Friday, October 25, 2019

Barr's Zombie Investigation

From the CDC's Zombie Preparedness site.

I think I know what this story
Justice Department officials have shifted an administrative review of the Russia investigation closely overseen by Attorney General William P. Barr to a criminal inquiry, according to two people familiar with the matter. The move gives the prosecutor running it, John H. Durham, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to convene a grand jury and to file criminal charges.
—is about. It's about Trump, and the idée fixe of Trump's increasing paranoia: that he must get to his enemies by using their weapons, of saying "bad things" and getting "dirt". Investigate them all! Lock them up! And its failure so far, which has been accelerating in recent weeks, as Barr's meta-investigation falls apart.

That is: Barr's task, as you'll remember, is to find that there was something wrong with the FBI's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which eventually became, after Trump fired the FBI director, an investigation of Trump himself under the direction of Special Counsel Mueller. Trump has been complaining about this since long before it was understood that he had anything to do with it, whether because it was suggesting "bad things" about V.V. Putin, or because it was depriving him of Manafort's services, or after the election because it was suggesting his victory wasn't legitimate, or because it was forcing him to let Flynn go, or because "they were spying on me!" And trying in secret to put a stop to it, as chronicled in Mueller's volume II.

He's still trying to stop it, too, in a manner of speaking, or to stop people from thinking about it or following it up, and he's relying on his supporters in the rightwing noise machine to provide him with material. It all goes back to that odd moment in the spring of 2016 when Tom Barrack (Trump's initial link to the Emirati and Saudi governments) endowed him with a new campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Barrack and Manafort provided him with a peculiar group of foreign policy advisers, including Carter Page, Ph.D., and George Papadopoulos, and all three of them ended up for various reasons getting investigated in the Russian connection.

There's a theory that Manafort shouldn't have been investigated because the "black ledger" of secret payments made to him by the Ukrainian pro-Russian faction was really a forgery (though he's clearly guilty, on the basis of all sorts of other evidence, and appropriately convicted). There's a theory that Carter Page shouldn't have been investigated because the FBI appealed to the findings of a private investigator for Democratic interests in getting a surveillance order on him (though there were tons of reasons for investigating him, including the fact that he'd been investigated as a possible Russian agent before). There's a theory that Papadopoulos didn't even have any Russian connections, spread by Papadopoulos himself, who claims to have been trapped in a vast conspiracy of British, Australian, and Italian intelligence services as well as the CIA and FBI into doing something that he's never fully explained, though he keeps saying he's going to. And there's a theory that the "dirt" we thought Papadopoulos was talking about in the Russian connection he now denies, the thousands of Clinton-related emails in Russian possession that the Trump campaign could use, which seem to be the same as the emails WikiLeaks in fact published in the second half of 2016, were actually stolen by somebody else, contrary to the findings of the CIA, FBI, British and Australian and I think Dutch intelligence and so on, with a connection not to Russia but to Russia's enemy Ukraine. All of which is certifiably nuts, but let's move on.

The Ukrainian angle, touching both Manafort and the emails, entrusted to the president's "personal lawyer" Rudolph Giuliani, has fallen apart in the revelations of Trump's attempt to shake down President Zelenskyy and force him not so much to investigate as to announce publicly that an investigation was going on—Zelenskyy now couldn't make such an announcement if he wanted to, which he clearly doesn't (Julia Ioffe is confirming this on my radio as I type). The Carter Page/Steele dossier matter, entrusted to FBI inspector general Horowitz, is finished, with a report currently said to be undergoing declassification and wild ferment among the wingnut brethren, and it's just not going to do Trump's job for him, as Molly Olmstead reports at Slate, commenting on a Trump quote:
I think people—I know nothing about it, in terms of the report. I’m waiting for the report like everybody else. But I predict you will see things that you don’t even believe, the level of corruption—whether it’s Comey; whether it’s [Peter] Strzok and his lover, [Lisa] Page; whether it’s so many other people—[Andrew] McCabe; whether it’s President Obama himself. Let’s see whether or not it’s President Obama. Let’s see whether or not they put that in.
It’s not totally clear what Trump meant, but it does seem clear that the president is excited about the report both as a potential knock to Democrats and as a potential distraction from the nonstop news related to Ukraine and the impeachment inquiry.
Ultimately, it won’t do much to undermine the real investigation it targets.
It’s possible the report will find some bureaucratic missteps in the handling of a warrant application, but it’s not likely to undo any of the thorough work by special counsel Robert Mueller and his team...
And Barr's own work on the Papadopoulos angle has clearly come up entirely dry, on the Australian and Italian sides, with an announcement from Prime Minister Conte that the Italian government had no relevant information:
ROME — Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy said his country’s intelligence services had informed the American attorney general, William P. Barr, that they played no role in the events leading to the Russia investigation, taking the air out of an unsubstantiated theory promoted by President Trump and his allies in recent weeks.
“Our intelligence is completely unrelated to the so-called Russiagate and that has been made clear,” Mr. Conte said in a news conference in Rome on Wednesday evening after spending hours describing Italy’s discussions with Mr. Barr to the parliamentary committee on intelligence.

Barr's new gesture is simply keeping this zombie on life support. Nothing is going to happen; charges on McCabe, I suppose, and maybe Strzok, because the Emperor must feel he's being obeyed, but they won't make it past a jury, and we'll be on to some other occasion for hysteria, but it looks to me like they're really running out of everything.

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