John Durham resigning as US Attorney, but won’t let go of pointless ‘investigation’ of Russia probe

John “Bull” Durham announced on Friday afternoon that he is stepping down from his position in the Department of Justice. Presumably this also means an end to his role as special counsel investigating the origins of the Russia investigation. (Note: latest reporting indicates he’s not dropping the probe.)  In the announcement of Durham’s resignation, there is no mention of any further indictments or report upcoming from that investigation.

Durham was appointed by then-Attorney General William Barr in May 2019. The prosecutor had been involved in the investigation of torture and prisoner abuse during the Bush administration, and was directly involved in dismissing every one of the 101 charges on that front. That certainly made him seem an appropriately partisan choice for Barr when seeking someone who would fulfill Donald Trump’s dreams of turning the tables on the Mueller investigation.

But now, after an investigation that lasted months longer than Mueller’s, Durham is leaving with only a single minor indictment against a CIA official who signed off on a single document. Far from proving Trump’s conspiracy theories, Durham seems to have proved that they were conspiracy theories. And now he’s leaving.

Friday, Feb 26, 2021 · 10:38:21 PM +00:00 · Joan McCarter

A clarification in the latest reporting: Durham is not resigning as special counsel, just as the US Attorney in Connecticut. He apparently will still continue doing . . . whatever it is he is doing as special counsel.

Though the spring of 2019 marked the official start of Durham’s investigation, it was clear Barr tapped him for the role months sooner. But almost from the start, Durham’s investigation ran up on the shoals of hard truth. Despite Barr escorting him around the world in an effort to find something that could be turned into evidence behind Trump’s claims, it turned out that allied intelligence services refused to play along. It Italy, Australia, and the U.K., attempts to “prove” that Trump was somehow ensnared into making over 100 contacts with Russian agents were slapped away by officials unwilling to play along.

That was a setback. However, Durham only expanded his scope to look beyond current officials and those directly involved in decisions that led to Trump’s investigation. In fact, he appeared to be digging into unrelated events as an excuse to go after former officials under President Obama.

Still, despite unlimited assistance, Barr’s personal attention, and Trump cheering on the sidelines, Durham’s report never seemed to appear. At first, it seemed as if he intended to have something ready to blow up media attention on Trump’s first impeachment trial. That didn’t happen.

Then all through the summer, Barr hinted that the report was right around the corner. Except it wasn’t.

At the start of September, it seemed that Barr and Durham were still planning a genuine “October surprise.” But then Durham’s longtime assistant left the investigation in mid-September, with language that made it seem as if there was nothing there. Durham soon had his remaining staff looking at the Clinton Foundation for absolutely unspecified reasons because … why not?  However, as actual October arrived, it seemed the real surprise was going to be on Trump

Because there was no Durham report. The single charge levied back in August began to look like the only bullet in Durham’s pop gun. 

Unless there is still some serious information, and more charges, not only is Durham leaving after a fruitless quest into unwarranted claims, this will also mean that Barr repeatedly and seriously overstated the significance of what Durham had uncovered. This is an investigation that was repeatedly put forward as if it had unearthed significant evidence in support of the idea that Trump was unfairly targeted, or that the Mueller investigation took partisan actions. None of that evidence has appeared.

Durham may be resigning, but this might not be the last time he visits the Department of Justice.

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?

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.

Lame-duck Trump is determined to execute as many people as he can before Inauguration Day

Donald Trump and William Barr got the go-ahead for capital punishment last summer, and they are not going to let a little thing like a presidential transition interrupt their killing spree. On Thursday night, Brandon Bernard became the second person executed since Election Day, with four more executions planned before Inauguration Day, including one on Friday, just a day after Bernard.

Bernard’s killing is particularly attention-getting because five of the jurors who voted for the death penalty and even one of the prosecutors who argued for it on appeal had changed their positions, saying he should be allowed to live. Bernard was sentenced for his role, at 18 years old, in the 1999 killing of Todd and Stacie Bagley. Though he did not kill the Bagleys—the man who shot them, Christopher Vialva, was executed in September—Bernard then lit the car they were in on fire. Because the murder occurred at Fort Hood, it was a federal crime.

Since his conviction, Bernard had by all reports been a model prisoner, working with at-risk youth. His case drew the attention of Trump impeachment lawyers Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, who asked the Supreme Court for a delay in his execution so they could get up to speed on the case. The court rejected that request, clearing the way for his execution Thursday night.

“‘I’m sorry,” Bernard said in the moments before he was killed by the government, according to an Associated Press pool report. “That’s the only words that I can say that completely capture how I feel now and how I felt that day.”

President-elect Joe Biden has called for a moratorium on the death penalty, so Trump and Barr are ensuring that they clear out federal death row as much as possible between now and January 20.

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.

Trump and the corrupt lackeys in his government need to know they will be prosecuted

For purposes of the following, let’s stipulate that Joseph Biden is elected president. Of course, we have a long road ahead to make that happen, but if it doesn’t happen, everything written below will be moot.

Given that scenario, and based on their past conduct, it’s fair to assume that the dominating, prevailing impulse among most if not all of Donald Trump’s appointees—and of Trump himself—will be to loot or otherwise exploit the vast resources controlled by our federal government for their personal ends. The lame-duck presidency will permit Trump’s appointees and their hires in nearly all of our federal agencies approximately 75 days of zero accountability, where their only goal, as they perceive it, will be to extract as much wealth as feasible for themselves, and to do favors for the interests that have placed them in that position to begin with.

Trump has surrounded himself with self-interested sycophants and corrupt grifters who have wielded enormous power within our government structure. The entire tenure of Betsy DeVos, Andrew Wheeler, Ryan Zinke, and Wilbur Ross (to name just a few), whom Trump placed in charge of our federal agencies over the past four years, has been dedicated to siphoning as much as possible from the taxpayer’s coffers and redirecting it for their own benefit or the benefit of interests they represent.

There will be no thought whatsoever by these people as to what type of future they are leaving the American people, or what kind of condition the country will be in after their loot-fest is completed. These are not people who entered public service out of any sense of responsibility or altruism; that is simply not the way they think. Trump carefully and deliberately constructed a kakistocracy—a government of the worst, most unscrupulous, most unqualified people—for which destruction of the government agency to which they were appointed was their primary qualification. Most of them could have drawn far greater salaries in the private sector, but they agreed to participate in government insofar as it served their own financial (or in some cases, purely ideological) interests, both during and after their tenures. So assuming Trump loses on Nov. 3, in addition to a spree of looting we can expect massive deletions of data from hard drives, probably outright destruction or theft of government property, shredding of documents, and more as they try to cover up what they’ve done.

In 2018, The New York Times compiled a comprehensive list of the administration’s corruption and conflicts of interest as of then—a list now rendered so incomplete that it seems quaint. 

Compiling the list made us understand why some historians believe Trump’s administration is the most corrupt since at least Warren Harding’s, of 1920s Teapot Dome fame. Trump administration officials and people close to them are brashly using power to amass perks and cash. They are betting that they can get away with it. So far, Congress has let them.

Two years later, the Trump administration has become a systematic web of conflicted interests and blatant theft more prevalent than any administration in history. Its tentacles have now enveloped the Department of Justice in the persona of William Barr, who is now utilized as a willing tool to conduct sham investigations, pressure foreign states to manufacture false evidence to serve Trump’s political interests, and reward Trump’s loyalists such as Michael Flynn and Roger Stone with sentence reductions and outright dismissals of their criminal convictions.

Because Trump’s corruption of our federal government is pervasive at this point, and because it has gone almost entirely unpunished and unexamined, the question of accountability on the part of members of the administration should be addressed now, before the final looting begins. Up to this point, any attempt to unveil this morass of corruption was stymied by a complicit Republican Congress for the first two years of Trump’s tenure. Now that the House is in Democratic hands, the favored response of the administration is to stonewall and “run out the clock.” His appointees engaged in the actual corruption—Barr, for example—are similarly insouciant, in effect thumbing their noses at attempts to investigate or punish their behavior.

Like all criminals, they clearly believe they’ll “get away with it.” It’s our duty to make them understand they won’t.

Michelle Goldberg, writing for The New York Times, frames the issue as one of accountability, which is simply vital if this country is to move forward. She observes that although former Vice President Biden has not ruled out criminal prosecution of Trump himself, he has deliberately avoided the subject. Goldberg also acknowledges that it would be highly unwise for Biden himself to be leading the charge.

Biden’s reticence is understandable, because a president who runs the White House as a criminal syndicate creates a conundrum for liberal democracy. In a functioning democracy, losing an election should not create legal liability; there was a reason Trump’s “Lock her up” chant was so shocking.

But you can’t reinforce the rule of law by allowing it to be broken without repercussion. After four years of ever-escalating corruption and abuses of power, the United States cannot simply snap back to being the country it once was if Trump is forced to vacate the White House in January. If Biden is elected, Democrats must force a reckoning over what Trump has done to America.

Senator and vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have both expressed the view that criminal prosecutions of Trump officials and Trump himself are likely unavoidable. While Trump officials will enjoy qualified immunity in the performance of their job functions, there are limits to that immunity when the conduct impugns the Constitution, or otherwise consists of acts not officially contemplated or made discretionary by their employment in government. The law itself, therefore, is not an impediment to prosecutions for gross corruption or other blatant acts of criminal behavior on the part of Trump’s appointees and their hires.

The much thornier question is whether pursuing criminal charges against these officials will be perceived as so political that it will create a precedent for whichever party is in charge to conduct investigations and criminal prosecutions, however frivolous, of the opposing political party. As pointed out in this report, prepared by the Center for American Progress (CAP), the issue of “creating a precedent” is actually moot. The fact is, as William Barr has amply demonstrated, that abuse of the nation’s law enforcement power against political opponents is now our current reality.

[T]he concern that law enforcement could be used to target political opponents is not a future hypothetical—it’s the current reality. The problem is how to respond to the way the Trump administration has used law enforcement to protect its friends and target its enemies. The precedent has been set; what is still to be determined is the nature of the response.

Any investigations should be driven by career officials following the facts where they lead. The only way to address the politicization of law enforcement is by eliminating it, which means that people in the Trump administration, or those with connections to the administration, do not receive special treatment.

Importantly, the authors of the CAP report point out that failure to hold these criminals accountable will set a far worse precedent: “If a free pass is provided to those who broke the law and subverted democracy, it will embolden them and any illiberal politicians or administrations in the future to show even greater disregard for the rule of law.” Further, a failure to insist on accountability will inhibit people who do have integrity—career, non-political employees—to stand up against corruption in the future.

The CAP report also addresses the  objection that such prosecutions will be “divisive.” Essentially the rejoinder is that the entire administration has been divisive—it is in fact completely predicated on dividing Americans. But all Americans (including even Republicans, presumably) are—or should be—united in their fealty to the rule of law.

But one of those shared ideals is the primacy of the rule of law: that people in the United States should be treated equally, and that there should not be one justice system for the politically well-connected and one for everyone else. Having a rule of law means that it applies at all times and in all places—not only when an administration chooses to enforce it. The law applies right now to the Trump administration; that the administration refuses to acknowledge that fact is all the more reason that a future administration must reassert it. That means holding people accountable for their wrongdoing.

The report also emphasizes that the investigations should be conducted without any White House involvement by career DOJ officials selected for their integrity and experience rather than their ideological and political leanings.

Goldberg quotes Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island to make the point that a Truth Commission of sorts was warranted after the Bush administration took our country to war in Iraq based on lies and phony, manufactured evidence, resulting in a geopolitical disaster from which that region has failed to recover, not to mention the massive loss of life.

Whitehouse was one of the Democrats who, in 2009, called for some sort of Truth Commission to examine the legacy of the last Republican to wreck the country. George W. Bush’s presidency left America “deeply in debt, bleeding jobs overseas, our financial institutions rotten and weakened, an economy in free fall,” Whitehouse said then. His administration took the country to war based on lies and authorized torture. There was a “systematic effort to twist policy to suit political ends; to substitute ideology for science, fact, and law; and to misuse instruments of power.”

But no Truth Commission was ever created. There was no accountability for Iraq, or for Guantanamo, or waterboarding, or “renditions,” just as there was no accountability for the Wall Street banks and financial behemoths that caused the financial crisis of 2007-2008. As a result, as former Obama senior adviser Ben Rhodes, quoted by Goldberg, states:

The “lack of accountability that people felt around the financial crisis and around torture didn’t go away,” said Rhodes. “It metastasized.” A generation of Republicans learned that there was no price for flouting the rules.

The point is that there is a direct line between the failure to hold Bush and Cheney accountable and the widespread, systematic corruption of the Trump administration. People like Stephen Miller, like Bill Barr, honestly believe they’re going to skate away and live happily ever after—perhaps, like Sean Spicer, even being invited to go Dancing with the Stars. They feel they are untouchable, and that’s why they continue with their corruption and illegality. After all, no one has ever been held to account; why would they be the first? 

With regard to Trump himself, in his mind, assuming he can somehow escape the prosecutions pending in the Southern District of New York, he clearly believes he has a future that doesn’t involve a jail cell for the rest of his life, possibly in some country without an extradition treaty with the U.S. The Trump crime family is now far more than Trump himself—it consists of his branding and the coercive power he has exerted by virtue of his office to benefit himself, clearly with a view towards pursuing additional ventures after he leaves office. If we allow that to happen, we’ll simply be setting ourselves up for another Trump.

The list of Trump’s crimes, grifting, and self-dealing, is of course inexhaustible. But Goldberg has a few suggestions on how to deal with this criminal. For starters:

The administration’s failure to contain the coronavirus — exacerbated, according to reporting in Vanity Fair, by Trump’s hostile indifference to hard-hit blue states — deserves something akin to a 9/11 commission. So does the wholesale corruption of American diplomacy, only a small part of which was addressed by impeachment. Just last month, The New York Times reported that Trump instructed America’s ambassador to Britain to press the British government to hold the British Open golf tournament at Trump Turnberry, the president’s money-losing golf resort in Scotland. But we have little visibility into how fully American foreign policy has been perverted to serve Trump’s personal interests.

It’s also certainly worth considering the prosecutions of Miller, ICE, and Border Patrol officials, if applicable, as proposed by Sen. Warren during the Democratic primary. As reported in Pacific Standard last year:

Warren states correctly that, as president, she could ask the Department of Justice to investigate and consider bringing charges against individuals from the Trump administration who violated the laws by detaining and criminally abusing immigrants," says Margaret Russell, a constitutional law professor at Santa Clara University. "This is within a president's authority even if the past administration defended its actions as permissible under the immigration laws."

As Goldberg points out, holding these people accountable does not simply mean “airing” or “exposing” their criminality. There is no benefit to that other than to encourage others by letting them know what they can get away with. What she is calling for are explicit legal sanctions—prison time for Trump’s criminal cabal. Of course, the right will call it a political vendetta. Fox News and every right-wing media outlet will call their minions into the street to protest, screaming at the top of their lungs. So? Just another reason to restore the Fairness Doctrine. It certainly couldn’t be much worse than what we’re experiencing right now.

Of course, the Biden administration—like any Democratic Administration coming out of this nightmare—will want to look forward, particularly since it will be attempting to rebuild what is likely to be the most damaged economy in American history. They will consider it a secondary matter to prosecute these people, secondary to saving the country itself from the disaster that Trump is leaving them to clean up. But in this circumstance, they may have no choice. As pointed out by Andrew Feinberg, writing for the Independent, Trump is a special case:

[G]ood government advocates, legal experts, and some prominent Democrats say the broad range of alleged violations of law by Trump administration officials and allies, ranging from misuse of government resources for personal gain; to the abuse and mistreatment of persons — including minors — in immigration detention; to obstruction of justice and making false statements to Congress; means a Biden administration effort to simply “turn the page” on the Trump years would be a dangerous concession to lawlessness.

It is a near certainty that Trump will contest any election result that goes against him, but assuming that our governmental institutions manage to thwart any attempts by Trump to evade that outcome, the timeframe between Nov. 3 and Jan. 20 will become the last opportunity for Trump’s cadre of appointees to indulge in a final spate of looting the public coffers.

The only way they are going to be deterred is by knowing that they will be held accountable to the full extent of the law.

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Republicans are planning a mass attack against Biden using information from pro-Russian agents

In 2016, Donald Trump and his campaign team made more than 100 contacts with Russian agents in what turned out to be a successful effort to plunder information, disseminate propaganda, and ultimately steal an American election. Other Republican officials were certainly involved to some degree—particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who did everything he could to block efforts to make the public aware of Russian interference and damaged election security.

In 2020, Republicans in both House and Senate—having given Trump a free pass to invite foreign interference and approving the whitewashing of Trump’s crimes by Attorney General William Barr—are all on board. That includes Barr, who has all but promised to provide America with a QAnon-sanctioned October surprise. It includes Republican lawmakers like Rep. Devin Nunes, who are sitting on a packet of documents prepared by a pro-Russian official from Ukraine. It includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been using the State Department to pile up a stack of unsubstantiated attacks on Joe Biden. Barr, Nunes, and Pompeo are not just sitting on this information: they’re deliberately hiding it, looking for the moment to strike when no one has a chance to see what a baseless conspiracy they’re really pushing.

Devin Nunes has always represented the ragged edge of support for Donald Trump. From the moment he jumped from an Uber and sneaked into the White House in an attempt to derail the Russia investigation, to his stint in front of the House Ethics Committee, Nunes made it clear that his loyalty to Trump exceeded any other responsibility. And when it came to questions about when Nunes would be truthful with his House colleagues, he could not have been more clear: “Never.”

So it should come as no surprise that as the 2020 election approaches, Devin Nunes has been working directly with a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker who previously passed along information through Rudy Giuliani. That lawmaker has been feeding information to Republicans in both the House and Senate. It comes in the form of a “packet” of supposed evidence that backs up Trump and Giuliani’s long-debunked claims about Joe Biden’s relationship to the Ukrainian government.

As CNN reports, Democrats have been aware that Republicans in the House and Senate—including Nunes—were sent a packet of information from pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach in January, in the midst of Donald Trump’s impeachment. But Republicans have refused to discuss what’s in the packet, or even admit that they have it. In closed-door Intelligence Committee hearings, Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York made multiple attempts to get Nunes to answer a simple question. "Is the ranking member prepared to even respond to the question?,” asked Maloney. ”How about it, Mr. Nunes? Did you receive a package from Andrii Derkach or not? And would you share with the committee or not?” Nunes did not respond. “Well,” said Maloney. “I guess this is a case where silence speaks volumes."

As Politico reported, that silence extends to the FBI. After Democratic staff members became aware of the existence of the document packet, they requested information on the contents from the FBI. Not only has there been no information provided, there hasn’t even been a response.

During his Tuesday hearing with the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr was just as silent in refusing to share any information collected in the investigation he’s conducted with the assistance of U. S. Attorney John “Bull” Durham. That investigation also includes sharing Ukraine with Guiliani, as well as attempts to arm-twist officials in London, Rome, and Australia into giving Barr additional leverage that can be used to support Trump.

On Friday, The Hill reported that Rep. Eliot Engel has issued a subpoena to another Republican known to have been stacking up information provided by Giuliani and his associates: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Secretary Pompeo has turned the State Department into an arm of the Trump campaign and he’s not even trying to disguise it,” said Engel. Pompeo has shared information connected to Joe Biden with Senate Republicans, while hiding it from Democrats. However, it’s hard to call the information Pompeo has shared exclusively with Republicans a “packet” … because it’s over 16,000 pages long.

In the next 97 days, the attack on Joe Biden is going to come from William Barr, from Mike Pompeo, from Senate Republicans, and from Republican representatives like Nunes, all of them using information that has not been vetted, or even seen, by anyone outside the GOP. They’re not planning an October surprise: They’re planning a bullshit assault from every direction.

And, just like in 2016, they’re expected to get every single column of The New York Times and every single moment of network news airtime to repeat their claims, unchallenged, in the days right before the election.

Barr makes it clear that he intends to deliver an October surprise … that will surprise no one

In his Tuesday hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr made plenty of statements that justifiably raised eyebrows—among them his refusal to acknowledge a direct threat against a federal judge, his lack of concern for Donald Trump’s pardoning people directly involved in his campaign, and his smug willingness to overlook any evidence, no matter how obvious, against Trump or anyone close to Trump. Barr’s entire appearance was simply dripping with disdain for the entire legal process, Congress, and plain old decency.

So it’s not surprising that among the statements made by Barr, one threat got little attention. Not only did Barr make it clear that he intends to lob an “October surprise” into the election works, he added in a signal that he’s going full QAnon by adding not-at-all-disguised reference to Pizzagate in the mix. Sometime in the final weeks of the campaign, Barr fully intends to fulfill every Republican fantasy with a “report” on how Democrats tried to … do something. 

From literally the week he arrived back in Washington, D.C., Barr has been following through on Donald Trump’s wishes to pursue conspiracy theories related to the Russia investigation. Not only did Barr begin his second session as attorney general (AG) by purposely distorting the results of the Mueller investigation and hiding evidence collected by the Department of Justice, he drafted U.S. Attorney John "Bull" Durham to begin an international quest to find anything that could back up Pizzagate-level claims of persecution.

The Where in the World is Hillary’s “Missing Server” world tour has seen Barr and Durham in Australia, trying to get that government to admit that Australian official Andrew Downer was actually an instrument of U.S. intelligence planting false justification to open an investigation. They’ve visited Rome and London in an attempt to get officials there to agree that Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud was another CIA plant put in place to lure George Papadopoulos into spilling the beans on Trump. And they’ve met with an array of Rudy Giuliani approved pro-Russian Ukrainians, looking for that elusive proof that Joe Biden something something Hunter. Also, they’ve seriously spent time pursuing a Democratic National Convention (DNC) email server and Ukrainian hackers, neither of which ever existed. The list of actions that Barr has taken to support Trump’s ludicrous conspiracy theories is lengthy, and still growing. 

From all of this, Barr is preparing a report that will undoubtedly confirm that Trump was “right.” Barr is almost certain to paint already identified infractions by FBI agents and decisions made by Justice Department officials as parts of a deep state conspiracy meant to set up Trump before he was elected—an attempted “coup” only thwarted by Trump’s vigilant eye and firm hand on the rudder.

This isn’t the first time the Barr-Durham report has been expected. During the impeachment hearings there was a widespread belief that Barr was going to bomb the proceedings with a report that included claims against James Comey, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and even President Barack Obama. The report didn’t come when expected … but then, thanks to the Republicans in the Senate who refused to hear a single witness, it wasn’t really needed.

How far down into QAnon white rabbit land is Barr willing to go? As The Washington Post reports, when Republican Rep. Tom McClintock took the opportunity during the hearing to join Barr in moaning about the failings of the Russia investigation, he asked Barr if Durham’s report was going to beat the election deadline. “Are you going to be able to right this wrong before it becomes a precedent for future election interference by corrupt officials in our justice and intelligence agencies?” asked McClintock.

After complaining that the investigation had been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barr went on to say: “Justice is not something you order up on a schedule like you’re ordering a pizza.” That was far from an accidental statement. QAnon conspirators frequently sift through public statements to find some obscure reference that can be construed as having something to do with their impossibly arcane beliefs. Barr didn’t make it that hard. Considering that the entire QAnon conspiracy theory began with claims about Democratic officials hiding an “international pedophile ring” behind pizza orders, Barr was blowing a QAnon bullhorn, underlining his intention of delivering the goods.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell took the oppositite approach, asking Barr if he would “commit to not releasing any report by Mr. Durham before the November election.” Barr’s answer in this case was much more succinct: “No.”

Barr is making it clear that sometime in the remaining 98 days before the election, he intends to drop a sheaf of documents that builds every molehill of wild speculation into a mountain of even wilder accusations. At this point, more pretense around Ukraine or servers or commas in the warrant for Carter Page may seem picayune, especially as the tide of coronavirus deaths rolls on toward 200,000. On the other hand, Barr could even include manufactured indictments against Clinton, or Obama, or even Biden. That would get attention. After all, Barr has made it absolutely clear that there are no lines

And both Barr and Trump are counting on the media to be every bit as cooperative in trumpeting whatever is in this report as they were in making Clinton’s emails the number one story in 2016.

Things in Portland were getting better, until Trump made them worse … deliberately

In the last two weeks, Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that there are “many, many people in jail right now—many, many people in jail, all over the country” for attempting to topple Confederate statues. And then there was the sequence from Trump’s appearance on Thursday, in which he promised, “many exciting things … Things that nobody has even contemplated, thought about, thought possible, and things that we’re going to get done … we can honestly say nobody has ever going to see eight weeks like we’re going to have.” He continued, “We’re going to get things done that they’ve wanted to see done for a long, long time.”

Trump did not say who “they” were, but it’s not hard to guess what the things are. Because a day earlier, Trump made it clear that one of the “detailed” and “thoughtful” things he has planned for next week is a federal takeover of multiple cities from “the left-wing group of people” that voters have elected as governors, mayors, and other local leaders. “Next week, we’re going to have, I think, a very exciting news conference because we’re going to be talking about some of these cities that — where the Democrats running them have just lost control of the cities. So that’ll be very interesting.”

Interesting … may not be the right word.

On Saturday morning, it did seem as if the national media had finally noticed that Portland, Oregon exists. Video of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler demanding the removal of uninvited federal troops from his city’s streets appeared on multiple broadcasts, as did video of those unidentified federal forces kidnapping people off the street and forcing them into unmarked vans

The New York Times has detailed the last fifty days of protests and unrest in Portland. The article does a good job explaining the many steps between the protests against police violence and systemic racism that grew in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd, and how those protests eventually led to unarmed protesters being shot in the face by federal officers. That story includes a spiral of protest actions, over-response from police, escalation of tensions, and events such as a July 4th exchange with protesters directing fireworks toward the federal courthouse while police returned a hail of rubber-coated bullets, pepper balls and tear gas … for three hours.

But the biggest takeaway of “how did we get here” when it comes to unidentified men in camo dragging people into vans, or blasting them in the face, is simple: Donald Trump wants it that way.

A year ago, it might have seemed possible that Donald Trump could be reelected, based on the complacency of a white America willing to overlook—or reward—three years of racism and corruption in exchange for an extra nickle on their paychecks and the satisfaction of knowing they had a leader who was making white supremacy fashionable again. But with COVID-19 revealing just how impossibly weak Donald Trump’s leadership really is, and coming off a year in which Trump’s impeachment brought a cascade of testimony to his pettiness and insecurity, any concept that Trump might hold onto power in anything resembling a normal election is out the window.

If the American people can go to the polls, or even better, mail in a ballot, to select their choice in November, Trump will lose in all but a handful of the most blood red states. In fact, his slide over the last month has been so precipitous, it’s hard to predict that any state is unthinkable in the fall.

Trump knows this. In response, he’s going with what has always worked for him in the past—racism, the shock doctrine, and fear. Trump intends to sell his followers on a vision of America where Democratic states and cities are not just less important than red states, but a threat to real Americans. A threat that must be dealt with. What’s going on in Portland right now is the prototype for Trump’s America

As the Times article—and the mayor, and the governor, and everyone on the scene—makes clear, the presence of federal forces in Portland has greatly escalated the violence and tension in the city. It’s only since these forces appeared on the scene that “it’s gotten really brutal.” That’s because the federal forces have no respect for the usual tension and back-and-forth that exists between protesters, even the most peaceful protesters, and police. Here’s a scene in downtown Portland from a week ago.

Last Saturday, the crowd was 100 or so. It was very chill—nothing going on beyond the now-normal occupation of the Justice Center. And feds came out grabbing people seemingly at random and beating people with sticks. There was the kid who got shot in the head and his skull was fractured. 

The federal forces didn’t just shoot an unarmed student in the head. They shot the relationship between the police and the protesters. They blew away an already tentative sense of cause and effect. They made it clear that there are no rules. Anyone could be hurt at any time for any thing. Or nothing.

This is not accidental. In both the protests in Washington D. C. and what’s going on in Portland, the forces sent in by Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and acting Director of Homeland Security Chad Wolf are people completely untrained in dealing with either public demonstrations or even normal law enforcement. These are ass-kickers, and they’ve been sent in to kick ass. 

They are not there to make things better. They are very, very much there to make things worse.

And they’re being successful. Early on in the sequence of protests in Portland, a man called “Legend” started providing free food to protesters. His efforts got him tear gassed, but the community response ended up allowing him to create an always-open spot where anyone—protester, homeless, or just hungry—could come in for a free plate of food. The community rallied around him, local merchants provided supplies, voluntary contributions covered all the costs. Other services grew up around “Riot Ribs,” including free medical care, and even help in finding jobs and homes for those on the streets. But after the federal forces smashed the unspoken agreement between the police and protesters, the location was stormed, Legend and everyone else involved was driven away or arrested, and all the donated food was confiscated. A fence was put up to make sure no one could come back. The relationship between the police and protesters went way down. The chance of violence … through the roof.

This is exactly the kind of outcome Trump is going for. It does Trump no good to have people sitting around sharing food, helping their community, and  planning for the future. He needs there to be violence. So he, and Barr, and Wolf, are creating it. They have no intention on stopping with Portland. The United States is currently undergoing the greatest crisis it has faced in a century. At the same time, it is wrestling with the greatest reconsideration of Civil Rights in half a century. Trump has no interest in dealing with the former, and nothing but distaste for the later. He’s creating a crisis on top of crisis on top of a crisis because … racism and fear. In the end, it’s all he ever brought to the game.

Fox News and right wing sources are already selling their audience on a vision of America in which blue states and cities are in “anarchy” and where violence “demands” a federal presence. It fits exactly with their claims that had the gun-waving couple in St. Louis not directed a military weapon at passing protesters, they would have been “murdered” and their house “would be ashes.” They mean to make violence not just understandable, but inevitable.

Trump means to send federal forces to Chicago, and Seattle, and anywhere else he can think of, explicitly to insert the chaos and violence that justifies taking even more federal control. And it would not be too much to believe that action is headed toward something very like a declaration of martial law, or a federalization of police forces.

However, there is one thing that can slow Trump’s action: Visibility. The right wing has been getting a stream of “antifa violence” fed to them 24/7 since the George Floyd protests began. They’re plenty ready for Trump to crack some skulls and shoot some protesters. What happened to John Lewis on that bridge in Selma may have shocked the nation, but Trump supporters are eagerly waiting to see that kind of bloodshed on their screens. Every note of racism and fear has been played to not just make them want it, but feel like they need it.

There has to be more visibility for everyone else. A momentary blip on the news 50 days into protests and over a week after federal forces blew apart the situation, is far from enough. What’s happening in Portland needs to be elevated not just because it’s frightening, and a huge threat to America, but because when it’s seen up close, the intention is also obvious, crude, and even more than a little ludicrous

Mayor Wheeler has forcefully renewed his call for the withdrawal of federal forces. Oregon Governor Kate Brown has made it clear that Trump is “looking for a confrontation” in hopes of turning violence in Portland into votes in Ohio or Michigan. Even the U. S. Attorney for the District of Oregon has called for an investigation into an action that his boss has played a major role in organizing (So don’t be surprised to hear about another U. S. attorney “resigning”). 

But the most important thing at the moment may be to elevate the videos and reports from those on the ground. To join in saying that this is unacceptable. And to make it clear to Donald Trump that you see what he is doing.

We�re fighting to save our democracy � in Portland and nationwide. And we�re just getting started.https://t.co/LdhRXKw5IY

— ACLU (@ACLU) July 18, 2020

�Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping� https://t.co/6GvqjkOANC

— Jonathan Lemire (@JonLemire) July 18, 2020

Unidentified stormtroopers. Unmarked cars. Kidnapping protesters and causing severe injuries in response to graffiti. These are not the actions of a democratic republic.@DHSgov�s actions in Portland undermine its mission. Trump & his stormtroopers must be stopped.

— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) July 18, 2020