Even though Attorney General William Barr released a more complete version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report yesterday, no one should expect that will be the end of the debate. Democrats were forthright in their eagerness to get the full Mueller report. Those who propped up the collusion narrative are determined to do anything and everything to try to bend the report to their liking and count on their allies in the media to keep the collusion story alive.
Their straining will probably be obvious and at times difficult to watch. But in the meantime, Barr seems to have thrown some tacks in the road, making the Democratic noise machine hit pause. A counter story could be developing.
The Democrats let everyone know that they were not finished with their quest for collusion, but to their surprise Barr let them know at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing last week that he was just getting started. Specifically, he said, “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. ... I think spying did occur.” Barr’s delivery was low-key, and his words were few, but you could hear jaws dropping all over Washington.
It deserves repeating: Even though Mueller is through, Barr is not. Almost instantly, Democrats attacked the attorney general. They are demanding that Barr retract his comments and not investigate spying on the Trump campaign. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., went so far as to say that Barr had gone “off the rails.” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., piled on, tweeting that “AG Barr must retract his statement immediately or produce specific evidence to back it up.”
Barr has assembled a team to study the “spying” that he says took place. Specifically, he will determine whether the spying was “adequately predicated.” This means asking who initiated the spying, how it was approved and what was done with the information that it produced. By answering those questions, Barr will uncover whether anyone in Hillary Clinton’s campaign, along with anyone in the Obama administration sympathetic to the Clinton campaign, played a role in the spying. In purely political terms, this means that whatever conclusions are reached won’t be easily disregarded by partisan Democrats as talking points advanced by conspiracy-minded Trump supporters. They will be the factual findings of an attorney general whose only mission is to go where the evidence leads him.
I have known Bill Barr for decades. He is the right man at the right time. He has been attorney general before — from 1991 to 1993 — and this is probably his last job. He does not need to posture or worry about his post-government career. He won’t be affected by the attacks from partisan Democrats who fear that his investigation may reveal misdeeds by some of their own. As Victor Davis Hanson wrote in National Review last year, if collusion is a crime, “then Clinton-campaign contractors should be under investigation for seeking Russian help to find dirt on [President] Trump, to spread smears around and throughout the DOJ, FBI and CIA, and to make sure that the dirt was leaked to the press in the final weeks of the campaign — for the sole ‘insurance’ purposes of losing Trump the election.” Well, such an investigation might just now be underway.
It is unlikely that any current Democrat officeholders or Obama-era officials could become targets of a criminal investigation at this point. But they might be embarrassed, as Barr’s inquiry could expose how many eager and ambitious insiders wanted to stop Trump and at the same time audition for would-be President Hillary Clinton. After all, there was a time when handling the Trump dossier and trying to get it into the hands of the media and law enforcement was the thing to do to catch the attention of those who could grant plum jobs or promotions in a Clinton administration.
Barr’s investigation could reveal that much of what Trump said about being targeted, spied upon and having the resources of the U.S. government turned against him turned out to be true. This would support the ridiculed notion that the United States almost suffered a coup — and that should be big news. Even if no one is ever called to account, Barr’s investigation might reveal the truth and leave the Democrats on the defensive.
Ed Rogers is a Washington Post contributing writer, political consultant and a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses.