President Trump’s witch hunt has found its Cotton Mather, provocateur of the infamous Salem trials. Attorney General William Barr, determined to leverage a lifetime of expertise on the nation’s laws to ensure they don’t apply to his boss, has begun pursuing Trump’s longed-for investigation of the investigators with all the know-how and follow-through the president lacks.
The White House last week granted Barr broad authority to declassify intelligence information as he probes the origins of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia, arming him with another means of advancing the president’s conspiracy theories of a “deep state’’ bent on political sabotage. Barr previously deputized the U.S. attorney for Connecticut to investigate the investigation on top of reviews by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
Americans should welcome objective examinations of law enforcement and intelligence, but Barr’s record predicts nothing of the kind. The attorney general has signaled enthusiasm for Trump’s deceptive and self-serving version of events by recklessly accusing authorities of “spying’’ on his campaign. That suggests Barr is embarking on a more competent iteration of California Rep. Devin Nunes’ misuse of declassified material to run interference for the president during the Tulare Republican’s mercifully discontinued leadership of the House Intelligence Committee.
Barr, who also served as attorney general under George H.W. Bush, is a longtime champion of extreme and expansive views of presidential power. This ideology is at odds with constitutional checks and balances but in line with a president who has shown scant regard for legal and ethical constraints.
The attorney general’s reinvigoration of this witch hunt is a fitting sequel to his distortion of the Mueller report. Having recast the damning document of presidential obstruction as an exoneration, he has turned his attention to sowing doubt about the investigation itself.
Taken together, however, Barr’s campaigns to obfuscate and undermine the Mueller report reveal the illogic of Barr and Trump’s position. An administration that insists the special counsel’s investigation vindicated the president is now engaged in a concerted effort to discredit that supposedly exculpatory investigation.
The San Francisco Chronicle, May 29