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McQuade writes: "If you come at the king, you best not miss. That's the message Attorney General William Barr is sending to FBI agents, whether intentionally or not."

Attorney General William Barr. (photo: Getty)
Attorney General William Barr. (photo: Getty)

William Barr Delivers Chilling Message to FBI for Trump

By Barbara McQuade, The Daily Beast

15 May 19

A third probe into the origins of the Russia investigation, even to pacify the paranoid president, may cause real harm.

f you come at the king, you best not miss.

That’s the message Attorney General William Barr is sending to FBI agents, whether intentionally or not. Barr has authorized yet another investigation into the FBI’s conduct probing links between Russian election interference and the Trump campaign. Even though two other entities are already investigating the same matter, reports indicate that Barr has appointed Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate the origins of the Russia probe.

In doing so, Barr is playing into the hands of President Donald Trump, who has already characterized Durham’s assignment as an investigation into “how that whole hoax got started.”

The most charitable interpretation of Barr’s behavior in defense of Trump is that he believes strongly in a “unitary executive,” where the president can order any investigation he wants. But in his quest to protect the presidency, Barr is damaging our national security. His complicity in Trump’s efforts to disparage the FBI will make it more difficult for agents to do their jobs and could discourage investigations of those in power.

Certainly, the FBI, like any other government agency, should be subject to scrutiny. If you were to ask most FBI agents about internal investigations, they would tell you that they welcome such probes when done in good faith because they ensure not only accountability but also public trust.

Following the FBI’s aggressive surveillance of civil rights activists and war protesters in the 1960s and ’70s, safeguards and approval requirements were created to prevent such abuses. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was created to provide independent oversight of wiretaps conducted in the name of national security. The Domestic Investigations Operations Guide was created to provide detailed operational and approval requirements for each investigative step. FBI personnel are subject to DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates allegations of misconduct. The FBI also has its own inspection division to conduct routine audits of compliance with polices and practices.

But the current outcry about the use of FISA surveillance and informants to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election is not sufficient predication for a criminal investigation. Those techniques are routinely and appropriately used in counterintelligence investigations against foreign adversaries. Former FBI general counsel James Baker has been speaking out about the FBI’s work on the Russia investigation, stating that the investigation was not a “coup” against President Trump, but instead was “about Russia. It was always about Russia. Full stop.” Failing to investigate Russian interference would have been a breach of the FBI’s duty.

Even use of the so-called Steele dossier in the FISA application for surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page is not the scandal that some describe. The dossier, compiled by a former British intelligence agent to be used as opposition research by Hillary Clinton’s campaign against Trump, was properly described as such in the FISA application, such that the FISA court had complete and accurate information when it authorized the surveillance. Judges, including those on the FISA court, are capable of discounting information based on potential biases as long as they are disclosed in the application, as they were here.

In addition, material from the Steele dossier provided only a portion of the facts included in the 66-page application that was used to establish probable cause to obtain surveillance authorization from the FISA court. Renewals of the application were approved from Trump-appointed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. There is no evidence in the public record that the FBI abused the FISA process in this investigation.

Nonetheless, last year, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz to investigate potential abuses in the FISA process following complaints by Republican lawmakers. Sessions later asked Utah U.S. Attorney John Huber to pursue any criminal conduct relating to the same matter, along with other matters relating to Clinton.

It is unclear why Barr does not simply await those results rather than appoint a new prosecutor to undertake another investigation. If Barr had wanted to expand the scope of the prior investigations, he could have done so without appointing a new investigator. If he were simply replacing Huber with Durham, who, by all accounts is a highly respected and experienced investigator, then he should say so.

Instead, Barr has created the appearance that he is launching another investigation to appease Trump. But there is a significant downside to such a tactic. Barr’s appointment of Durham advances the Trump narrative that the FBI is run by a “deep state” that is engaged in a witch hunt and a hoax.  

Barr has already contributed to the partisan conspiracy theory with the language he used at his press conference to announce the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report in April. Barr repeatedly used Trump’s talking point of “no collusion,” a term Mueller specifically said he was avoiding. Barr made things worse in his subsequent congressional testimony, when he used the word “spying” to describe the FBI’s tactics in the Russia probe. Despite his protestations that the word is not a pejorative term, and that “spying” is a word used by the media, it is not a word that government officials use to describe court-authorized surveillance.

Contrast Barr’s performances with the recent congressional testimony of FBI Director Christopher Wray. Wray rejected Barr’s use of the term “spying” as “not the term I would use.” Wray also stated that he did not have any evidence of any illegal surveillance into the Trump campaign. Trump responded by tweeting: “The FBI has no leadership . . . The Director is protecting the same gang . . . that tried to . . . overthrow the President through an illegal coup.”

Even after seeing this treatment, Barr continues to appease Trump, who campaigns on the narrative that he is victim of the deep state. Trump has called the FBI “a disgrace” that is “in tatters.” Harming the reputation of the FBI will make it more difficult for the FBI do the important work it does every day. When an agent knocks on a door for tips in a kidnaping case, will the resident help someone from an agency the president has warned him about? When an FBI agent testifies at the trial of a sex trafficker, will a juror trust that he is telling the truth? By disparaging the FBI, the president makes our country less safe. Barr is compounding the problem by contributing to this false narrative.

In addition to harming the effectiveness of the FBI, Barr’s complicity in Trump’s tactics may also have a chilling effect. By advancing the “investigate the investigators” mantra, Barr may cause the FBI to flinch next time it perceives a threat from powerful people within the government. He is incentivizing the FBI to sit idly by in the face of national security threats. The risk is that under Barr’s leadership, the FBI’s new motto might become “he who does nothing does nothing wrong.”

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+23 # chapdrum 2019-05-15 13:33
Thank you Ms. McQuade (and RSN); most informative.
+34 # Elroys 2019-05-15 18:07
To any sane and thoughtful America it is crystal clear -trump is a wanna be king and barr is one of his enabling minions. Where are the leaders? Where are the voices of truth, trust and honesty?
Corporate CEOs - not one - silence is complicit.
Retired military leaders - Mike Mullen, Jim Mattis, Anthony Zinni and so many others. Faith based leaders (white male Christian evangelicals are corrupted). One leader at a time is insufficient - all need to speak together, in unison, on stage together at the same time. Now is the time for all good men, and women, to come to the aid of our country. Stand up straight, spine, courage.
Remember - 1789 in France; 1776 in America. The time is coming
0 # DongiC 2019-05-16 00:53
If Trump prevails in 20/20, the time will be then. America will break down in civil conflict, eventually employing nuclear weapons . The subsequent increase in pollution and global warming will be sufficient to doom the entire species within a few years. America will be gone and, then, the whole Earth. The time is critical; the Second Messiah better show and rapidly. The other Divine Person as well. Say by mid June, in Virginia, near DC for the former and the latter six months later. He has to be born, first. Hang on to your hats special times are fast approaching.
+6 # hiker 2019-05-15 21:35
We are steadily walking into a fascist dictatorship.
+5 # janie1893 2019-05-16 01:27
He rules by chaos.

He cannot stop himself. The business of running America will be on hold until Trump has left the planet because now that he has the power, he is organising his administration so that everything will be about him at all times.
+8 # treerapper 2019-05-16 01:58
Barr is clearly DT's boy. Instead of an Attorney General who is supposed to represent the United States and its Constitution, we have Trump's personal lawyer in that seat. Can we please fire his stupid corrupt ass? How much more of this Machiavellian garbage can we take?
-8 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-05-16 07:40
McQuade seems unable to understand what a department of justice is for. When someone makes a claim that a crimes was committed, the DOJ has an obligation to investigate it. The DOJ cannot play the game of "worth" and "unworthy" victims.

So Hillary Clinton made the complaint that she was cheated out of the presidency by a collusion between Trump and Russia. The DOJ investigated it strenuously -- 20 lawyers, 40 FBI agents, thousands of subpoenas, 3 years of non-stop investigation. The major media reported on the investigation with hundreds of articles every day.

Now Trump has made a complaint that his campaign was the victim of meddling and illegal intrusion by certain individuals in the US and British intelligence agencies, including Christopher Steele, Richard Dearlove, John Brennan, James Comey. Barr has opened this investigation by appointing a fairly low profile special prosecutor. The scale is much smaller than the Mueller Probe.

MdQuade seems to suggest that Trump's complaint should not be investigated while Hilary's complaint should be. This is injustice at its heart. Justice cannot make a judgement about the worthiness of the victims. All victims are equally worthy of police investigation. This is not "appeasing" Trump. Barr is doing his job.

We know the DOJ is mostly abnout injustice. McQuade was a federal prosecutor. I hope she did not practice what she's preaching in this article. But I suspect she did.
+3 # dascher 2019-05-17 12:06
According to ALL available sources (including Mr. Trump himself), the FBI started their investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the involvement of people in Trump's campaign with the Russians prior to the election, so your claim that it was started after "Hillary Clinton made the complaint that she was cheated out of the presidency by a(sic) collusion between Trump and Russia is patently false.

If you read the article, there is ALREADY an investigation into the actions of the FBI and other intelligence agencies in starting the first investigation, so there seems to be (as the article says) little reason to start a SECOND investigation without the FIRST investigation into the same allegations having completed its work and presented its findings.

It is very disappointing to see you write such complete crap. You have been steadily undermining whatever credibiity you might have once had over the past several months. Is that because your posts are now written by somebody new who lacks the intimacy with the actually facts that your previous ghostwriter had?
-4 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-05-18 05:56
dasch -- sorry you misunderstood. Just to be clear. The DOJ/FBI investigated fully the case in which Hillary was alleged to be a victim. Now it is obliged to investigate the case in which Trump is alleged to be the victim. The DOJ/FBI cannot legally or ethically proclaim that one person is a victim worthy investigation and another person is a victim unworthy of investigation.

But I really think that McQuade is saying is that some people -- top FBI, DOJ, CIA, NSA officers -- are simply above the law and should not be investigated at all. This is what fascism looks like. The heads of criminal spy organizations simply cannot be investigated. But low level people like Carter Page or even Trump can be.
+5 # revhen 2019-05-16 09:35
Greatest assault on American democracy -- ever. Even the Civil War could not hold a candle to this -- because where is the powerful opposition?
+4 # ChrisCurrie 2019-05-16 17:50
William Bar has already committed multiple felony-level crimes as US Attorney General. If Democrats win the 2020 presidential election, William Barr could end serving a considerable amount of jail time for the crimes that he is presently committing.
-4 # MikeAF48 2019-05-16 18:19
Every dog has his day. I don't see much happening just a bunch b. s. same as every election cycle just different players. ho hum
-1 # dascher 2019-05-17 12:14
Based on past performance, it is difficult to get very excited about whatever the FBI and DOJ come up with. They seem to protest a bit too much that they only seek the truth, that they are impartial, that they go where the facts take them, etc. They have always been under the direction of the DOJ with enough independence to allow J. Edgar to compile personal dossiers that might prove useful to him in the future - and it would be foolish to think that such practices ended with J. Edgar's death or after Watergate.

When I see mass resignations from the FBI due to agents being ordered to perform illegal activities or to conduct politically motivated investigations, I might have some reason to reduce my skepticism. However, given how the FBI recruits its agents and with a strong, military-like chain of command, that seems highly unlikely to ever happen.

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