Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into John Bolton over his anti-Trump book

Donald Trump is good for literature. Actually … that’s overstating it. A lot. But Trump is certainly good for publishers, and for dramatic titles. In one-word titles alone, it’s possible to build a pretty decent description of Trump using Rage, Unhinged, Disloyal, Fear, Hoax. You certainly don’t have to go to Insane Clown President, but … that’s also not a bad description.

The last few weeks have seen Trump’s leveraging his family to fight—and fail—to stop the publication of a book by his niece Mary Trump, and books by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen and former journalist Bob Woodward. The trio of tomes are all hot off the presses and still in the headlines. But it requires rewinding to June 20 (also known as March the 121st , in pandemic dating) to find the focus of Trump’s current disloyal, unhinged, rage hoax. That was the date that a federal judge dismissed attempts by the White House to block publication of John Bolton’s book detailing his time as Trump’s national security adviser. 

During that court case, the judge pointed out multiple times that Trump was attempting to block a book that had already been printed, distributed to warehouses, was on the shelves at thousands of stores, and had already been read by hundreds of critics and journalists. Open barn door? Meet horse. But the judge did not address claims from the Department of Justice that Bolton may have violated national security, though he noted if it was true, Bolton could lose all the profits from the book deal that kept him conveniently mum during Trump’s impeachment. And now the Justice Department has announced an investigation into Bolton because … sure, why not?

The book has been on the stands for four months and is no longer hanging onto a slot in even an extended list of best sellers. There’s nothing to be gained by going after Bolton other than the demonstration that people like Roger Stone, convicted of multiple crimes, get to walk away for being Trump’s pals, while people like Bolton get the weight of the DOJ tossed their way for the crime of insufficient toadying.

But it’s hard to feel like there’s a good guy on either side of this case. After all, Bolton failed to come forward when his testimony mattered, what he ultimately revealed was confirmation of things that had already been stated, and … he’s John Bolton. The best possible ending for this story is that both Trump and Bolton come out with their sub-mud reputations sullied by whatever it is that’s worse than mud.

According to The New York Times, a team within the DOJ has convened a grand jury to hear evidence about Bolton’s use of classified information in his book, aka I couldn’t think of a title so I just stole a line from Hamilton. Bolton has denied that he published classified information. Trump has argued back that Bolton is “a dope” and “incompetent” and “a washed up creepster who … should be in jail” for “trying to make me look bad.” It’s unclear if the grand jury will reward these rubber-meets-glue arguments with an indictment, but it would probably be pretty interesting—and kind of hilarious—to hear the presentation. 

And yes, to be honest it’s clear that the White House purposely refused to provide Bolton with responses on the classification of his submitted manuscript simply in an effort to delay publication and provide Trump with leverage to do exactly what he’s doing right now: conduct a political persecution of a perceived enemy. Bolton shouldn’t face charges for purely political reasons, if for no other reason than on a “first they came for John Bolton, and ...” basis. Still, every DOJ official tied up with going after John Bolton could be busy persecuting a human being instead, so let’s hope this takes some time. And please, if someone is going to leak classified information, how about the transcripts for the presentation to the grand jury?

John Durham’s top assistant resigns as Barr squeezes for some kind of report before election

There’s supposed to be a rule that the Department of Justice (DOJ) doesn’t make announcements concerning anyone involved in an election within 60 days of the election—a rule that James Comey absolutely disregarded with his last minute theatrics in the 2016 election. Considering the closeness of that election, there’s little doubt that Comey’s action, and the media coverage of it, was a deciding factor in handing Trump the White House. And William Barr has made it absolutely clear that he’s all in favor of smashing that rule again to keep Trump in place.

But Barr’s intention of releasing the report by his lieutenant, John Durham, got slightly harder on Friday. Because acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut Nora Dannehy, who has acted as Durham’s top aide during his attempt to follow up on Trump’s claims about the “deep state coup” behind the Russia investigation, has resigned not just her position helping Durham, but from the entire Justice Department. And the reason is directly related to Barr’s attempts to rush the report out as an “October surprise.”

As the Hartford Courant reports, Dannehy was recruited to help Durham in his round-the-world quest to convince allies to join in the conspiracy theory and claim that the entire Russia investigation was set up long before Trump was elected. That includes tracking down claims that the CIA planted a college professor in London years earlier so George Papadopoulos could eventually be lured into trying to arrange a hook up between Trump and Putin. It also includes chasing down the same claims about a nonexistent server in Ukraine that were involved in Trump’s impeachment.

The investigation of the investigation has been underway for over a year and a half, and has so far managed to snag one charge against one person, with former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith pleading guilty to having edited an email. Compare this to the Mueller investigation, which netted 199 criminal charges, 37 indictments or guilty pleas, and five prison sentences … so far. 

Oddly enough, despite an investigation that’s now just a few months short of the entire length of the Mueller investigation, there appear to be no tweets from Trump or other Republicans complaining about the length, scope, or cost of the Durham investigation. Somehow, when Mueller was involved in his much more productive investigation, both Trump and his leading minions in the House found time to constantly complain about the budget of the investigations and to scoff at the “minor nature” of convictions. Funny. That’s not happening this time.

Dannehy has worked with Durham for decades. She was recruited back from private practice specifically to work on this investigation. But on Thursday evening she sent an email to the office in New Haven to announce that she was leaving, and the reason appears to be because she is worried about pressure from Barr to hand over a report before the election. Insiders say that Dannehy has been pondering leaving for weeks, but stayed this long out of her personal loyalty to Durham. 

According to the Courant, Dannehy said the investigation was going to last “six months to a year” when she agreed to return to the DOJ. But it’s taken much longer, and without producing any obvious signs of progress.

Still, even the departure of Durham’s top assistant is unlikely to prevent Barr from putting out something in the days immediately before the election. After all, as he did with the Mueller report, Barr can always give a completely false “summary” of the investigation and leave the truth to come out long after the spotlight has turned away.

Barr makes it clear—again—that he intends to drop the Durham report before the election

On July 28, Attorney General William Barr appeared before the House Judiciary Committee. During a half-day of questioning in which Barr was repeatedly evasive or purposely intended to misunderstand questions, there was one answer he provided which was absolutely clear. When Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell asked Barr to commit that the conspiracy theory-based report being prepared by John Durham would not be released before the November election, Barr’s answer could not have been briefer. “No,” he said.

Barr has made it absolutely clear that he does intend to deliver an October surprise. Ever since he stepped back onto the national stage by purposely distorting the results of the Mueller investigation, Trump’s new Roy Cohn has been engaged in politicizing the DOJ and turning the department into an wing of Trump’s reelection campaign. One of his first acts was drafting U.S. Attorney John "Bull" Durham to begin a round-the-world quest into claims Trump had made against Joe Biden, the pursuit of a DNC server that never existed, and undermining the actions of his own department in the Trump-Russia investigation. 

And now, as the campaign enters its final two months, Barr is being equally clear that he’s ready to ignore the Justice Department's “60-day rule” against taking overtly political steps in the final weeks before an election.

As Trump continues to show that he will say anything, Barr continues to make it equally clear that he will do anything to back up Trump’s statements and actions. As CNN notes, Barr was aggressively belligerent in a Wednesday night interview, making it clear that he is more than willing to break the 60-day rule, or any other rule, if that’s what it takes to keep Trump planted in the White House.

Barr wasn’t just unwilling to agree that Durham’s international quest for lies wouldn’t be packaged up for release before November 3, he was all in on Trump’s statements about how mail-in ballots lead to fraud. These were especially egregious statements coming from an official charged with keeping the elections safe and who knows that there is no evidence backing such claims.

CNN: "You've said you're worried a foreign country could send thousands of fake ballots ... what are you basing that on?"

Barr: "Logic."

CNN: "But have you seen any evidence?" 

Barr: “No.”

But Barr doesn’t seem to need any evidence. Or rules.

Because in the CNN interview, he repeated that he doesn’t believe the 60-day rule applies to the Durham investigation. "I will handle these cases as appropriate,” said Barr, “and I do not think anything we do in the Durham investigation is going to be affecting the election."

Of course not. Just because Barr accompanied Durham to Rome where he tried to convince Italian authorities to join him in claims that professor Joseph Mifsud was secretly a CIA plant put in place months in advance to snare Trump adviser George Papadopoulos into trying to make contact with Russian officials, doesn’t mean there’s anything political about the investigation. Just because Barr was already secretly working with Durham at the time he redacted the Mueller report. Just because Barr and Durham dropped in on Australian intelligence and unsuccessfully tried to get them to agree that that Australian official Alexander Downer planted false evidence against Carter Page. Just because Barr has made it absolutely clear that the Durham investigation is “broad in scope and multifaceted” including trying find some basis behind the Ukraine fantasy behind Trump’s impeachment—a conspiracy aimed directly at generating false evidence against Joe Biden … none of that makes it political.

What’s clear from everything that’s been learned about Durham’s investigation is that it’s been spectacularly unsuccessful. Barr and Durham didn’t get Italy to lie for them about Mifsud. They couldn’t get Australia to lie for them about Downer. And the heads of both MI5 and MI6 in the U.K. refused to play along with their claims about Joe Biden’s actions in Ukraine. The only actual charge to come out of the investigation so far is a single count of altering an email against decidedly third-tier figure and former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith. And the truth is that Clinesmith’s actions weren’t discovered by Durham at all—they were included in the report prepared by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz last December.

To date, it appears the Durham investigation has turned up exactly nothing that wasn’t previously known, and has completely struck out when it comes to trying to fulfill Trump’s conspiracy fantasies. However, none of that will stop William Barr from issuing a deliberately confusing last-minute memo designed to present things in a completely upside-down manner. After all, that’s his speciality.

Barr’s ‘investigation’ into the Russia investigation began months earlier than previously known

Attorney General William Barr has been conducting a series of investigations into the origins of the Russia investigation since he arrived to bail Trump out. Republicans and their media pals have been pushing the idea that some always-unspecified crime was committed by following up on information that Putin was determined to interfere in the U.S. election, and that Trump officials were eager to welcome his assistance. After all, Obamagate was just awful—even if no one can explain why.

But maybe what’s needed is an investigation into the origins of Barr’s investigation. Because new information shows that Barr was already talking to his own hand-picked investigator, U.S. Attorney John "Bull" Durham, before he released the redacted Mueller report to the public. A whole series of meetings between Durham and Barr took place soon after the attorney general returned to Washington, D.C., all for the purposes of ripping into the Russia investigation and supporting Trump’s endless string of conspiracy theories.

As CNN reports, records show that Barr brought Durham in for a series of meetings well before announcing the official start of an investigation into how the Russia investigation got underway. Soon after being confirmed as attorney general, Barr began pulling in Durham, meeting with him much more frequently than other U.S. attorneys. 

That Barr hit the ground ready to attack the Mueller investigation isn’t surprising; after all, it was a letter complaining about that investigation that was largely responsible for netting Barr his job. But it seems that Barr went in the door already planning how he would try to attack the Russia probe, and who he would select to do it. That degree of early action opens questions into whether Barr was already moving the pieces into place to attack Mueller before he sat down in the Justice Department.

Barr’s meeting with Durham eventually became a series of round-the-world trips in which both Barr and Durham undermined U.S. intelligence agencies and attempted to get allies to confirm parts of ludicrous conspiracy theories. That includes attempting to get officials in both Rome and London to agree that Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud was a CIA plant put in place to lure George Papadopoulos into connection Trump and Putin, that Australian official Andrew Downer was an instrument of U.S. intelligence who provided false reasons for opening an investigation, and that Ukrainian hackers conspired with Hillary Clinton to make it seem as though Russia stole data from the DNC. 

Barr and Durham apparently failed to find any takers on their Q-flavored tour, but that didn’t stop Barr from announcing that Durham’s investigation had become a “criminal probe” in October and announcing an expanded scope in December that included having Durham going after former FBI Director James Comey and other former intelligence officials, including former CIA Director John Brennan. 

This week, Barr refused to answer a question about the status or focus of Durham’s investigation. He did say that he doesn’t expect that the probe will result in a criminal investigation of Joe Biden or Barack Obama. That may seem like a disappointment for Trump fans, but it doesn’t mean that Durham isn’t going to announce charges against Comey, or Brennan, or anyone else that Trump wants charged. It doesn’t even mean that there won’t be charges against Obama or Biden as Barr is perfectly capable of feigning surprise at just what Durham has “uncovered.”

What’s clear is that the Durham probe was planned in advance. And while Barr has complained repeatedly about there being insufficient evidence to charge Michael Flynn, or insufficient evidence to initiate the Russia investigation, the Durham probe was created as a total fishing expedition, with no evidence whatsoever.

Senator’s cellphone seized amid federal investigation of stock trades made ahead of COVID-19 spread

Months after it was revealed that he had made dozens of questionable stock trades ahead of a global pandemic—and advised wealthy constituents to do the same—Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina had his cellphone seized by federal agents Wednesday night. The agents were at the senator’s Washington, D.C., residence.

Burr, who is a member of the “Gang of Eight” and the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sparked scrutiny in mid-March after making 33 transactions in February, that rid him of a significant chunk of his stock portfolio and netted him anywhere between $628,000 and $1.72 million, according to the Los Angeles Times. The transactions came after briefings on the potential impact of the novel coronavirus from the U.S. Department of Health.

While NPR broke the story about the private warnings to rich Tar Heels, ProPublica was the first to report on the selloff. 

ProPublica’s analysis indicated that the Feb. 13 selling spree was Burr’s “largest selling day of at least the past 14 months.”

As the head of the intelligence committee, Burr, a North Carolina Republican, has access to the government’s most highly classified information about threats to America’s security. His committee was receiving daily coronavirus briefings around this time, according to a Reuters story.

A week after Burr’s sales, the stock market began a sharp decline.

[...]

Burr is not a particularly wealthy member of the Senate: Roll Call estimated his net worth at $1.7 million in 2018, indicating that the February sales significantly shaped his financial fortunes and spared him from some of the pain that many Americans are now facing.

The newest and wealthiest member of the Senate, Georgia’s Kelly Loeffler, also got in on the secret selloff, making 29 transactions that add up to millions.  It’s worth noting that Burr is just one of three senators (and the only one still in office) who voted against the 2012 STOCK Act, which, as McClatchy puts it, “explicitly prevents members of Congress and their staffs from using nonpublic information for insider trading.”  Both the FBI and the DOJ have refused comment, as has Burr’s team; however, as the LA Times notes, the search warrant indicates “a significant escalation” in the investigation into Burr’s possible violation of the STOCK Act.

Barr isn’t about to quit, he’s not trying to stop Trump, and he’s not concerned about justice

Attorney General William Barr has been going public this week, expressing his frustration with Donald Trump. Barr is so upset about Trump placing his stubby vulgarian fingers on the scales of justice that he worries that he can’t do his job. He has even thought about quitting.

Don’t you believe it. The manual of the Justice Department says, “The legal judgments of the Department of Justice must be impartial and insulated from political influence. It is imperative that the Department’s investigatory and prosecutorial powers be exercised free from partisan consideration.” But Barr doesn’t believe any of that. He’s not leaving. And he’s not going to stop turning the Department of Justice into a blunt instrument in Trump’s undersized hands.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Barr had considered resigning in response to Trump’s never-ending tweets about federal judges, prosecutors, and jurors. But on Tuesday night, Barr’s spokesperson made it clear that he wasn’t going anywhere. And no matter how many times the Post quoted “people close” to Trump or Barr about the White House friction over Trump’s Twitter habit, this definitely seems like a moment when it makes more sense to believe what Barr’s spokesperson is saying rather than the media accounts.

The idea that the Department of Justice is supposed to be apolitical and insulated from political decisions isn’t hidden away or just a matter of obscure tradition. That’s the first paragraph of the manual that every member of the department is required to read. That’s what the DOJ is supposed to be—impartial, insulated, free to seek genuine justice rather than be influenced by politics.

All of that is exactly the opposite of what Barr has done from the very moment the Senate blessed his return to the attorney general position. Barr has made it clear, in both words and deeds, that he sees the DOJ as a wholly owned subsidiary of Trumpism, Inc. And he’s not about to back away from using his powers to blunt a blade that cuts deep against Trump’s political opponents.

Since moving his stuff back into the Department of Justice, Barr has:

Butchered the Mueller report, creating a false narrative especially designed to replace the actual results in the media spotlight with claims that Trump had been exonerated. To do this, Barr rewrote the conclusion on collaboration with Russia to disguise more than 100 points of active contact. But Barr’s action on the second half of the report was even more amazing: He took 10 instances of clear obstruction of justice and simply declared them okay, based on nothing more than his own opinion.  Extended the idea that Trump cannot be charged with a crime while in office—an already controversial ruling—to the even more astounding claim that Trump cannot be named in a criminal proceeding or even considered as part of a criminal investigation.  Attempted to hide the intelligence community whistleblower report by issuing a ruling that what the inspector general had determined was a critical issue was not critical at all. Attorneys working for Barr made an unprecedented decision that the whistleblower report did not have to be shared with Congress, despite clear law that said otherwise. That this decision failed to hold was entirely because the inspector general refused to be silent. Pretended during the impeachment proceedings that he was uninvolved in the Ukraine plot, even though he was clearly named by Trump as a conduit between the White House and Ukrainian officials. By refusing to testify before the House, Barr hid any actions he or the DOJ may have taken at Trump’s request … right up until the impeachment was over, when he announced an official pipeline between Trump’s personal attorney and the Department of Justice.  Created a special team lead by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham to seek evidence for conspiracy theories voiced by Trump and Fox News. This has included attempting to get intelligence services in Australia, Italy, and the U.K. to provide information that could be used to attack the FBI and CIA. It has also included specifically seeking support for conspiracy theories meant to harm those Trump sees as enemies—from Hillary Clinton to James Comey to Andrew McCabe—despite a lack of genuine evidence. Created a second special team of hand-selected attorneys specifically to harass and undercut U.S. attorneys involved in cases that “interest Trump.” The latter have been subject to questioning about their loyalties and motives even as their cases have been put through additional review and second-guessed by Barr’s Trumpist hit squad. Directly interfered in the sentencing of Michael Flynn and Roger Stone by withdrawing sentencing suggestions and replacing them with much milder alternatives and by removing the U.S. attorney in charge of the Washington, D.C., office—an attorney who had been a member of Trump’s transition team and who was selected for that role by Trump personally—and replacing her with someone who would ignore career prosecutors and go along with Barr’s interference.

The Post story may claim that Barr “has his limits” when it comes to doing what Trump demands. If that’s so, those limits are yet to be tested. Because Barr is not a believer in a “unitary executive,” where all the departments of the executive branch are the responsibility of the president; he is a monarchist, who sees Trump as the owner of not just the Justice Department, but justice itself.

If he has limits, they won’t be found in the manual of the Department of Justice. Their basis might be found in actions of the Committee of Public Safety … or maybe not.

Trump is abusing a judge, intimidating jurors, and attacking prosecutors to destroy justice

In defending his convicted co-conspirator Roger Stone, Donald Trump has attacked the investigators, the prosecutors, and the judge in Stone’s federal case. On Thursday morning, with encouragement from Fox News, he moved on to attacking members of the jury. Trump has continued to show that there is no line he will not cross, because there are no lines. In the wake of his acquittal in the impeachment trial against him by the Republican-dominated Senate, Trump is unbound. He’s not testing the limits of the law; he’s making it clear that he is the law.

At the same time, Attorney General William Barr has made it known that he is personally stepping in to manipulate how punishment is handed down in America: more for Trump’s enemies, less for Trump’s friends. 

Since 2016, there has been no article that has proven its worth more times than Masha Gessen’s “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” And one paragraph in particular clearly illuminates the last few days:

Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed.

Trump didn’t have to take over American media. Fox News came prepackaged before he even stepped onto the golden escalator. All Trump had to do was scream, “Fake news!” at every fact that squeezed onto a screen. The Republican Senate just upheld Trump’s right to disassemble the electoral system at his leisure. So now it’s time for collapsing that judiciary—and Trump isn’t even trying to do it without notice.

As The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, Trump has gone directly after U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the judge presiding over the case of Roger Stone. This isn’t the first time Trump has demonstrated his willingness to demean a federal judge: He hadn’t even been elected when he attacked U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel by claiming that his “Mexican heritage” made him biased in the Trump University case; and in 2018, Trump was so blatant in his attacks on District Court Judge Jon Tigar that even United States Chief Justice John Roberts objected. But Trump is targeting Jackson as part of what is clearly a campaign to create right-wing outrage. Trump has repeatedly hinted, and did again on Wednesday, that he will simply pardon Stone and Flynn when it comes down to it.

But pardoning them is not enough, not when he can use these cases to assault not just charges against Trump advisers who were caught and convicted for 2016 campaign activities, but the whole concept of impartial justice. Donald Trump isn’t hammering a judge who is being tough on a pal. He’s hammering apart the whole justice system.

On Thursday morning, Trump attacked the foreperson of Stone’s jury, saying that she had “significant bias.” What was the evidence of this bias? It was that the jurist—whom right-wing media outlets have, of course, named—made a Facebook post defending the four prosecutors who resigned after Barr stepped in to overturn their sentencing guidelines. The juror said that the prosecutors “acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice.” As with his demands that the intelligence community whistleblower in the Ukraine plot be outed and interrogated, Trump is putting the jury, judge, and prosecutors on trial for Stone’s conviction.

All of this is aside from the fact that, thanks to Mitch McConnell, Trump has appointed 192 federal judges. That includes 51 appeals court judges and 137 district court judges, in addition to two Supreme Court justices that put conservatives in the driver’s seat of national policy for untold years to come. What Trump is doing now isn’t destroying the judicial system, because that work is pretty much done. He’s now rubbing out faith in the judicial system.

That’s why it’s unlikely that Stone will get an immediate pardon. As long as Stone can cool his heels at home, Trump and company will use his case for those two all-important purposes: destroying the republic and fundraising. That’s why members of Trump’s campaign team have already set up a fund supposedly dedicated to paying for Stone’s appeal and are running ads to reach out to Trump supporters in Stone’s name. Stone will probably get his pardon … when Trump has milked his crimes for maximum damage. In the meantime, Trump will tell outright lies about Judge Jackson, such as the claim that she put Paul Manafort in solitary confinement. She didn’t.

But the level of assault that Trump and Barr are staging on the remainder of the judicial system at this point demonstrates vividly that this is an endgame for democracy. Republicans didn’t do anything about Trump’s extorting a U.S. ally to cheat in the 2020 election. They’re not doing anything now about his abusing a judge, intimidating a juror, and tilting the scale of justice to favor his friends. They’re not going to do anything.

Except, perhaps, think about how nice elections will be when only Trump-approved candidates are allowed on the ballot.

William Barr officially becomes Trump’s personal attorney—with power to persecute or pardon anyone

On Tuesday, Donald Trump tweeted that the sentencing recommendations for his longtime associate Roger Stone were unfair. Stone, who was convicted in federal court on seven counts, including lying to Congress and obstruction, including death threats against a judge and threats to murder a witness’ dog, could have received 20 years in prison or more. The recommended sentence of seven to nine years was solidly in the middle of the possible range and was made by a quartet of veteran prosecutors.

But rather than ignoring Trump’s tweet, within hours Attorney General William Barr had instructed the Department of Justice to take an appallingly unprecedented move. The DOJ announced that it was overruling the action of the U.S. attorneys in order to reduce Stone’s suggested sentence—even as Trump threatened to pardon his henchman altogether. It was a moment when American justice teetered on the edge.

Then, overnight, it fell over completely. And the attorney general of the United States officially became Trump’s personal attorney.

Three of the four U.S. attorneys who signed on to Stone’s sentencing recommendation have now withdrawn from the case in protest. At least one has resigned from the DOJ entirely. Rather than seeing this as a moment to rethink how much he had been putting his thumb on the scale of justice, Trump responded by slamming down his whole fat hand. Trump spent the night mocking and threatening the career prosecutors, accusing them of being allies of Robert Mueller, then accusing Mueller of lying to Congress—one of the same charges on which Roger Stone was convicted.

It was a staggering sequence of events—Trump demanding a lighter sentence for someone who participated in both collusion and obstruction for Trump’s own campaign; Barr stepping in to give Trump what he wants; U.S. attorneys who had spent their whole careers with the Justice Department protesting in the only way available to them by resigning; Trump responding by mocking them and threatening to prosecute both them and others. In a matter of just a few hours, every possible flare had been launched to reveal that the Department of Justice wasn’t just being politicized—it was being corrupted, turned into an instrument of Trump’s will.

And then Barr doubled down. As NBC News reports, Barr has taken “control of legal matters of personal interest to President Donald Trump.” That includes persecution of Trump’s enemies, such as former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. That includes protecting Trump allies such as Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. Barr isn’t turning the Justice Department into a political instrument—he’s already done that. He’s using his role to create revisionist history and to actively support and generate nothing less than corruption.

The entire Ukraine plot underlying the impeachment of Donald Trump revolved around a corrupt prosecutor general who persecuted political opponents but refused to go after his allies, no matter how large their crimes. And what Trump learned from this is was that that way of operating was a really good idea.

Fortunately, Trump already had William Barr on hand. Barr has already proven, with his manipulation of the special counsel’s report and his round-the-world conspiracy hunt, that he’s up to the job. And now the attorney general of the United States has officially made himself Donald Trump’s personal attorney—except that this personal attorney has the ability to protect Trump’s friends, persecute his enemies, and bring an end to the idea of apolitical justice in America.

Barr’s interference in Stone’s case follows his already reaching into that of Michael Flynn. Flynn, one of Trump’s former national security advisers, whose convictions were limited to lying to the FBI only because he had made a deal to provide information to the FBI in a number of other cases—including his illegal lobbying for Turkey and his participation in a plot to kidnap a U.S. resident cleric and return him to certain death in Turkey—began backing away from his deal and stalling on sentencing hearings last year. As a result of Flynn breaking his deal, prosecutors recommended a six-month sentence—and an angry judge seemed to agree that Flynn was still getting off easy. Then, in the midst of the process, Barr withdrew the attorney who had been handling Flynn’s case from the beginning and replaced him with a new attorney who rewrote the sentencing guidelines to suggest that there was no need for Flynn to be punished for his lying, obstruction, and defiance of investigators. Instead, the new recommendation was probation.

What’s happening in both the Flynn and the Stone cases is an overt subversion of the role of the attorney general and the Department of Justice. And Trump isn’t backing away—far from it. He has stated that he has an “absolute right” to tell the DOJ what to do. In addition to threatening the attorneys who withdrew from the case, Trump also expressed “congratulations” to Bill Barr in his new role of minister of justice, or prosecutor general, or whatever. 

When the Republicans in the Senate voted to allow Trump to get away with abuse of power and obstruction, he did learn a lesson. But it was the same lesson he’d learned before—that he can do anything. There are no laws except the laws that Trump declares. No justice except that which he permits. No republic remaining except what he deigns to allow.

That may seem like an exaggeration. It’s not.

The House must demand Barr testify about Stone intervention—and be prepared to force his compliance

This cannot go on. Three top prosecutors (which may turn into four) in the Roger Stone case have now withdrawn after Attorney General William Barr's Department of Justice ordered them to revise their guideline-based recommendations on Stone's sentencing. This happened the morning after Donald Trump tweeted that he "cannot allow" the prosecutors' recommended sentencing of Stone, an ally and key stonewaller in the Robert Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russian government hacking in the 2016 elections.

It is time to haul Barr to the House to explain himself. Immediately. If he refuses a subpoena, then inherent contempt must be used to force his compliance. The House has broad but almost-never-used powers to compel such testimony: This is precisely the dire occasion they were designed for.

Campaign Action

The resignation of three top names from Stone's case signals clearly that the federal prosecutors involved believe Barr has acted with corrupt intent in reaching down to order a reduced sentencing ask. They, too, should be subpoenaed immediately so that they may describe the situation that led to their self-removal. This is an extraordinary situation: Even if a teetering-toward-fascism Republican Party will not so much as pretend at "concern" for Trump and Barr's move, the House can expose it without their assistance.

It must be done. The Department of Justice has within the span of days been turned formally into a tool for "processing" allegations against Trump's political opponents and, now, overriding the sentencing of Trump's criminal allies. Barr will resist, but it must be done regardless.

Sen. Chuck Schumer is calling for the inspector general at the Department of Justice to “open an investigation immediately.” That internal review, however, would be obviously insufficient. Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee and lead House manager in Trump's Senate-stifled impeachment trial, sent out an initial statement calling the reported Barr-Trump intervention a "blatant abuse of power" and, coupled with Trump's retaliatory firings, "the gravest threat to the rule of law in America in a generation." But it does not yet threaten subpoenas.

Schiff is correct in his diagnosis—and now the House must once again act. It is not optional; it cannot be danced around. Barr has committed an act of corruption so blatant that prosecutors have resigned rather than carry it out; he must explain himself under oath.

Giuliani and Barr are smoothing out their partnership on Trump’s extortion and slander pipeline

During the impeachment hearings before House committees, Attorney General William Barr repeatedly stated that he knew nothing about Donald Trump’s Ukraine plot. Barr said that, despite Trump informing Ukrainian officials that Barr would be in touch with them, he had not been. Of course, Barr had been in Rome, trying to promote some of the same conspiracy theories, but that was different.

That was also then. Now that the Republican Senate has given Trump a free pass on using his office for extortion and slander, Barr is no longer pretending that he’s not part of the propaganda machine. On Monday he wasn’t quite confirming reports that he and Rudy Giuliani were coordinating on a defamation pipeline. But as of Tuesday, that’s exactly what’s happening.

As The New York Times reports, Barr says that he isn’t treating Giuliani any differently than he treats anyone else, except for when it comes to … pretty much everything. According to Barr, the Justice Department is obligated to “have an open door to anybody who wishes to provide us information.” That’s nice. That apparently includes information from people under federal investigation, whose associates are already under indictment, and who are passing along information generated by foreign officials noted for their corruption, at least one of whom has already admitted that he simply made this stuff up to please Giuliani and Trump.

But then, why shouldn’t Donald Trump’s personal attorney have a personal pipeline to the attorney general? After all, Trump has already made it clear that he can overrule the federal justice system, and even a unanimous vote of the Supreme Court, whenever he feels like it. That Article II, it’s one bad article.

As an example of just how like everyone else Giuliani is being treated, The Washington Post reports that a special “intake process in the field” has been set up to review information provided by Giuliani. Giuliani will be spared the trouble of actually bringing his claims to the Department of Justice. Instead, intelligence agencies and the department will “scrutinize” Giuliani’s claims about Trump’s political opponents.

If that sounds a lot like Barr saying that he will use the FBI and other resources to conduct the investigations Trump wants and hone the power of the Justice Department for political persecution, it’s because it’s exactly like that. In fact, the DOJ is already on the case, checking out information Giuliani handed to U.S. attorneys in Pittsburgh.

According to Barr, the Giuliani Pipeline was created so “any information coming in about Ukraine could be carefully scrutinized by the department and its intelligence community partners,” which, again, is indistinguishable in any practical sense from William Barr simply announcing that the Department of Justice is now investigating Joe Biden, with Rudy Giuliani acting as a special agent in the field. 

Just wait for Wednesday. We’ll probably get there.