Donald Trump’s human shields in the Senate defend the indefensible

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If you did not watch today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with “Baghdad Bill” Barr, let me quickly sum it up for you: holy shit!

The Mueller report clearly identified collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, a total of 251 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia-linked operatives have been identified, including at least 37 meetings. TRUMP’S RUSSIA COVER-UP BY THE NUMBERS – 251 CONTACTS WITH RUSSIA-LINKED OPERATIVES. Not one — not one — of these contacts were ever reported to federal law enforcement by anyone in the Trump campaign, as any patriotic law-abiding American citizen would have done. They welcomed the contacts and sought assistance from the Russians.

The Republican response: “Meh, who cares? The real problem here is the ‘deep state’ opposed to Donald Trump in the intelligence agencies and the Department of Justice who discovered the Trump campaign was doing this.” In other words, pushing Trump’s Minister of Propaganda Sean Hannity’s conspiracy theories on Trump TV.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Lindsey “Stonewall” Graham thoroughly and completely debased himself from the get-go. Lindsey Graham’s stunningly fact-free, pro-Trump spin of the Mueller report:

[I]n his opening statement, Graham adopted a Trumpian-like worldview in which the president could do no wrong. Graham completely mischaracterized special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report and how damaging it was for Trump. He misstated key facts. He ignored reality and raised conspiracy theories about how the Russia investigation got started in the first place.

“When the Mueller report is put to bed, and it soon will be, this committee is going to look long and hard on how this all started. We’re going to look at the FISA warrant process.”

Graham spent a significant portion of his limited time looking back at the origins of the Russia probe. Trump and his conservative allies have long tried to argue that the probe was put together on false pretenses, despite the rigorous protocols in place to avoid such politicization of the FBI, most especially in how agents get warrants to surveil people. (The Justice Department’s independent watchdog is investigating the FBI’s warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, but there is no indication there was any wrongdoing.)

And never mind that a Trump appointee, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, is the one who created the special counsel investigation and oversaw much of it. Graham also spent time criticizing Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server — a point of contention so out of date that not even Trump talks about this anymore.

In the opening moments of this hearing, Graham made his allegiances clear. He’s going to use his significant weight as head of this committee not to investigate whether the president committed a crime or obstructed an independent investigation or lied to the American people, per the Mueller report. He’s going to put all that aside and dig into conspiracy theories about how the investigation got started in the first place.

It should be no surprise that aligns with exactly what Trump wants done. Graham is conducting this hearing not for the American people, but for Trump.

Trump’s sycophant Repubican human shields on the committee followed “Stonewall’s” lead. At Barr Hearing On Mueller Report, GOP Senators Only Want To Talk Conspiracy:

GOP senators on Wednesday gave Attorney General Bill Barr an opening to pivot from his misleading handling of the release of the Mueller report to another direction: alleged FBI spying on the Trump campaign.

Barr jumped at the opportunity, chiming in to lawmakers that he has Justice Department attorneys “helping me review the activities over the summer of 2016.”

Within 10 minutes of the hearing coming to order, Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was deep in the weeds dissecting Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Graham also did a dramatic reading of texts between two high-level FBI officials during the 2016 election, cherrypicking the most damaging examples — even sharing, unfiltered, one exchange in which Trump was called “a fucking idiot.”

In his questioning, Graham asked Barr a series of yes/no questions having to do with investigating the investigators. Graham asked if Barr “shared my concerns with the FISA warrant process” and “that the lack of professionalism in the Clinton email investigation is something we should all look at?”

“Yes,” Barr flatly replied.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asked Barr if Congress would receive a report regarding alleged FBI spying, to which the attorney general replied: “I envision some kind of reporting at the end of this.”

Grassley also broached the topic of the Steele dossier, commissioned by opposition research firm Fusion GPS. For Grassley, the dossier appears to be a route to accuse Democrats of participating in the Russian interference campaign.

“The Steele dossier was central to the now-debunked collusion narrative,” Grassley said. “For a full accounting, shouldn’t the special counsel have considered on whether the Steele dossier was part of the Russian disinformation and interference campaign?”

“Special counsel Mueller has put out his report, and I have not yet had anyone through the full scope of the investigation,” Barr replied. “I am trying to assemble all the existing information out there about it.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) moved the discussion towards allegations that President Obama was incompetent in preventing Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Cornyn did not mention Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’s role in the issue, where he told Obama in October 2016 that he would refuse to sign on to a joint statement about the interference and treat it as a political attack.

Barr went on to cite the Mueller report’s description of Russian interference efforts, and then said: “I was thinking to myself, if that had been done starting in 2016, we would be much further along.”

Cornyn then asked “how do we know that the Steele dossier itself…is not Russian disinformation?”

“I can’t state that with confidence,” Barr replied. “And that is one of the areas that I’m reviewing.”

Sen. Josh Hawley went on a rant about the alleged FBI spying in an attempt to cast the Mueller probe as an effort to “overturn a democratic election.”

He attributed the origins of the probe to “an unelected bureaucrat, an unelected official in this government, who clearly has open disdain, if not outright hatred for Trump supporters.”

Senate Republicans had signaled in advance that they intended to question Barr about how the Mueller probe came about.

The GOP has sporadically pursued a strategy in which it tried to “investigate the investigators” with varying levels of success since Mueller’s appointment in May 2017.

Much of that has focused on FBI officials Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, with GOP senators attempting to portray text exchanges between the two former lovers as evidence of a conspiracy against Trump. The pair had sent messages to each other during the 2016 campaign that were critical of Trump, while also expressing doubt about allegations of collusion with Russia.

Other allegations revolve around the supposed role of the Steele dossier in the investigation’s early stages.

Barr himself suggested during testimony before Congress last month that “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign, before walking the statement back while under intense public criticism.

As Vox.com reported earlier:

Not only are Republicans done with Mueller, they’re launching their own counteroffensive

In addition to deflecting further investigations of Trump — or perhaps in yet another attempt to do so — Senate Republicans are trying to shift the attention to other investigations of the 2016 campaign and … Hillary Clinton.

As Graham said in a March press conference, Republicans are interested in getting a better handle on the “other side of the story,” including whether the FBI and the Department of Justice engaged in efforts that hurt the Trump campaign in 2016.

“When it comes to the FISA warrant, the Clinton campaign, the counterintelligence investigation, it’s pretty much been swept under the rug except by a few Republicans in the House. Those days are over,” Graham said.

Senate Finance and Homeland Security Chairs Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson echoed such calls in a letter sent to Attorney General Bill Barr last week, which pressed him to review surveillance of the Trump campaign in 2016, a common Republican talking point that Barr himself harped on during a hearing in April.

“Any improper FBI surveillance activities that were conducted before or after the 2016 election must be brought to light and properly addressed,” Grassley and Johnson write in their letter to Barr.

These questions feed into worries Republicans have long voiced about why the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference began and concerns that the use of a FISA warrant to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was rooted in bias.

Conveniently, they also provide some counterprogramming for Republicans to use to divert attention from the ongoing questions about Trump’s potential obstruction of justice that Democrats are sure to emphasize.

As Democrats seek to dial up attention on Trump’s behavior, Republicans are actively trying to redirect it elsewhere.

Sen. Lindsey “Stonewall” Graham — who indicated in his closing remarks “when Robert Mueller testifies before this committee he can correct anything in [Barr’s] version of his statement” — post-hearing said he will not ask Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify about the Russia probe. Graham won’t call for Mueller to testify: ‘It’s over’. “I’m not going to do any more. Enough already. It’s over,” Graham told reporters, asked why he wasn’t calling Mueller to appear before his committee.

On the Democratic side, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) drew blood. She got “Baghdad Bill” Barr to admit that he — and apparently Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein — did not review the underlying evidence in Special Counsel’s probe before writing his four-page “summary” in which he made the determination that there was no “collusion,” and no obstruction of justice. (At some point during today’s hearing, Barr admitted that he has not finished reading the entire Mueller Report).

Senator Harris: “Now the special counsel’s investigation produced a great deal of evidence,” Harris, a Democratic presidential hopeful, said. “I’m led to believe it included witnesses notes and e-mails, witness interviews, testimony, which were summarized in the FBI 302 forms, former director Comey’s memos and the president’s public statements. My question is in reaching your conclusion, did you personally review all of the underlying evidence?”

BARR: “We accepted the statements in the report as factual record. We did not go underneath it to see whether or not they were accurate. We accepted it as accurate.”

Senator Harris: “So you accepted the report as the evidence?” Harris said. “You did not question or look at the underlying evidence that supports the conclusions in the report?”

Barr said he had not. Nor, for that matter, had anyone else in his office.

The attorney general insisted there was nothing unusual about that.

As Sen. Kamala Harris said in a post-hearing interview, “What is absolutely enlightening, and what should be deeply troubling to the entire American public is that he made a decision and didn’t review the evidence. No prosecutor worth her salt would make a decision about whether the President of the United States was involved in an obstruction of justice without reviewing the evidence. This Attorney General lacks all credibility and has, I think, compromised the American public’s ability to believe that he is a purveyor of justice.” Sen. Harris then said that Barr should resign.

Here is the complete exchange between Sen. Kamala Harris and “Baghdad Bill” Barr.

Sen. Kamala Harris also forced Barr into obfuscation when she asked him whether anyone at the White House had told him or suggested that he open an investigation into anyone.

Senator Harris: Has the president or the WH ever asked or suggested you open an investigation into anyone?

*pause*

BARR: “I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest.'”

Barr asks for the Q to be repeated. It’s repeated.

BARR: They haven’t asked me to open an investigation…Suggested? I don’t know.

Senator Harris : Hinted? Inferred?

Barr dodged answering the question, which is your cue that he has had discussions with the Trump White House about opening investigations. Barr himself has said that he is “looking into spying” on the Trump campaign by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies (see above). This is the Republican game plan.

And what about those 14 open investigations listed in the appendix of the Mueller Report?

To paraphrase Donald Trump, “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a single Republican Senator” even if “I did it live on TV.” This is an amoral political party that is ethically and morally bankrupt. It is undemocratic and unpatriotic. And it is completely in thrall to the personality cult of Donald Trump that will excuse anything. We are on the road to autocracy.