William Barr cemented his legacy in his second go-around as Attorney General by swimming into the deep dark waters of Right-Wing Nut Job conspiracy theories. And he did it grand style: under oath, in front of the Senate. He claimed that our own intelligence agencies were "spying" on the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, and promised to investigate the origins of Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference into the election. Yet, he feigned ignorance about what the word "spying" meant when offered the chance to clarify his statements. Nicolle Wallace and her Deadline White House panel were disgusted.
WALLACE: Stop on this for a minute. The nation's Attorney General is not sure about the connotations of the word "spying. Let that sink in. The New York Times on Barr's comments reports, quote, it was not immediately clear what Mr. Barr was referring to and he did not present evidence to back up his statement.
The only one thrilled about this characterization is, of course, Trump and his cronies. It fits right in with his reflex to use projection and lies to accuse others of what he knows he himself is guilty of. Furious Democrats on the Committee and off took the gloves off. Any inclination to have initially given Barr the benefit of the doubt (which, WHY WOULD THEY HAVE DONE THAT ANYWAY?) was completely destroyed.
WARNER: I'm flabbergasted by the Attorney General's comments. When you start linking spying with law enforcement or the intelligence community, that sets off red flags everywhere. That's why I think he does a disservice to the men and women who work for the Department of Justice and the FBI, who if they had not started a counterintelligence investigation into Russia's intervention in the 2016 they would be skewered, and rightfully so.
According to CNN, Reps. Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff were enraged:
"These comments directly contradict what DOJ previously told us," tweeted House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, who authorized the subpoena for the Mueller report. "I've asked DOJ to brief us immediately."
"The top law enforcement officer of the country should not casually suggest that those under his purview engaged in 'spying' on a political campaign," said House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat. "This type of partisan talking point may please Donald Trump, who rails against a 'deep state coup,' but it also strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions.
Nicolle Wallace continued to be just aghast that Barr would feign confusion about the connotations of the word, "spying."
WALLACE: The word spying means something. If you're a tourist on the street you can mix up spying with authorized surveillance. Authorized-by-a-FISA-warrant signed-by-the-Deputy-Attorney-General-Rod-Rosenstein. But if you're the sitting Attorney General and you've actually sat as the country's Attorney General before, you don't mix up the word spying with the word authorized surveillance, authorized by a FISA application signed by the sitting Deputy Attorney General, do you?
KLAIN: No, you don't, Nicolle. It was a shame to see Bill Barr, one of our nation's most respected lawyers, a two-time attorney general turn in his tortoise-shell glasses for a tinfoil hat. What he was talking about was the craziest Trump conspiracy theories out there. That only the president's most fringe allies dare to advance. What we know is that this has been investigated five times previously by Republican-led committees and nothing came of it. The Justice Department has been defending its practices here, they've been investigated internally and they've been investigated externally, and when Senator Reed in that clip you showed, pressed the Attorney General, do you have evidence for this claim, he said, "Well, no." So it was irresponsible, flaky and way out of right field.
Wallace reminded Joyce Vance that Vance was one of those who wanted initially to give Barr the benefit of the doubt. She'd viewed him as an institutionalist, and hoped he might allow that part of him to govern his decisions. That really all looks so hopelessly naïve, and honestly, not even in retrospect. It looked naïve back when he was appointed, and Vance recognizes that now. She compared herself to a kid who didn't want to believe Santa wasn't real.
VANCE: There have always been questions about Barr stemming from that now notorious memo he wrote opining on the outcome of this investigation before he was even the Attorney General. So he's always had that problem. But I think everyone who loves the institution of the Department of Justice, myself included, I feel like a kid when you're just old enough to realize that there really isn't a Santa Claus but you want so bad for there to be a Santa because you love Christmas so much and you hold onto it as much as you can, and it gets increasingly more difficult. Today with Barr, that's just become an impossibility. Attorney Generals don't go in unprepared, they don't go in without sometimes days of preparation and murder boards, so the use of this term, "spying" has to be a deliberate term. A term meant to really set people on fire.
And Barr knows full well there are checks and balances in place both at the FBI and the intelligence community before this form of intelligence collection is used. It's arguable that he doesn't even have any sort of authority to review the way collection was done in the intelligence community. Certainly he might have some oversight at DOJ, but that process has been done in Congress repeatedly. There's more review under way by his own Inspector General. So this notion he now personally will look into spying really does the last little bit to shred his credibility.
No, Virginia. There is no Santa Claus. Unless you're Trump, and you asked for your very own Roy Cohn for Christmas.