NY Times' Savage Savages Barr: Is AG ‘Deliberately Fueling Conspiracy Theories’?

May 19th, 2019 1:24 PM

The New York Times was mightily miffed by Attorney General William Barr daring to call spying by its proper name (and not refer to spies as “cloaked investigators,” as the Times did) before the Senate Judiciary Committee, referring to the electronic surveillance, FISA warrants, and the use of informants like Cambridge University academic Stefan Halper (and a mysterious female assistant) to spy on Trump campaign aides.

In Saturday’s Times, legal reporter Charlie Savage savaged the attorney general in “Barr Again Questions Russia Inquiry, Siding More Closely With Trump.” Savage was suffused with suspicion toward Barr, portraying his motives as partisan.

The story came with a picture of Trump and Barr side by side in front of the Capitol, to underline the alleged...collusion? The loaded photo caption: “William P. Barr, attorney general, has given the president’s allies ammunition to attack law enforcement and intelligence agencies.” Yes, all those anti-cop Trumpers...

Savage’s hit accused the attorney general of possibly “fueling conspiracy theories” right in the lead sentence.

When Attorney General William P. Barr described the early stages of the Russia investigation as “spying” on the Trump campaign, he prompted questions about whether he had used that word spontaneously -- or whether he was deliberately fueling conspiracy theories.

That question flared anew on Friday after Mr. Barr went even further in casting doubt on the legitimacy of the investigation in two interviews that, by design or coincidence, provided fresh ammunition for President Trump and allies to attack law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Mr. Barr told Fox News he had been asking whether “government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale” in opening the Russia inquiry. “A lot of the answers have been inadequate and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together,” he added.

And he doubled down on the innuendo-laden formulation he used in congressional testimony last month, telling The Wall Street Journal, “Government power was used to spy on American citizens.”

The statements were the latest in a series of actions and comments by Mr. Barr expressing skepticism about how the F.B.I. began investigating during the 2016 presidential campaign whether any Trump associates conspired with Russia’s election interference....

Savage gave the domestic surveillance organization known as the FBI a lot of leeway, especially for a legal reporter. It's quite a change from the paper's past paranoia toward surveillance.

Mr. Barr’s use last month of that charged term to describe a lawful investigation aimed at understanding a foreign power’s efforts to manipulate an American election thrilled Mr. Trump’s supporters. But the spectacle of an attorney general saying it outraged current and former law enforcement officials. The F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, later rejected the term.

But it was not clear then whether Mr. Barr had simply gaffed -- perhaps not understanding the reverberations that word choice would cause in a political news media environment that has changed drastically since his first stint as attorney general a quarter-century ago -- or if he had deliberately set out to cause that effect.

His emphatic return to such language suggests that now, at least, he must know what he is doing, said Carrie F. Cordero, a former Justice Department national security official and prosecutor.


Mr. Barr joined the Trump administration with a reputation as an establishment Republican from the pre-Trump era. But he has since attracted heavy criticism -- not only by liberals, but also by traditional conservatives who remain aghast at Mr. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party.

Critics are upset by how he sought to shape public perception of the then-secret report of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to make it seem better for the president. Democrats have accused him of lying to Congress about the Mueller team’s complaints about his portrayal of the report....

The paper is certainly more demanding of evidence from Barr than it ever was from, say, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, whose “collusion” conspiracy was washed down the drain after the release of the dud Mueller report.

Mr. Barr was vague when asked to specify his concerns.

“I’ve been trying to get answers to the questions and I’ve found that a lot of the answers have been inadequate and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together, in a sense I have more questions today than when I first started,” he said to Fox News.

He also did not specify what answers and explanations prompted his suspicions.