"Grab your popcorn, Junior Mints or whatever makes you happy,” Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, the shilliest of Donald Trump shills, crowed the other day. “The real show is about to begin. … The deep state exposed.”
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, was in Pennsylvania revving up his followers to move on from the old “lock her up” chant about Hillary Clinton to the more ambitious “lock them up.”
“We caught ’em – they were spying,” Mr. Trump blared, referring to the perpetrators of a counterintelligence investigation of his 2016 campaign. It was “treason."
Treason? The temptation is to laugh it off as just another in the snake-oil salesman’s big barrel of canards. But this is deadly serious business. In keeping with authoritarian-style leaders, Mr. Trump is seeking to use his Attorney-General William Barr to malign his enemies, in this case, the law-enforcement establishment and Democrats who, in his imagination, comprise a deep state of unelected clandestine elites manipulating the system.
He’s flipping the Russiagate story, seeking to turn it into a scandal that puts Democrats, some of whom are still seeking his impeachment, on the defensive from here to election day.
That he just might pull it off is chillingly possible. Never mind how shoddy his case may be: The FBI didn’t seek to publicize its probing of Mr. Trump and Russian connections during the campaign, which would have been the obvious thing to do to undermine him. Instead, it was FBI director James Comey who torpedoed the Democrats’ chances with his gratuitous late-campaign revelation that he was re-opening the investigation into Ms. Clinton’s e-mails.
But of course, facts don’t mean much in the current Washington climate. It’s not the particulars that count. It’s what you make of them.
Attorney-General Barr, the Trump appointee, has started two reviews of what transpired, one of which could be tabled shortly. Additionally, Trump handmaiden Lindsey Graham, chair of the Senate intelligence committee, is sitting on Capitol Hill, ready to pounce.
The probes might not reveal much. But even if only trifling evidence of questionable investigatory work is turned up, that could be enough for Mr. Trump to make hay.
The bottom-line question is whether the work of the intelligence agencies was politically motivated. Where the Democrats are potentially vulnerable is on the matter of the Steele dossier, the salacious research document on Mr. Trump’s Russian connections that was funded by the Democrats and that the FBI took seriously.
Mr. Barr has told lawmakers he believes “spying did occur.” When he took the attorney-general’s job a few months ago, he said he had some questions about what went on and “I thought the questions would be readily answered. I haven’t found that to be the case. A lot of the answers have been inadequate. … Some of the explanations don’t hang together.”
At his Pennsylvania rally, Mr. Trump said, “Well, we have a great new attorney-general who is going to give it a very fair look.”
Given his performance in the handling of the Mueller inquiry, during which he cleared Mr. Trump of suggestions that he may have been guilty of obstruction, few doubt that Mr. Barr will shy away from doing the President’s bidding on this new phase of the endless Russia saga.
Mr. Comey is a prime target. Even though he saved Mr. Trump’s bacon, it was he who subsequently triggered the Mueller inquiry. Mr. Trump would like nothing more than to strip Mr. Comey of his halo of self-righteousness by seeing the Justice Department ensnare him. The Democrats wouldn’t mind such a reckoning for the grandstander either.
The Attorney-General hasn’t revealed any specifics related to the probes, but in addition to the Steele dossier, questions have been raised about a surveillance warrant the FBI obtained on a former Trump associate, Carter Page, as well as the gumshoes’ use of an informant in an investigation of former Trump campaign foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos.
Under former attorney-general Jeff Sessions, Utah prosecutor John Huber was appointed to look into the FBI’s handling of Russia-related investigations. No report from him has seen the light of day, but it may well be that Mr. Barr’s suspicions have been fuelled by what he has learned from Mr. Huber’s work.
The Huber probe makes it three in number. The odds of Donald Trump finding fodder for his fabrications – to the detriment of Democrats – look promising.