According to the left’s narrative, Attorney General William Barr is nothing more than a lackey for President Donald Trump. But the attorney general broke with his boss Friday, telling CBS that he doesn’t believe Obama-era Justice Department officials committed “treason,” as Trump has alleged — at least not in the legal sense.
“Not as a legal matter,” he said. “Sometimes people can convince themselves that what they’re doing is in the higher interest and better good.”
Treason? Not according to Barr
While Democrats spent two years accusing the president of stealing the 2016 election with the help of the Kremlin, Republicans have long alleged that the actual threat to democracy emanated from Obama administration officials who attempted a “soft coup.” For his part, Trump has flatly accused the FBI, CIA, and other agencies of treason.
But Barr broke with that narrative on Friday, telling CBS that if senior intelligence officials “put their thumbs on the scale” in their investigation of the Trump campaign, as the attorney general has previously suggested, it was out of a misguided sense that what they were doing was right.
“They don’t realize that what they’re doing is really antithetical to the democratic system that we have,” Barr said. His comments seemed to obliquely refer to officials like former FBI Director James Comey, known for pontificating about “higher loyalties.”
Comey has vigorously defended the FBI’s conduct under his leadership, saying that the FBI’s spying on the Trump campaign — including the use of an undercover agent, informants, and a political dossier to get surveillance warrants — was a matter of duty.
The dirty word
For their part, Democrats have attacked Barr for saying that Trump’s campaign was spied on, but the attorney general has never claimed that the FBI’s spying was unwarranted, merely that he wants to investigate whether it was justified. Barr defended his spying statements again on CBS Friday.
“I guess it’s become a dirty word somehow. It’s never been for me. I think there’s nothing wrong with spying,” Barr said. “The question is always whether it’s authorized by law and properly predicated. And if it is, it’s an important tool that the United States has to protect the country.”
In a previous interview with Fox, Barr indicated that he was concerned over whether government officials put their “thumbs on the scale” in the Trump-Russia investigation. Barr appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to review the origins of the Russia investigation.
“I had a lot of questions about what was going on, and I assumed I’d get answers when I went in, and I have not gotten answers that are at all satisfactory and in fact, probably have more questions,” Barr told CBS. “Some of the facts that I’ve learned don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened.”
Efforts by Trump and Barr to “investigate the investigators” got a boost last week when Trump gave Barr authority to declassify FISA documents. Trump also ordered the intelligence community to cooperate with Barr’s probe.
Disagreements at the DOJ
That came just days before Mueller delivered a spontaneous, brief press conference on Wednesday in which he defended his boss’ “good faith” in handling his report but gave momentum to the Democrats’ impeachment push when he said that indicting Trump was “not an option” because of a DOJ policy against charging sitting presidents with a crime.
Barr told CBS on Friday that Mueller could have reached a decision on whether Trump obstructed justice, rather than leaving it an open question. He went on to criticize Mueller’s “legal analysis” and pushed back on the idea that Mueller was handing over an “impeachment referral.”
“We didn’t agree with the legal analysis, a lot of the legal analysis in the report,” Barr said. “It did not reflect the views of the department. It was the viewpoint of a particular lawyer or lawyers, so we applied what we saw was the right law.”
Barr went on to reiterate that “the Department of Justice doesn’t use our powers of investigating crimes as an adjunct to Congress.”