Barr’s son-in-law is moving to the White House Counsel’s office and his daughter is moving to FINCEN. Does every Trump job come with the family plan that is typical of his racketeering business?) Yesterday Schlapp tweeted, “Tomorrow will be the first day that President Trump will have a fully operational confirmed Attorney General. Let that sink in. Mueller will be gone soon”.
Schlapp is openly admitting to all of us what Barr’s job really is. Trump has just shown he is willing to ignore the will of Congress and defy specific warnings from Senate Republicans by going ahead and creating a constitutional crisis by declaring a fraudulent national emergency in order to build his border wall. It remains to be seen whether enough of those Senate Republicans have the will to constrain him. When Barr uses perhaps more justifiable legal maneuvers, including advocating the presidential pardons, to derail the Mueller investigation, will Senate Republicans, many of whom, like Burr, seem already compromised themselves, stand up and protect the Mueller investigation as they have so often promised to do or will they cave like Mitch McConnell has regarding the national emergency?
If anything, Trump’s unconstitutional power grab today and Burr’s ascension yesterday should hasten public hearings in the House that will lead to impeachment proceedings.
Originally published at thesoundings.com on February 15, 2019.