The ever-expanding impeachment inquiry is reaching further into the top levels of President Trump’s inner circle, with Democrats beginning to focus scrutiny not only on his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, but also on the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
Attorney General Bill Barr was first put on defense when the transcript of Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was released last week, revealing that Trump suggested he get in touch with Barr and Giuliani to discuss an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The Justice Department, though, swiftly denied any involvement with any such investigations and denied that Barr ever spoke with Trump regarding the matter. The DOJ further said Barr has not communicated with Ukraine at all.
But he faced a fresh round of scrutiny amid revelations that he asked the president to make introductions for him to foreign countries that may have had information pertinent to the Justice Department’s ongoing probe into the origins of the Russia investigation — a probe that he announced publicly earlier this year.
Barr’s defenders, however, argue there is nothing controversial about his role in that investigation, being led by U.S. Attorney John Durham.
“Make no mistake, Attorney General Barr is doing what he is authorized and has the mandate to do and that is to investigate, to prosecute and to expose corruption,” former U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman told “Fox & Friends” this week. “If the FISA court was utilized to secure warrants and be able to go in and spy on American citizens or influence the election in any way, Attorney General Barr is the only one who has the authority to investigate that.”
Tolman was referring to misconduct allegations related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. The Justice Department inspector general is expected to release a report on that in the coming weeks.
Whether Democrats will conflate that investigation with the Ukraine controversy remains to be seen. But they are homing in on Barr's role in both.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder even weighed in, alleging Barr has crossed a line.
“The whole thing that the attorney general is involved in is highly unusual,” Holder told Fox News. “Ordering an investigation of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies when there was already an investigation underway by the inspector general.”
Holder added: “And then to see how the president is now involved to help the attorney general in that effort gives me pause.”
“I think the attorney general needs to be a little more sensitive to the appearance that it gives,” he continued. “You have to not only be substantively neutral — you have to appear to be neutral when you are the attorney general of the United States.”
He added: “And I fear that he has crossed a political line.”
Holder’s comments came a day after The New York Times reported that Trump had privately pressed Australia’s leader to help Barr in Durham’s investigation. However, a letter obtained by Fox News showed that Australia had proactively reached out to Trump in May to offer assistance after Trump publicly told reporters he would direct Barr to contact a variety of countries as part of the probe.
The Justice Department stressed to Fox News that this has been a routine procedure in diplomacy, and that Barr would not usually reach out to his direct counterpart in another country unilaterally. Instead, there would be an introduction, made at the head-of-state level.
“Mr. Durham is gathering information from numerous sources, including a number of foreign countries,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said. “At Attorney General Barr’s request, the President has contacted other countries to ask them to introduce the Attorney General and Mr. Durham to appropriate officials.”
And a senior Australian diplomat told Fox News: "After the president said what he said --- we initiated the contact. There was no pressure -- we acted in order to help.”
A Trump administration source echoed those comments. "The countries have been helpful," the source said. "There was no pressing required."
Meanwhile, with regard to the Ukraine controversy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Barr has “gone rogue,” while alleging there was an attempted “cover-up” of the whistleblower complaint that said Trump solicited the Ukrainian president's help to influence the 2020 presidential election, by seeking the probe of the Bidens—a complaint that sparked the formal impeachment inquiry in the House.
“He’s gone rogue,” she said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I think where they are going is the cover-up of the cover-up, and that’s very really sad for them. To have a Justice Department go so rogue, they have been for a while, and now it just makes matters worse.”
Kupec countered: “If by 'going rogue' Speaker Pelosi means that the Department of Justice follows the law and long-established procedures, she is correct.”
Pelosi also slammed Barr for instructing Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to bring the whistleblower complaint to the Justice Department and White House before transmitting it to Congress.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., even went so far as to suggest that Barr step aside from any review of the Ukraine matter.
“The President dragged the Attorney General into this mess,” Nadler tweeted last week. “At a minimum, AG Barr must recuse himself until we get to the bottom of this matter.”
The Justice Department, though, has denied involvement in any potential investigations into Biden or anything else.
“The president has not spoken with the attorney general about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son,” Kupec said in a statement last week. “The president has not asked the attorney general to contact Ukraine — on this or any other matter. The attorney general has not communicated with Ukraine —on this or any other subject. Nor has the attorney general discussed this matter, or anything related to Ukraine, with Rudy Giuliani.”
Fox News' Jake Gibson, Bret Baier, Gregg Re and Garrett Tenney contributed to this report.