“In 2019, a few weeks after the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Trump administration flipped the script and began investigating the investigators.
Attorney General Bill Barr appointed US Attorney John Durham to investigate those government officials who had presumed to look into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
The FBI’s Trump-Russia probe, Barr argued publicly, was born of chasing thin conspiracy theories and relied on phony evidence, and its investigators were either blinded by political bias or acting with blatant political motives.
And then Durham and Barr proceeded to do all those same things.
A new, detailed exposé by the New York Times’s Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman, and Katie Benner digs into what exactly happened with the nearly four-year Durham investigation, which is purportedly about to conclude, and it isn’t pretty. Anecdote after anecdote portrays Durham and Barr as believing in conspiracy theories without evidence but with clear political motives to bolster one of Trump’s favorite arguments: that he was the victim of a nefarious plot.
Basically, Durham and Barr wanted to prove that the Trump-Russia investigation was manufactured in bad faith by either “deep state” officials or the Clinton campaign (or both), with the goal of hurting Trump politically. Again and again, Durham pursued various versions of this theory, and again and again, he fell short of proving his case.
If Barr and Durham started off with suspicions but found upon investigation that they were baseless, that’s not necessarily so terrible. Yet both men kept on saying or implying publicly that the “‘deep state’/Clinton campaign hit job” theory was true — Barr in public statements where he said this outright and Durham in court filings and trial questioning that seemed designed to advance a narrative he couldn’t actually prove.
Bizarrely enough, when checking out one of these theories — that Italian officials were somehow involved in launching the Trump-Russia investigation — Durham and Barr were instead presented with evidence linking Trump himself to potential financial crimes. “Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham decided that the tip was too serious and credible to ignore,” the Times reporters write. Barr kept this new investigation of Trump in Durham’s hands, and it’s unclear what became of it.
The Trump-Russia investigation certainly shouldn’t be exempt from criticism, and a fair-minded review of whether investigators made misjudgments would be reasonable. But the Durham probe was not that. Instead, it repeatedly assumed dastardly plots against Trump, even when the evidence kept failing to establish those plots, while Barr seeded a narrative to conservative media and President Trump himself that Durham was closing in on Trump’s “deep state” enemies. The politicized, blinkered investigation they were looking for was inside them all along.”
“It’s true that few American presidents have found themselves on the wrong side of the criminal justice system — just one has ever been arrested (read to the end of this piece to find out who). But plenty of other countries have arrested, indicted or imprisoned their current or former leaders, and it’s not a mark against their health as a democracy. Quite the contrary.
The evidence shows that free countries — those that have strong records of protecting political rights and civil liberties — are just as likely to hold their current and former leaders accountable as unfree countries. In fact, such moves are slightly more likely to make countries freer than less free, as well as enable free countries to keep their republic intact.
That’s the clear conclusion from a review of 243 cases from 1972 through 2021, where current or former chief executives have been arrested, indicted or imprisoned.”
“In case there is any doubt, the Justice Department has very good reasons to keep its lips shut about ongoing criminal investigations.
One reason is fairly obvious. If prosecutors and law enforcement speak openly about a criminal investigation, they could reveal information to a suspect that could undercut the investigation. Trump could conceivably destroy evidence if he knows the DOJ is looking for it, or he might attempt to intimidate a witness if he knows that witness is one of the DOJ’s sources.
Indeed, while the Supreme Court has said that “the courts of this country recognize a general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents,” lower courts have held that this right can be overcome by the government’s need to keep sensitive information about ongoing investigations secret. As the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which oversees federal cases in Florida, said in one case, documents may be kept secret when there is a “substantial probability that the government’s ongoing investigation would be severely compromised if the sealed documents were released.”
(That doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire warrant affidavit in Trump’s case must be kept secret, but it does mean that it will likely remain under seal if it could compromise the DOJ’s investigation of Trump.)
There’s also another reason the Justice Department rarely speaks about ongoing investigations: Doing so is unfair to criminal suspects — including Trump.
If Trump is eventually indicted for an alleged violation of a federal criminal law, he has a right to stand trial and will have an opportunity to present evidence that he is, in fact, innocent. Assuming that he does not accept a plea deal, a jury will weigh the evidence and return a verdict of “guilty” or “not guilty.” Technically, a “not guilty” verdict would not be a declaration that Trump is actually innocent — it merely means that the prosecution failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt — but it would go a long way toward clearing the cloud of suspicion that hangs over anyone charged with a crime.
But if the Justice Department speaks openly about a criminal investigation before anyone is actually arrested, they place that cloud over a criminal suspect’s head without giving that suspect a forum to vindicate their reputation. As former deputy attorneys general Jamie Gorelick and Larry Thompson explained in a 2016 Washington Post op-ed, the Justice Department’s “long-standing and well-established traditions limiting disclosure of ongoing investigations” that might influence elections prevent prosecutors from “creating unfair innuendo to which an accused party cannot properly respond.”
So we should expect the Justice Department to be very quiet from here on out about its investigation of Donald Trump, unless that investigation leads to arrests. This silence is not an attempt to stonewall. It is consistent with longstanding DOJ policies that protect both the department and anyone accused of a federal crime.”
“These days, Republicans are making no secret of their plans to use a Hunter Biden inquiry next year as a platform to go after his father — after years of brushing off conflicts of interest within Trump’s family. No evidence has emerged to show that the business dealings of Hunter Biden, who’s faced a years-long federal investigation, affected his father’s decisions as president.
GOP lawmakers are pushing ahead anyway, planning a sprawling probe that will reach into the ethics of Hunter Biden’s artwork sales and other business deals, as well as policy decisions by the Biden administration.”