Republicans still fighting results of 2020 election, refusing to allow Democratic Senate to organize

It's now February and nearly a full month since the Jan. 5 election in Georgia that flipped the Senate to Democrats. At least nominally—the body is split 50-50 and the weight goes to Democrats because they can bring in Vice President Kamala Harris as necessary, so they've got the majority. But the Senate still hasn't passed the organizing resolution to finalize all that and, critically, hand the keys of the committees over to the Democrats.

Why? Sen. Dick Durbin says it’s Sen. Mitch McConnell. "He's the key to it," Durbin told CNN's Manu Raju after an infuriating exchange of tweets and letters Durbin has had with the abhorrent Lindsey Graham, who is the pretender in the Judiciary Committee chair. Technically, the committee doesn't have a chair. The committee doesn't have members, not until the organizing resolution passes. But habit is keeping the gavel in Graham's hand, and he's refusing to schedule a hearing for President Biden's nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland. Durbin went public with his frustration Monday afternoon tweeting out a plea and a letter to Graham to schedule the damned confirmation hearing on Feb. 8.

To which Graham replied in his typical pissy, hypocritical way. In other words, no, he's not going to extend even a bit of consideration or courtesy, and he's going to be a condescending and patronizing ass in "explaining" why. "Your request is highly unusual," he says. Then he blames it on impeachment and goes through three paragraphs of lecture about committee procedure. Which Durbin knows. Well.

The committee has reams of background material on Garland and has had it since 2016, the last time Republicans were assholes about this particular—completely qualified and non-controversial—nominee, that time for the even more important job on the Supreme Court. 

This might be McConnell and team exacting revenge for their embarrassing loss in filibustering the organizing resolution to keep the filibuster. They're dragging this out as long as they can, though talks among staff have reportedly been "productive." Soon, aides say, maybe as soon as Tuesday. But no one is giving a deadline.

At this point, Biden should just start threatening to name all his nominees who haven't yet had hearings "acting" directors and Schumer should try to force them onto the floor without committee hearings. It would take unanimous consent, but it would also highlight the fact that Republicans are still fighting the results of the 2020 election by refusing to allow Biden to complete his government and the Senate to fully function.

Trump plotted to toss the acting attorney general, insert a stooge, and block the electoral count

Donald Trump driving a crowd into a violent attack on the Capitol may be the defining image that will remain in the minds of most Americans. But that assault on Jan. 6 wasn’t the only coup Trump planned. After his ridiculous legal ploys had all floundered; after his attempts to strong arm governors and secretaries of state had failed; after he had wined and dined state legislators in an attempt to prevent the certification of votes … Trump had another scheme.

The New York Times reports that Trump worked with Department of Justice lawyer Jeffrey Clark on a plan that would have removed acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, then Trump and Clark would use the DOJ to order Georgia legislators to reverse the outcome of the election in that state while blocking Congress from counting the Electoral College vote.

This plan was apparently only halted because of an accident of timing. And it shows once again how close Trump came to completely gutting American democracy.

It was absolutely clear that Trump was frustrated that former attorney general William Barr—who had done everything else to support Trump—refused to use the DOJ to support Trump's legal team in their baseless claims of election fraud. That doesn’t take speculation, because Trump said it openly. Barr refused to go along, telling reporters that the department had found no evidence of fraud. As a result, Barr stepped down in mid December and then Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen took on the acting AG role. 

As The New York Times reports, Trump immediately began to pressure Rosen to interfere in the few remaining steps before the Electoral College votes were counted. The day after Barr’s departure, Trump called Rosen to the White House. Trump pushed Rosen to announce that he was appointing special counsels to look into voter fraud, with one focusing on the unsupported claims—and outright lies—that Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell had been spreading about Dominion Voting Systems. And Trump called on Rosen to do what Barr had refused, file legal briefs in support of the lawsuits filed by Trump’s legal team.

When Rosen refused, Trump continued to press. He called Rosen repeatedly. He called him back to the White House and confronted him multiple times. Trump complained that the Justice Department was “not fighting hard enough for him” and pushed Rosen on why DOJ attorneys were not supporting the “evidence” being put forward by Giuliani and Powell.

But as Rosen continued to refuse, Trump went around him to work with Clark. According to the Times report, Clark told Trump that he agreed there had been fraud that affected the election results. Clark tried to pressure his bosses at the DOJ into holding a new conference to announce that it was “investigating serious accusations of election fraud.” But Rosen also refused to go along with Clark.

As Trump and Clark worked together, much of the attention was focused on Georgia, where Trump complained that the U.S. attorney in Atlanta, Byung Pak, was also not trying hard enough to defend Trump. In the conversation in which Trump attempted to threaten Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, he complained about Pak. DOJ officials warned Pak that Trump was “fixated” on forcing his office to go along with his plans.  That led to Pak’s resignation just a day before the Jan. 6 insurgency. 

As Trump was pushing on Raffensperger, Clark was continuing to try and force Rosen to act on Trump’s behalf. Clark drafted a letter falsely saying the DOJ was investigating voter fraud in Georgia and tried to get Rosen to send it to state legislators. Rosen again refused to go along with the scheme and on New Year’s Eve, Rosen and deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue met with Clark to tell him that his actions were wrong.

Rather than backing off, Clark went back to Trump. He met with Trump over the weekend, then came back to tell Rosen what they had decided. Trump and Clark concocted a plan in which Trump would replace Rosen with Clark. Clark would then use the DOJ in an effort to prevent Congress from counting the Electoral College results. Clark not only explained this plan to Rosen, but offered to allow Rosen to stay on as his deputy.

Rosen refused to go along and demanded a meeting with Trump. But what stopped Trump and Clark’s plan from moving forward was not some momentary lapse into reason or decency on Trump’s part. Instead, what happened was that, just as Rosen was preparing to meet with Trump, news broke that Raffensperger had recorded his conversation with Trump. Hearing Trump’s direct effort to force the Georgia secretary of state into “finding” votes, along with Trump’s threats over what would happen if Raffensperger failed to go along, apparently stiffened enough spines among the second tier officials at the DOJ that a whole group threatened to resign if Rosen was removed. The “Clark Plan” the group decided would “seriously harm the department, the government and the rule of law.”

That same evening, Rosen, Donoghue and Clark met at the White House with Trump, White House attorney Pat Cipollone, and other lawyers. Cippollone made it clear to Trump that pulling the trigger on the Clark Plan would not just generate chaos at the Justice Department, but result in a strong pushback from Congress, including investigations.

After nearly three hours of argument, Trump reluctantly backed away from firing Rosen and using the DOJ to smash open the election.

But it came that close. If the phone call with Georgia officials had not been released, if Rosen had not been able to rally the support of his deputies, if Trump had simply ignored Cippollone and ordered Clark to carry on … what would have happened next is anyone’s guess.

Is it too late to add additional charges to the impeachment?

DOJ investigating U.S. attorney pressured to resign during Trump’s attempt to overturn Georgia votes

On Dec. 30, Donald Trump called on Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to resign after the fellow Republican refused to intervene to overturn the outcome of elections in that state. On Jan. 2, Donald Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and tried to pressure him into multiple violations of election law, followed by a series of threats about what would happen if Raffensperger didn’t “find” enough votes to hand the state to Trump. In that called to the Republican secretary, Trump mentioned a “never-Trumper U.S. attorney” in Georgia, and hinted to Raffensperger that he would be charged criminally once this never-Trumper was sent packing.

The next day, U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak submitted his resignation. Pak, who was nominated to his position by Trump, handed over a resignation letter full of the standard theme of “gratitude.” Coming in the same week that a Trump-inspired insurgency assaulted the Capitol in an effort to overturn the election—and at the same time Trump was making a number of last-minute appointments and changes—Pak’s resignation didn’t draw the same amount of attention that it might have generated in a non-coup week.

But now The Washington Post reports the Justice Department inspector general is looking into why Pak resigned when he did. Because it seems extremely likely that Kemp and Raffensperger weren’t the only ones who got a call from Trump.

If Trump called on Pak to resign out of the blue, that’s odd, but it’s far from illegal. After all, as the prolonged example of Geoffrey Berman demonstrated last June, U.S. attorneys, like most appointed members of the executive branch, can be dismissed without need to give cause. 

However, the fact that Trump referred to a  “never-Trumper U.S. attorney” in his call to Raffensperger absolutely suggests that either he, or some other member of the White House staff, had already tried to pressure Pak into taking some unspecified action to interfere with Georgia’s election. Something that was illegal, or simply wrong enough, for Pak to refuse.

The Post’s sources indicate that Pak received a call from a senior official in the Department of Justice that “led him to believe he should resign.” But since Trump was already angry at the entire Justice Department for failing to support his laughable attempts to alter the outcome of the election in court, it’s unclear just what made Pak feel that he had to step out of the way—especially when his term was almost certain to be up in just two weeks.

In any case, with Pak’s departure, Trump immediately backfilled by expanding the territory of South District of Georgia prosecutor Bobby Christine. That was also a red flag as the job should have passed to Pak’s deputy. However, Christine doesn’t seem to have made any overt moves to support Trump’s efforts to overturn the choice of Georgia voters.

As with so many stories coming from Trump’s final months, it may take some time to understand exactly what Trump did in his efforts to sink democracy. But it’s okay to go ahead with the impeachment trial before all this information is understood.

Trump can always be indicted later.

Trump and the right are buzzing with hatred toward Hunter Biden … and Bill Barr

To be absolutely clear: Bill Barr is a terrible attorney general who has used his position to grossly distort the whole purpose of the Justice Department. He auditioned for the role with a letter claiming the Russia investigation was illegal, substituted his own “summary” for the findings of the actual Mueller report, and personally signaled for his prison guard shock troops to begin a violent attack on unarmed protesters. Barr has spent most of the last two years trying to fulfill Donald Trump’s every conspiracy theory dream by appointing special investigators, providing an endless stream of disinformation to right-wing media, and traveling the world in an attempt to find an ally willing to roast U.S. intelligence agencies. And all of that is on top of Barr’s previous star turn in which he played a central role in dismissing charges resulting from Iran-Contra. He’s a bad attorney general, a bad American, and simply a bad man.

But just because Barr is determinedly malevolent, and saved Trump from what should have been an impeachment over the plain fact that his campaign engaged in every form of cooperation with the Russian government in order to subvert the outcome of a U.S. election, it doesn’t mean that Trump is always going to be happy with him. And now, in the twilight of both their careers, Trump is increasingly treating Barr as an enemy.

In Trump’s mind, there are only two possible roles anyone can serve: Completely subservient bootlicker, or infuriating opponent. There is no in between.

So the fact that Barr didn’t wholeheartedly join in with Rudy Giuliani and his parade of Hunter Biden laptops as confirmed by blind shop owners before the election had already made Barr suspect. Trump repeatedly tweeted a mixture of disdain and distaste for Barr in the weeks before the election as it became clear that, unlike 2016, there was not going to be some last-minute statement from the DOJ or FBI to provide Trump a last-minute vote infusion. And now a story from The Wall Street Journal has Trump hammering away at Barr again while Trump supporters are calling Barr a traitor and Republican senators are demanding yet another very special counsel. 

The claims from the WSJ began with a story in which Hunter Biden admitted that his federal income taxes are under investigation. Of course, Donald Trump has claimed that he could not reveal his tax returns for the last ever because he’s perennially under audit. It’s also widely known that Trump’s taxes are the subject of investigations by the State of New York. However, what’s routine for Trump is apparently supposed to be scandalous for Joe Biden’s surviving son—a son who will have no role in the upcoming administration. The investigation into Hunter Biden’s taxes apparently predates both Barr and Trump’s phone call to Ukraine but is said to be restricted to tax issues and “doesn’t implicate other members of his family or the president-elect.”

But what has the whole right wing in an uproar is the idea that … Barr knew. Barr knew, and he didn’t make a statement that Trump could use before the election. For Trump, this isn’t just an excuse to attack Barr for failing to come through the clinch, but also to claim that Biden’s term is going to be “so plagued by scandal” that the Supreme Court just might as well hand the election to Trump and save everyone some time and embarrassment.

And of course, Barr did know. He knew that while Hunter Biden’s taxes were being investigated by an office of the department he controlled. Barr also knew that no crime has been alleged, no one has been indicted, and that nothing appeared to be connected to the actual candidate for office. A fuming Trump supporter inside the DOJ also complained that Barr knew about another investigation involving Hunter Biden, an investigation that the WSJ was quick to highlight … before reaching the point where it admits that its sources indicate Hunter was “never a specific target for criminal prosecution.” Connected to the first investigation, this appears to be more a matter of looking at a bank that may have made some shady deals rather than anything specifically done by Hunter Biden.

So what Barr knew was that Hunter Biden’s taxes were being examined in one investigation, and Biden was not the target of a second investigation. Still, Barr’s failure to jump up and down and scream about a family of criminals is apparently all that was required to toss him from the good graces of Trump and his supporters.

Of course Barr may think that trying to at least approximate normal behavior on this one topic at a time when Trump is about to depart center stage might be enough to get him accepted back into normal society. He’s going to be disappointed.

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.