By Howard Kurtz
Published May 15, 2019
The latest news, reduced to its starkest terms: You had your investigation, now we're having ours.
The first investigation, relentlessly promoted by Democrats and the media, was, of course, the Mueller probe. While the report contained some damaging information about the actions of the Trump team, the bottom line was beyond dispute: no criminal charges recommended.
The new probe, long pushed by Donald Trump, Republicans and the conservative media, aims at investigating the investigators.
As first reported by The New York Times, William Barr has tapped the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, John Durham, to examine the origins of the special counsel's probe — especially the opening of the FBI counterintelligence inquiry into the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016.
This comes on the heels of the DOJ's inspector general investigating the wiretap applications from 2016 and political bias among FBI officials.
Obviously, the president could have declared victory after the Mueller findings and moved on. But he's been agitating for a second investigation into what he views as — perhaps you've heard this before? — a partisan witch hunt.
The Times described the latest investigation as "a move that President Trump has long called for but that could anger law enforcement officials who insist that scrutiny of the Trump campaign was lawful." I get that there are legitimate questions about how the Obama-era FBI handled the probe, about using an informant against George Papadopoulos, about the anti-Trump texts of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. But the IG could have handled this, and what makes me uneasy is that this carries the whiff of payback.
Trump's appointee to run the FBI, Christopher Wray, said last week that he didn't know of any illegal surveillance and would not call the work of his agents "spying." For that, he's starting to get the Sessions treatment.
The president tweeted that "the FBI has no leadership. The Director is protecting the same gang ... that tried to overthrow the President through an illegal coup. (Recommended by previous DOJ)".
The coup language is unfortunate. But if you view it that way, it's not hard to conjure an image of a general surviving a military coup and then ordering the plotters jailed.
How does Wray feel that the man who tapped him to replace Jim Comey now says the bureau has no leadership? And critics who say Barr was spinning the Mueller report will now view the attorney general as doing Trump's bidding in ordering the new probe.
Trump told reporters yesterday that the Mueller probe was "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the people of this country" and "I am so proud of our attorney general that he is looking into it," while adding that he didn't know about the decision in advance.
Asked whether he has full confidence in Chris Wray, the president said, "Well, I didn't understand his answer" on illegal surveillance. "I thought it was a ridiculous answer."
The Washington Post notes that "Trump's campaign is publicly calling for criminal investigations into former FBI officials and is making 'spygate' fundraising pitches, seeking to turn the tables and transform the Russia investigation into a political asset instead of a liability."
On the other hand, even though Durham is a Trump appointee, Barr seems to have made a good choice.
Durham has been a Justice Department lawyer for nearly four decades and has conducted a number of sensitive investigations under Republican and Democratic administrations. These include the FBI probe of mobster Whitey Bulger and the CIA's destruction of torture videotapes.
The U.S. attorney is not being given special powers, so he'll report to Barr rather than function as a special prosecutor.
Maybe this latest investigation will clear up these questions about the launch of the Russia investigation once and for all. But an equally likely outcome is that it's embraced by Trump supporters and dismissed by Trump detractors, just another round in the hyperpartisanship that has tainted our law enforcement agencies.