One of the interesting and telling impulses of many in the press and on the Left is a concerted and collective attempt to drag high-level Trump administration officials into various controversies currently engulfing the president. For instance, we highlighted a Washington Post op/ed penned by a pair of leftists fantasizing about Democrats removing both the President and Vice President from office, which would elevate Nancy Pelosi to the presidency. Along somewhat similar lines, this tweet implies that because President Trump improperly and specifically asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate the 2020 Democratic frontrunner, Vice President Pence discussing the broader issue of (notorious) Ukrainian corruption with that same leader must be a function of Trump toadyism:
From today’s A1 w/ @PhilipRucker:— Robert Costa (@costareports) October 2, 2019
“The list of Trump loyalists pulled into his maneuvers begins at the top. Vice President Pence traveled to Europe in early September and met with Zelensky and urged him to address ‘corruption.’” https://t.co/1Ry6Ea1C2S pic.twitter.com/VE7vr8GdGG
There is nothing wrong whatsoever with Pence asking Zelensky to fight corruption. If that's all Trump had done, there would be no Ukraine story. Joe Biden's similar demands of the previous Ukrainian government would similarly be totally uncontroversial if not for the conflicts of interest involving his son. Regardless, the message is clear: Pence is in the crosshairs, too, and meaningful distinctions may be blurred in order to rope him into "problematic" territory. We're also seeing an effort to once again trash Attorney General Bill Barr as a non-credible and partisan hack -- this time, because he's taken an active and personal role in pressuring allied governments to cooperate with the wide-ranging US investigation he ordered into the origins of the Trump/Russia probe that consumed so much of our nation's media and political attention for years -- the conclusion of which demonstrated none of the promised "collusion," despite exposing various inappropriate and impulsive presidential reactions to the whole saga.
I've written before that I have doubts about the full-blown 'deep state conspiracy' line of thinking, given that this alleged cabal didn't leak the existence of a counter-intelligence probe into the Trump campaign as a (likely fatal) October surprise prior to the election. But I also have major, lingering questions about how the probe got started in the first place, how it was carried out, the nature of the 'evidence' it rested on, and the biases of various officials attached to the investigation at various levels and stages. The current inquiry led by the respected US Attorney John Durham is needed and appropriate. Liberal constitutional scholar and law professor Jonathan Turley's latest column defends Barr against a new round of media criticism, the thesis of which is that Barr is wrongfully inserting himself into a nonpartisan investigation, in order to satisfy Trump:
Much of the media have blasted out the news that Attorney General Bill Barr is “implicated” in the Ukraine scandal, after sources said he personally pressed leaders in Australia, Italy and England to supply evidence about the origins of the Russian investigation...The calls made by Barr reportedly were linked to the ongoing investigation by United States Attorney John Durham into the origins of the Russia interference investigation. It is not uncommon for an attorney general, or even a president, to ask foreign leaders to assist with ongoing investigations. Such calls can shortcut bureaucratic red tape, particularly if the evidence is held, as in this case, by national security or justice officials. A call to request assistance for the Durham investigation would “implicate” Barr in nothing other than an official, valid investigation...I supported the appointment of a special counsel after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. I also supported an investigation into the origins of the FBI’s investigation. The country is divided on the merits of both, with legitimate concerns raised on each side. Particularly now, with the start of a House impeachment inquiry, it is more important than ever to have transparency and a review of both investigations.
Turley writes that Durham's work could shine light on the role of shadowy figures such as Joseph Mifsud (who is reportedly part of the scope of the probe), whose connections to the Russia investigation at key points remain intriguing and mysterious: "Information on Mifsud would be found in countries like Australia, Italy and England, as would be information on the work of former British spy Christopher Steele. Hillary Clinton’s campaign paid a large amount of money to Steele and to an American opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, to seek dirt on Trump, including Russian and other foreign sources. Such information is not easily shaken loose without a high-level prompt from someone like Barr." And as I mentioned yesterday, Turley also notes that Trump opponents may have powerful incentives to try to hamper, frustrate, or discredit Durham's project:
There could be a one-two punch coming on the Russia investigation. Recently I wrote that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz reportedly is close to releasing his report on the secret surveillance targeting Trump officials; word is that the report is both comprehensive and damaging for many involved in the start of that investigation. And Durham and Horowitz will not be easily dismissed. Both are widely respected, and they are working with career investigators. If either of these reports finds improper conduct, it could reinforce the position of Republicans and moderate Democrats in voting against Trump’s impeachment or removal.
The notion that Trump and his allies are the only people in Washington possibly motivated by politics isn't naive; it's outright laughable. Barr has every reason to defend and fortify Durham's probe. This "implicates" him in nothing, and lazy conventional wisdom like this betrays glaring bias:
It would be easier to trust William Barr’s intentions if he had not burned his credibility early on in his tenure, writes the Editorial Board https://t.co/ftssoFX7ZR— Washington Post Opinions (@PostOpinions) October 2, 2019
I realize it's an article of faith in liberal circles that Barr "burned his credibility" in his dissemination of the Mueller report, but his conduct on that front was entirely defensible, if not outright correct. His summary of the bottom line findings was accurate, and he released the full document with limited redactions in a timely fashion. Barr derangement was strong, and his refusal to bow before it has angered his critics, who are now gunning for him again. And that's not their only goal. Andy McCarthy sees what's happening here and calls it out:
The strategy here is obvious. The Democrats and their note-takers would like the public to believe that Barr’s investigation is an adjunct of the Trump 2020 campaign — and a grossly improper one at that. The misimpression they seek to create is that Barr is putting the nation’s law-enforcement powers in the service of Trump’s reelection campaign, in the absence of any public interest. The hope is that this will delegitimize not only any information that emerges from Ukraine but the whole of the Justice Department’s investigation of intelligence and law-enforcement abuses of power attendant to the 2016 election.
This is anti-Trump forces' version of all-caps 'WITCH HUNT!' ranting. There's also an effort to ensnare Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who the Wall Street Journal revealed was on the Trump-Zelensky call in July (a material fact that the whistleblower complaint got wrong, by the way). Pompeo has confirmed the Journal's reporting. One can certainly argue that Pompeo could have been more forthcoming when asked about the call by journalists, as opposed to playing coy and leaving the vague impression that he didn't know much about it. Ed Morrissey's take on this seems pretty fair:
It hardly seems surprising that the Secretary of State would have been one of the people on hand monitoring a presidential call to another head of government. It would have been surprising if Pompeo hadn’t been on the call. So why play coy? The generous take: Pompeo likely wanted to steer clear of a conflict between the House and Donald Trump and conduct State business as normally as possible under the circumstances. The less-generous take: Pompeo knew the conversation was problematic (if not actionable) and wanted to avoid being put in the position he was in today in defending it.
There are fair questions that the State Department and its leader need to answer over the whole Ukraine affair -- including what, if any, involvement State had in Rudy Giuliani's freelance dirt-digging schemes on behalf of Trump. Pompeo's resistance to House subpoenas is also going to be a subject of scrutiny and fighting, with the agency's Inspector General getting involved in the matter. It just seems fairly obvious that the president's opponents in Congress and in the press are hellbent on fashioning a narrative that taints as many top administration figures as possible, even if the supposed connections to any real or alleged wrongdoing are tenuous and tortured. "Controversializing" everything is both misleading and counter-productive. I'll leave you with this, without further comment:
He’s been recommended for prosecution by the DOJ Inspector General for lying repeatedly under oath. https://t.co/RrbvJbd9p8— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) October 2, 2019