In theory, former Attorney General Bill Barr finds himself in a difficult position. The Republican tapped special counsel John Durham to investigate the investigation into the Russia scandal, and the entire three-year effort is proving to be a fiasco. Durham’s failed and misguided prosecution of Michael Sussmann this week was the latest embarrassment, but it doesn’t stand alone.
It was against this backdrop that Barr turned to Fox News last night to brag about how “very proud” he is of the prosecutor’s work. The former attorney general added:
“While he did not succeed in getting a conviction from the D.C. jury, I think he accomplished something far more important…. I think he crystallized the central role played by the Hillary campaign in launching as a dirty trick the whole Russiagate collusion narrative and fanning the flames of it.”
In all likelihood, Barr knows better. Donald Trump’s Russia scandal wasn’t just some “narrative,” launched as a “dirty trick”; it was a genuine scandal about a Republican presidential candidate whose political operation sought, embraced, capitalized on, and lied about assistance from a foreign adversary — and then took steps to obstruct the investigation into the foreign interference.
What’s more, as the former attorney general also probably knows, Hillary Clinton and her campaign didn’t “launch” the scandal; federal law enforcement began scrutinizing the controversy on its own based on ample evidence.
But putting these relevant details aside, Barr’s on-air rhetoric last night was jarring for a reason: The Republican effectively made the case that Durham’s pointless prosecution doesn’t matter because the politicized special counsel investigation contributed to a partisan smear of Hillary Clinton.
Sure, federal prosecutors obtaining convictions is nice, but for Barr, fueling anti-Clinton theories is “far more important.”
The former attorney general isn’t the only one thinking along such ridiculous lines. Two weeks ago, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal published a bizarre piece with an over-the-top headline — “Hillary Clinton Did It” — claiming that the former Democratic candidate “approved a plan to plant a false Russia claim with a reporter.”
Predictably, the piece was a hit in Republican circles — despite being filled with painfully obvious falsehoods.
It might be tempting to think the humiliating demise of Durham’s case against a former Clinton attorney might lead conservatives to shift their focus, but there’s ample evidence pointing in the opposite direction. On Tuesday night, Sen. Marsha Blackburn published a tweet that read, simply, “Investigate Hillary Clinton.” The Tennessee Republican — a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee — didn’t say why, exactly, Clinton should be investigated, but it’s likely that Blackburn and those who retweeted her missive weren’t overly concerned with sensible rationales.
A day later, former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, a leading Republican Senate hopeful, also called for an investigation into Clinton, suggesting GOP leaders “with a backbone” should agree with him.
None of this is healthy.
As regular readers probably recall, in Trump’s first year as president, the Republican and his party couldn’t shake their Clinton preoccupation. The then-president couldn’t stop talking and tweeting about his 2016 rival. His aides appeared fixated on Clinton. Congressional Republicans even launched investigations related to Clinton.
By October 2017, the former secretary of state joked, “It appears they don’t know I’m not president.”
The conditions persisted. In 2019, when Trump launched his re-election campaign, he excoriated Clinton seven times over the course of 30 minutes in his kickoff speech, apparently indifferent to the fact that she wasn’t running. As Election Day 2020 grew closer, the then-president called for Clinton’s incarceration, pushed then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to uncover and release Clinton emails, and lobbied then-Attorney General Barr to prosecute Clinton for reasons unknown.
She wasn’t on the ballot. Trump seemed desperate to run against her anyway.
After Trump’s defeat, it seemed plausible that Trump and his followers would finally move on — if for no other reason than because they had fresh political targets, in the form a new Democratic president, a new Democratic vice president, a new Democratic Senate majority leader, et al. Clinton left office a decade ago, and it was finally time for obsessive GOP critics to find a new hobby.
And yet, here we are.
Now, Barr, Blackburn, Greitens, et al. are reminding the political world that Republicans still can’t shake their obsession, even when it would be in the GOP’s interests to do so.