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Attorney General Bill Barr is leading a crusade against the people who initiated an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and its connections to President Donald Trump’s campaign, but he has never explained why he has such serious suspicions. Such an explanation is needed because, despite two other investigations into the matter, he recently asked a U.S. attorney in Connecticut to review the Russia probe’s origins.

And in a new interview with CBS News, Barr’s comments indicated that he has a flimsy justification for launching the investigation. It’s the height of irony, of course, because his and others’ apparent accusations against the Russia probe investigators is that they supposedly engaged in a political hit job against then-President Barack Obama’s opponents without adequate predication. Now, it seems Barr is doing exactly that for Trump.

In discussing his concerns about what he calls the “spying” against the Trump campaign, he said:

JAN CRAWFORD: Do you think enough was done in 2016?

WILLIAM BARR: Enough was done in 2016? Probably not. You know, I think Bob Mueller did some impressive work in his investigation, you know, identifying some of the Russian hackers and their influence campaign and you sort of wonder if that kind of work had been done starting in 2016, things could have been a lot different.

JAN CRAWFORD: Right because it’s just hard to understand why it wasn’t taken more seriously.

WILLIAM BARR: Yes. In other words, you know, there are statements being made that people were warned back in April–

JAN CRAWFORD: –of 2016–

WILLIAM BARR: Right, and I don’t have any reason to doubt that, but I’m wondering what exactly was the response to it if they were alarmed. Surely the response should have been more than just, you know, dangling a confidential informant in front of a peripheral player in the Trump Campaign.

Consider what this last statement means. He suggests that the Obama administration probably didn’t do enough in 2016 in response to Russia’s interference and that they didn’t take it seriously. But then he also says, well, if the administration really was “alarmed” about the Russian threat, “surely” (always a good indicator that someone has no evidence for the claim they’re making) the investigators should have done more than use a confidential informant to get information on a Trump campaign staffer (which happens to be George Papadopoulos, who later lied to the FBI.)

But now Barr is talking out of both sides of his mouth. How can he both be concerned that the investigation wasn’t properly predicated, and also believe that the FBI’s concerns were so serious that they must have used even more extensive surveillance methods than we’re aware of? It’s clear he’s in search of a problem, not on a good-faith quest driven by legitimate concerns.

He went on to say:

WILLIAM BARR: People have to understand, you know, one of the things here is that these efforts in 2016, these counter-intelligence activities that were directed at the Trump Campaign, were not done in the normal course and not through the normal procedures as far as I can tell. And a lot of the people who were involved are no longer there.

It’s true that a lot of the people have now left the FBI because Trump chased them out, a purge that prompted an obstruction of justice investigation that produced damning evidence (which Barr now ignores). But again, Barr’s language here is telling. He says the investigation was “not done in the normal course and not through the normal procedures.” Given that it was an unprecedented case, this is essentially a vacuous claim. And his “as far as I can tell” caveat is another phrase that suggests he has little basis for his claims.

He later adds:

WILLIAM BARR: There were counterintelligence activities undertaken against the Trump Campaign. And I’m not saying there was not a basis for it, that it was legitimate, but I want to see what that basis was and make sure it was legitimate.

Of course, based on the Mueller Report and the conclusion of the investigation, we know there was good reason to investigate Trump associates. Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn had all been working as undisclosed agents of foreign powers. Carter Page, the report says, knew he had been targeted for recruitment as a Russian asset. And Papadopoulos has admitted that he was approached by a person offering Russian election help in the form of stolen email — emails he later.

It’s conceivable, I suppose, that the FBI decided to launch a probe of Trump’s campaign for political reasons and just happened to find a bunch of people it happened to target had extensive compromising foreign ties. But why, exactly, would anyone believe that?

And again, with all this focus on whether the Russia investigation was properly predicated, Barr can’t give a confident and specific answer as to whether his investigation is properly predicated:

WILLIAM BARR:Well I don’t want to  get you know, too much into the facts because it’s still under review. But I think it’s important to understand what basis there was for launching counterintelligence activities against a political campaign, which is the core of our second amendment- I’m sorry, the core of our first amendment liberties in this country. And what was the predicate for it? What was the hurdle that had to be crossed? What was the process- who had to approve it? And including the electronic surveillance, whatever electronic surveillance was done. And was everyone operating in their proper lane?
In fact, he suggests that his concerns stem from not being “satisfied” and that he has a “feeling” about the need for an investigation:

WILLIAM BARR: Well, I’ll say at this point is that it, you know, I- like many other people who are familiar with intelligence activities, I had a lot of questions about what was going on. I assumed I’d get answers when I went in and I have not gotten answers that are well satisfactory, and in fact probably have more questions, and that some of the facts that- that I’ve learned don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened.

… I’ll just say that, you know, there’s some questions that I think have to be answered, and I have a basis for feeling there has to be a review of this.

Now, to be clear, it’s perfectly possible that the DOJ crossed the line at a few points during the investigation or took inappropriate steps. And DOJ itself was reviewing some of its conduct in the case before Barr got involved, which is merited. But he offers incoherent and vague explanations for inserting himself into the case, citing his feelings and nebulous “questions” that have to be answered. This gives us no reason to doubt the inference that he’s looking to confirm his own prejudices, particularly as he ignores the mountain of evidence in Volume I of the Mueller Report that shows why a deep investigation was warranted. And all the while, he is clearly playing the role Trump wanted for him: a partisan guardian of the president’s narrow interests.

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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