Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and somebody absolutely corrupt to begin with who gets power suddenly becomes a madman. All in all, we are lucky that the guardrails of democracy and the rule of law held as well as they did. The New York Times is reporting that Donald Trump, he who loathes witch hunts, instituted a witch hunt of his very own right out of the gate in 2017. He had DOJ prosecutors subpoena data from Apple from the accounts of Adam Schiff and one other member of the House Intelligence Committee, plus aides, family members, and even a minor child. He also investigated James Comey.

Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.

But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. He moved a trusted prosecutor from New Jersey with little relevant experience to the main Justice Department to work on the Schiff-related case and about a half-dozen others, according to three people with knowledge of his work who did not want to be identified discussing federal investigations.

Sessions would never be the killer that Trump wanted, but Trump figured he had as close of a Roy Cohn clone as he was ever going to get in Bill Barr and Barr had no problem pushing the envelope.

The zeal in the Trump administration’s efforts to hunt leakers led to the extraordinary step of subpoenaing communications metadata from members of Congress — a nearly unheard-of move outside of corruption investigations. While Justice Department leak investigations are routine, current and former congressional officials familiar with the inquiry said they could not recall an instance in which the records of lawmakers had been seized as part of one.

Moreover, just as it did in investigating news organizations, the Justice Department secured a gag order on Apple that expired this year, according to a person familiar with the inquiry, so lawmakers did not know they were being investigated until Apple informed them last month.

And if Trump had gotten reelected, it’s highly likely that no one would have ever found out about this investigation. Trump wanted to do all his dirty work in secret and James Comey became an impediment very early on. Adam Schiff followed swiftly.

Soon after Mr. Trump took office in 2017, press reports based on sensitive or classified intelligence threw the White House into chaos. They detailed conversations between the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time and Mr. Trump’s top aides, the president’s pressuring of the F.B.I. and other matters related to the Russia investigation.

The White House was adamant that the sources be found and prosecuted, and the Justice Department began a broad look at national security officials from the Obama administration, according to five people briefed on the inquiry.

While most officials were ruled out, investigators opened cases that focused on Mr. Comey and his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe, the people said. Prosecutors also began to scrutinize the House Intelligence Committee, including Mr. Schiff, as a potential source of the leaks. As the House’s chief intelligence oversight body, the committee has regular access to sensitive government secrets. […]

CNN report in August 2019 about another leak investigation said prosecutors did not recommend to their superiors that they charge Mr. Comey over memos that he wrote and shared about his interactions with Mr. Trump, which were not ultimately found to contain classified information.

Mr. Barr was wary of how Mr. Trump would react, according to a person familiar with the situation. Indeed, Mr. Trump berated the attorney general, who defended the department, telling the president that there was no case against Mr. Comey to be made, the person said. But an investigation remained open into whether Mr. Comey had leaked other classified information about Russia.

It is as clear as glass and always was that James Comey vexed Trump. Comey wouldn’t go along with covering up for Mike Flynn and so Trump fired him via tweet and Comey found out about it by watching a Fox News chyron on the wall of a building in Los Angeles. Trump always had a simplistic, banana republic concept of government and Bill Barr always had held a notion of an all powerful executive branch and so theirs was an alliance made in Hell, no question.

And nobody is the least bit surprised at this new development, on the heels of reporters and media outlets being similarly investigated for leaks.

In “1984” Winston Smith obtains a copy of the book with the truth in it and he says, “The best books are the ones that tell you what you already know.” This is like that. The best exposes are the ones that tell us what we already know. Trump was bat guano insane to take down his political enemies from the beginning and we knew that. And he particularly hated Comey and Schiff and we knew that. I agree with Matthew Miller. Without doubt there’s more to be revealed in days and weeks ahead.

We are indeed blessed that the guardrails held on democracy and the rule of law. And we are doubly blessed that Trump lost reelection. If he was in office now, all this would be buried and democracy as we know it would be finished. I don’t think that’s a hyperbolic statement. I think it’s the plain truth.

 

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5 COMMENTS

  1. When it comes to Barr’s (and other conservatives’) belief in an all powerful Executive Branch I believe a clarification is warranted. The so-called Unitary Executive theory of our government that certain conservatives (I believe promotion of this has always been a Federalist Society hobbyhorse btw) basically holds that a President is ordained (by no less than the Constitution – at least their twisted version of what they believe the founders intended) with King-like powers granted by the Almighty (“Christian” of course – THEIR version of Christian!) God. A President under the Unitary Executive theory can take whatever action they want, even if official or personal action is contrary to the laws of the land or even seemingly contradictory to the plain text of the Constitution! Worse, under this theory a President can never be held accountable. Hell, they can’t even be investigated for abuse of power or violations of the law.

    Well, President’s hold that kind of power if they are REPUBLICAN.

    Democrats in the Presidency or operating as part of the Executive Branch are of course in need of rigorous oversight and have strict limits on power. At least according to Barr and other proponents of the Unitary Executive theory.

    It’s hypocrisy on a staggering scale of course. And for decades it’s been allowed to fester because the so-called “liberal media” hasn’t continually asked people like Barr (and so many others) the basic question “If a President/Executive Branch official said or did that was a Republican would you still defend it with terms like Unitary Executive?” Over, and over. I’m talking every freaking day. Had they done so this crap would have been nipped in the bud long ago.

    However, one must always keep in mind that major print and media outlets are corporations. Like most corporations they just loved when Milton Friedman’s view of corporate responsibility (or lack thereof) became the operating model – by which I mean that the old-school view that some measure of the public good merited at least some consideration by top executives and Directors would be tossed into the garbage disposal and ONLY corporate profits and increasing shareholder dividends mattered. This all firmly took root during the Reagan years, along with massive gutting of regulations and when Reagan scrapped the Fairness Doctrine conditions were perfect for the big players to start gobbling up the small ones.

    We (at least us older folks) might like to think of a time when mainstream journalism often tried to be the watchdog, maintaining legions of reporters out there digging away out of sight and sometimes uncovering truths that needed to be brought to the public’s attention. That hasn’t been the case for decades now and there’s no small irony in the fact that such a huge shift (cutting staff, national and overseas bureaus etc.) got underway at the outset of 24/7 cable news. One of journalism’s huge complaints when I was growing up was that there was NEVER enough time in the evening news to cover all the important stuff, much less in the detail that was needed. Watergate style coverage of a story was a huge exception to the rule.

    There was never, even enough time. Or so they said.

    Yet when all of a sudden there was a full 24 hours to fill with news what happened? After the first Gulf War we started seeing those cuts I talked about, and increasingly the time was filled with fewer and fewer reporters pieces on the same handful of stories (both domestic and internationally) over and over again! What we heard/read almost NOTHING about was the steady buying of smaller print and media outlets, the increasingly massive consolidation of the news into a handful of players who would control what the public would hear and read.

    Great for the corporate bottom line, and personally very rewarding for a small group of people but not so much for the public at-large and our democracy.

    I’ve said this before over the years and I’ll say it again – conservatives love to cite surveys that show journalists lean liberal/Democratic in their voter registration and how they vote. What they leave out is that the leanings of editors, news directors, and upper management are for the most part in a very different income strata than most reporters. And THEIR political leanings, the leanings of those who control most of what we see and read are quite solidly conservative/Republican! That’s true to a significant degree even of the “talent”, be they TV journalists employed by major electronic outlets or print reporters who regularly are brought on air to discuss various issues.

    Most of the “stars” we know live in a very different world than the rest of us average Americans do. I’d come to this conclusion years before but it really hit home during the 2008 Democratic primary when during a debate CNN’s John King asked a question in which it was made clear that for him someone making 250k per year was “middle class” and he clearly meant middle class as in the average person/family out there. In reality such a person or family would have (or still be) in the top five percent economically, but to King (not to pick on him specifically because he’s got a shitload of company in his profession) 250k was in fact run of the mill in HIS neighborhood/community! The “talent” simply lives in a different world, and even those who want to speak of the one most of us live in have constraints placed upon them by those at the top I mentioned earlier – the very top people who control the flow of information in the news.

    So instead of most journalists on a daily basis shoving a microphone in some conservative’s face and asking “Would you say what you’re saying about Trump (or some other GOP bigwig’s antics) if a DEMOCRAT said or did that? There are variations on the theme and it can be turned around in ways to make the same point but the point is that every single day there are multiple opportunities in which conservative hypocrisy CAN and SHOULD be placed front and center.

    And is not.

    Yes, I know we complain about conservative/GOP hypocrisy but I truly believe the reason they not only get away with it but have gotten increasingly emboldened is because journalism in general doesn’t (and hasn’t) do what I suggest.

    Because the powers-that-be at their outlets won’t permit it, even if their reporters want to do it.

    A mention here or there is the most that is allowed. And that’s how you get someone like Barr enabling someone like Trump.

    • On that media point, the main reason why the media “hasn’t continually asked people” those questions is the owners of said media. While it’s become common right-wing propaganda that most of the “media are liberals” (referring to the individual reporters and journalists), that completely ignores the reality that most of the media OWNERS are “conservative” to some degree or other. If a newspaper or TV owner disapproves of a journalist’s report, it’s far more likely to disappear (or be countered by an “approved” report) in a “conservative-leaning” media operation than a “liberal-leaning” operation. You will NEVER read a true liberal/progressive columnist in the Washington Times but there’s a very good chance that a conservative columnist will be in the Washington Post.

      • You broke out and made clear something I addressed in a comment that got a lot longer than I intended. Those surveys I referenced bear out the point. I have a friend from childhood who got his degree (and added a Master’s) in journalism and though he started out as “talent” (started in radio, switched to TV and even covered Clinton back when he was Gov. of Arkansas) but switched to management and rose through moving around the country to larger markets. He eventually wound up staying out west and became a honcho in a medium sized news conglomerate (while also being News Director of the NBC outlet in Vegas) and as such had access to that kind of stuff. He also turned into a Republican along the way, pretty much due to wanting his taxes to be lower. We got into a couple of ugly spats over that, one of which caused a huge rift that caused years of no contact at all.

        Prior to that we’d been in a debate one day about the media bias issue and he trotted out the old trope about the internal surveys showing general Democratic registration among journalists. Challenging him to show data, actual data that voter registration played a significant influence in reporting got a lot of backing and filling but then I pulled out the A-bomb. I noted his job not only as the News Director of a “big three” network outlet in a major media market and his broader role in the corporation he worked for and that he’d have access not just to the results of those surveys but raw data as well as breakdowns of results by job categories.

        And I asked what the political affiliations of those who like him controlled what people saw on the air or read in print were. I made it blunt – who do the people who make the decisions about what we hear and read vote for? Dead silence. It felt like minutes but was maybe thirty seconds before I broke the silence by saying even if he hadn’t meant to he’d answered the question! That particular conversation ended quickly afterwards. I think I did more than strike a nerve – I smashed it with a ballpeen hammer!

        From the time I got stationed in DC (back in the mid 1980s) I read the Washington Post daily. Even after dropping out of the beltway rat-race for the eastern panhandle of WV (the farm I looked after was about an hour and a half northwest of Dulles Airport) I would pick up a copy at the 7-Eleven most days. Even back then most of the editorial columnists were conservatives. I’d learned that the Post (again, this was LONG before Bezos bought WaPo) had a practice of buying the opinion columns of liberals (Carl Rowan, who often appeared on DC news talks shows comes to mind) and NOT running them!

        So yes, even outlets that are often considered places where liberals get a fair shake have long had management that cared more about their tax bills and limited regulations (so they can buy up smaller, weaker competitors) than informing the public. And if the public at-large and democracy itself gets fucked in the process they won’t shed any tears while counting their ill-gotten gains.

  2. Sadly, the new norm is that a new bombshell about the Trump administration is exposed, people talk about it for a few days, and then it is forgotten.
    You are right, Ursula, we all knew from Day One that Trump would be corrupt. But unless the DOJ actually prosecutes the crimes that were committed, people will shrug and accept the corruption and abuse of power as “par for the course.” As citizens, we need to notify our elected officials that this is not acceptable.

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