The decision of Attorney General William Barr to investigate whether any federal agency spied on the Trump presidential campaign in 2016 is on — and so is the latest round of hyperpartisan wrangling and recrimination.
Some 22 months of investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller is over, and he found no evidence of collusion with Moscow to capture the White House. No evidence of any actual wrongdoing. No recommendations to prosecute.
But in the course of things, it emerged that there may have been improper conduct on the part of the FBI in its investigation of possible collusion. Put more bluntly: Did they spy on the presidential nominee of the Republican party?
That is the question that Barr’s man to head the inquiry, John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, will seek to answer.
There is evidence to suggest that the collusion probe was politically motivated. For example, there’s the FBI’s use of the so-called “Steele dossier,” funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the purpose of destroying her Republican opponent with charges of conspiracy with foreign agents.
Former FBI director James Comey — not a close friend of President Trump — characterized the dossier, under oath, as “unverified.” Yet, the materials in that file were, at least in part, the basis for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to issue a warrant to monitor a Trump campaign adviser.
There are more reasons to suspect that the Mueller investigation was not born in a spirit of pure truth-seeking. But the dossier alone would be reason to look into it.
The Durham review — to be overseen by Barr — will also examine whether that dossier was fabricated by the Russian government to dupe U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI, as Barr told a Senate panel last week.
FBI Director Chris Wray defended his agency against accusations of “spying” on the Trump campaign, saying that court-approved surveillance does not meet his definition of “spying,” and that he has no evidence the FBI did anything illegal.
Of course, even if he, Chris Wray, has no evidence of it, that doesn’t mean John Durham will not find evidence.
The Democrats, who have had things their way for 22 months, are now faced with the unpleasant prospect of having a magnifying glass held up to the unwholesome machinations of their own candidate. Besides that, the Democrats are upset because the new probe threatens to put a wrench into the wheels of the impeachment bandwagon.
Democratic senator from Connecticut Richard Blumenthal described Durham as a “talented professional tasked with a very unprofessional and unbecoming mission. This so-called investigation is a politically motivated distraction and threatens to sully his reputation as a straight-shooting, serious, smart prosecutor. It’s a waste of his talent,” Blumenthal said.
Distraction is in the eye of the beholder. Blumenthal and friends want America to stay focused on an illusory charge of collusion, with a view to the ultimate goal of impeachment. Almost anything else is considered a distraction.
But if Durham’s team can behave in a professional and becoming manner, refraining from irresponsible and defamatory leaks to the media, and go about their task quietly and efficiently, the American people would not suffer any distraction. They would hear nothing about it again until their findings are ready to be published, hopefully in something less than 22 months.
Imagine, if you will, a moratorium on the rhetoric of smear and vilification. For too many politicians, politics without accusations of lying, corruption and racism just isn’t politics. It’s like forcing someone to talk without using their hands — just can’t do it.
But imagine, if both Democrats and Republicans can tear themselves away from the Mueller-Barr saga long enough to engage in the nation’s business, what great things could be accomplished: a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure program, a workable revision of health care, a humane solution to the problem of unrestricted immigration and a few other matters of real concern to millions of citizens.
If only the legal authorities would be allowed to do their job, maybe then Congress and the rest of the country could get back to doing theirs. All it takes is some imagination.