December 11, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
William Barr’s Lies Aren’t Just Malicious. They’re Treasonous
He's no principled champion. He's a disloyal partisan.
I implied yesterday a difference between lies and malicious lies. One can lie while knowing the facts. One can lie while knowing the facts for the purpose of doing harm. The latter is what the president and the Republican leadership did Tuesday. I want to talk today about a more sinister level of mendacity: lying to injure one’s own country.
The inspector general of the US Department of Justice said Monday that the FBI was right to open an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. There was no spying. There was no attempted coup. There was nothing political going on. Yes, mistakes were made, but they were within the bounds of good-faith behavior. More plainly, the narrative the Republicans had been peddling, about a “deep state” in league with the Democrats and former Obama administration officials, was false.
The attorney general is known for defending the “unitary presidency.” That’s a lie.
Donald Trump and Steve Scalise, to name only two Republicans, said the opposite. They claimed the IG report didn’t debunk their fictional narrative. It proved it. They lied knowing the lie would injure our faith in truth. They lied with malicious intent.
That, however, was nothing compared to what Bill Barr did. The US attorney general made clear Tuesday in a series of statements during an interview with NBC News he was leading a concerted effort to validate—to make real—the Republicans’ malicious lie: that a “deep state” was out to get the president. Barr made clear he was part of a concerted effort to defraud Americans of their right to know the truth about 2016, and of their right to call on the government to prevent the same from happening again.
His statements weren’t just lies. They weren’t just malicious. They were treasonous.
Without citing any evidence of any kind, Barr said the IG report was incorrect and that the Department of Justice, led by his hand-picked investigator, would conduct its own investigation into the investigation. Barr said “there was and never has been any evidence of collusion and yet [Trump’s] campaign and the president’s administration has been dominated by this investigation into what turns out to be completely baseless.”
Yes, there was evidence of collusion. No, the investigation wasn’t baseless.
Bill Barr added that the FBI “jumped right into a full-scale investigation before they even went to talk to the foreign officials about exactly what was said. … They opened an investigation into the campaign and they used very intrusive techniques.”
All of which the IG report says didn’t happen. But here’s the worst, per NBC:
“From a civil liberties standpoint, the greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government use the apparatus of the state … both to spy on political opponents but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of an election,” Barr said. He added that this was the first time in history that “counterintelligence techniques” were used against a presidential campaign.
You see what he’s doing? He’s accusing the former Democratic administration of doing the same thing the House Democrats are accusing the current Republican administration of doing. It’s a terrible thing, Barr said, when the incumbent uses the state to rig an election’s outcome. It’s a terrible thing, Barr could have said, for an American president to extort a Ukrainian leader into announcing an investigation into his closest political rival. What the attorney general is saying without saying is that this is very, very bad when a Democrat does it, not so bad when a Republican does it.
Barr wants to conduct his own investigation. But actually investigating is less important than just saying he’s investigating. Actually unearthing evidence of wrongdoing is less important than just saying the IG’s report is wrong. And if this sounds like what Trump demanded of Ukraine’s leader, that’s because it is. The president didn’t want Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden. He just wanted Zelensky to say he was.
Barr saying an investigation into the investigation is underway gives Senate Republicans cover to do what GOP operative Matt Schlapp said they should do: “if impeachment comes to you, focus on how all this got started. Obama and Biden using their office to bring down Trump and to enrich the Biden family. Take the gloves off. Make it hurt.” Barr saying an investigation into the investigation is underway gives the Russians government lots of room to repeat its previous triumph. Barr’s lies are treasonous.
Indeed, Barr did for Trump what Yuriy Lutsenko and Viktor Shokin did for Trump. Lutsenko and Shokin are former head prosecutors for Ukraine (basically Bill Barr’s counterparts). Both gave Rudy Giuliani and his cronies what they desired: false statements claiming that Joe Biden was dirty and that Ukraine, not Russia, undermined US sovereignty in 2016. The difference? Lutsenko and Shokin were in Vladimir Putin’s pocket. Is Barr? Unlikely. But given the lengths he’s going to defend Trump and, by extension, the Kremlin, that may be a difference without a distinction.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.