Why Democrats Freaked When Barr Said Trump Campaign Was Spied On
There are two reasons the political media establishment is growing increasingly hostile towards Attorney General William Barr: First, he serves under President Donald Trump. Second, he is not only the messenger of the demise of the Russiagate conspiracy theory that the Deep State and its aiders, abettors, and enablers in the political media establishment worked so hard to perpetuate, but he could also be the source of the demise of the establishment itself, if he ends up exposing their whole sordid affair.
Should Barr conduct a thorough investigation of the Russiagate investigators, and the associated leakers and colluders, and dispense justice to the fullest extent of the law, it would drive a stake through the heart of the establishment writ large by demolishing the unjust system of double standards from which it has benefited, while punishing its foes.
The latest round of handwringing over the attorney general superficially concerns the utter gall he exhibited by revealing a verboten truth before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee—a truth Americans have known for months: The U.S. government spied on the Trump campaign.
Here is the full exchange, which contains needed context frequently ignored in the reporting on the hearing:
AG BARR: As I said in my confirmation hearing, I am going to be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016. And a lot of this has already been investigated, and a substantial portion of it has been investigated and is being investigated by the office of the Inspector General, but one of the things I want to do is pull everything together from the various investigations that have gone on, including on the Hill and in the [Justice] Department, and see if there are any remaining questions to be addressed.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN: And can you share with us why you feel a need to do that?
AG BARR: Well, you know, for the same reason we’re worried about foreign influence in elections, we want to make sure that during elections — I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It’s a big deal.
The generation I grew up in, which is the Vietnam War period, people were all concerned about spying on anti-war people and so forth by the government, and there were a lot of rules put in place to make sure that there’s an adequate basis before our law enforcement agencies get involved in political surveillance. I’m not suggesting that those rules were violated but I think it’s important to look at that. and I’m not talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly.
SEN. SHAHEEN: So you’re not suggesting, though, that spying occurred?
AG BARR: Well, I guess — I think spying did occur, yes. I think spying did occur.
SEN. SHAHEEN: Well —
AG BARR: The question was whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated. I need to explore that. I think it’s my obligation. Congress is usually very concerned about intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies staying in their proper lane. I want to make sure that happened. We have a lot of rules about that.
…I also want to make clear. I also want to make clear, this is not launching an investigation of the FBI. Frankly, to the extent there were any issues at the FBI, I do not view it as a problem that’s endemic to the FBI.
I think there was probably a failure among a group of leaders there, at the upper echelon. So I don’t like to hear attacks about the FBI because I think the FBI is an outstanding organization and I think Chris Wray is a great partner for me. I’m very pleased he’s there as the director. If it becomes necessary to look over some former officials’ activities, I expect I’ll be relying heavily on Chris and work closely with him in looking at that information. But that’s what I’m doing. I feel I have an obligation to make sure that government power is not abused. I think that’s one of the principal roles of the attorney general.
The totality of AG Barr’s testimony shows that, contrary to the portrayal by his critics as some kind of Trump stooge, he was quite measured in his words, and took great pains to defend the FBI. Nevertheless, his interlocutor, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), was dumbfounded, and her Democratic colleagues were perturbed.
Outrage Ensued, Of Course
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) asked Barr to atone for his thought crime, saying the use of the word “spying” was “provocative and unnecessarily inflammatory” coming from someone of Barr’s position. It “could cause everybody in the cable news ecosystem to freak out.” Barr replied: “I’m not sure of all of the connotations of that word [spying], but unauthorized surveillance. I want to make sure there was no unauthorized surveillance.”
It is unfortunate that the attorney general was reduced to euphemism here, since “spying” is exactly what transpired, but not unsurprising given Barr was responding to a hostile group of questioners. Yet one wonders: Why does Schatz think it is the responsibility of someone whose job is to seek truth to parse language based upon how pundits might react? And does Schatz thinks it more “provocative and … inflammatory” that a presidential campaign was spied on by a national security apparatus under control of the opposing party—his party—or that Barr called it as it is?
Democrats pounced on Barr’s comments:
Whether it’s defending the administration’s dangerous health care lawsuit or perpetuating conspiracy theories, Mr. Barr is acting more like the president’s campaign spokesman than the independent attorney general he’s supposed to be. https://t.co/yyBTqcFLlJ
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said: “He [Barr] is acting as an employee of the president … I believe the Attorney General believes he needs to protect the president of the United States.”
Barr comments here bound to please Trump, who has railed on the handling of the Russia probe. “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said. He said he’s “not suggesting those rules are violated” and wants to know what happened. “I think spying did occur.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) April 10, 2019
2 points on Barr and “spying”:
1) The use of “spying” is obviously a loaded term — and one Trump favors
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) April 10, 2019
Clapper was asked last year whether FBI had been spying on Trump‘s campaign. His response: “No, they were not.”
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) April 10, 2019
Read Mollie Hemingway’s column for a thorough debunking of the last two tweets.
The purpose of these seemingly coordinated talking points and feigned outrage is all too transparent. Democrats are determined to hammer home the narrative that Barr is nothing but a Trump mouthpiece.
How Dare Barr Tell the Truth?
The aim of those attacking Barr for having the temerity to call spying “spying” is threefold.
It’s to obfuscate the substantial gravity of Barr’s underlying claim by focusing on the putative political undertones of his remarks; to ascribe Barr’s remarks to politics, calling into question his legitimacy and consequently rendering illegitimate any action taken at his direction regarding Russiagate; and to protect the attackers, since it was the Deep State and its friends in the political-media establishment who condoned and cheered such otherwise unthinkable, corrupt, and corrosive actions as spying on a presidential campaign, in a bid to ultimately tank a presidency they oppose.
In fact, the attempt to smear Barr, thereby undermining his office and its work, or perhaps cowing him into proceeding with kid gloves, is of a piece with prior acts to sideline anyone who threatens their prerogatives. Just ask Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA).
Recall that evidently one of the political-media establishment’s priorities was to disempower Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, by browbeating him into recusing himself from all things Russia. This put the various investigations of Trump into the hands of those who thought it fit to engage in a bloodless coup against him—and on grounds made of quicksand to boot.
As argued previously, to use the same parlance as Trump’s accusers, media officials were unindicted co-conspirators with members of the government to kill a presidency by propagating a narrative—based in large part on third-hand propaganda from sketchy Russian sources, conveyed via a foreign agent, paid through the dubious Fusion GPS by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee—to start investigations that would culminate in the president’s fall. They failed.
They never anticipated President Trump would win the 2016 election. Then they never expected he would survive the various “investigations” into him, carried out by his worst political enemies in Soviet “show me the man and I’ll show you the crime” fashion. Now, they certainly cannot abide that their efforts might face public scrutiny.
We are close to a new low, in an era when separation of powers, due process, and rule of law take a back seat to winning, in which political leaders and members of the media cheer on, collude in, and now seek to cover up actions resembling third world police state activity in furtherance of their cause.
The only corrective is a full investigation of the investigators, and convictions for those who committed crimes in the process of investigating. That is merely the first step in what may have to culminate in dramatic reform of the national security and law enforcement apparatus, so that something like what has taken place between the 2016 presidential election and today never happens again. There is no other deterrent to administrative state tyranny.
This is about more than politics or any one president. This is about whether we have any hope of restoring our republic.
Ben Weingarten is a senior contributor at The Federalist and senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research. He is the founder and CEO of ChangeUp Media, a media consulting and production company dedicated to advancing conservative principles. You can find his work at benweingarten.com, and follow him on Twitter @bhweingarten.