Mischief or Misfud? Barr Calls Reveal Ongoing Investigation, Not Incrimination

Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on the allegations that Attorney General Bill Barr is now somehow “implicated” in the Ukraine controversy because he spoke with counterparts in England, Italy, and Australia about assisting in the investigation by U.S. Attorney John Durham. If those calls were truly about the Durham investigation, it would be entirely proper for Barr to ask for such assistance. I have always maintained that the Congress has a legitimate interest in investigating the Ukraine controversy. However, the chorus of recriminations on the Barr matter reveal the hype triggering much of the hypoxia.

Here is the column:

With all of the breathless headlines of the last two weeks, it is astonishing that the entire city of Washington is not swooning from hypoxia. Much of the media have blasted out the news that Attorney General William Barr is “implicated” in the Ukraine scandal, after sources said he pressed leaders in Australia, Italy and England to supply evidence about the origins of the Russia investigation. Esquire Magazine was a tad more descriptive, proclaiming Barr was now “far up s–t creek” because of his calls.

Yet not only is there a valid reason for such calls, but they could indicate that the creek could become a storm of sorts for Democrats over the coming weeks. The calls made by Barr were reportedly linked to the ongoing investigation by United States Attorney John Durham into the origins of the Russia investigation. It is not uncommon for an attorney general, or even a president, to ask foreign leaders to assist with ongoing investigations. Such calls can shortcut bureaucratic red tape, particularly if the evidence is held, as in this case, by national security or justice officials. A call to request assistance for the Durham investigation would “implicate” Barr in nothing other than an official investigation.

I supported the appointment of a special counsel after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. I also supported an investigation into the origins of the FBI investigation. The country is divided on the merits of both with legitimate concerns raised on each side. With the start of a House impeachment inquiry, it is more important than ever to have transparency along with a review of both investigations.

Moreover, Durham could answer some disturbing aspects of the origins of the Russia investigation, including the mysterious role of Professor Joseph Mifsud. Efforts by Durham to gain cooperation from Australia, England, and Italy likely concern figures such as Misfud. The professor seemed eager and focused in revealing that there were “thousands of emails” in the hands of the Russians in conspicuously opportunistic meetings with key figures. 

An academic from Malta, Mifsud has long been tied to Russian interests and appears at critical moments throughout the Russia investigation. He met with former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos in both Rome and London. In one of those meetings, he referenced the existence of hacked emails.

We have never established the real facts or loyalties of Mifsud. Some have suggested that he may have been a Western asset working for American, British, or Italian intelligence services. Fueling that speculation was the fact that the special counsel report indicates Mifsud lied repeatedly to investigators on sensitive national security issues. While Robert Mueller charged others for minor discrepancies in the stories that they told investigators, Mifsud somehow escaped any such charge.

Information on Mifsud would be found in countries like Australia, England, and Italy, as would be information on the work of former British spy Christopher Steele. The Clinton campaign paid him and an American opposition research firm a large sum of money to seek dirt on Trump, including Russian and other foreign sources. Such information is not easily shaken loose without a high level prompt from someone like Barr.

However, many of the very same figures in Congress and in the media who previously called for full disclosure of every aspect of the Russia investigation are now criticizing the effort to gather evidence in the Durham investigation. It appears the public “right to know” does not extend that far. The reason is that a key report by Durham likely would come at a most importune time in advance of the 2020 election.

Democrats already are moving to impeach Trump on the Ukraine matter. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have told fellow Democrats to focus on Ukraine instead of on Russia conspiracy or obstruction, which led to more than two years of investigation. One reason for this is that Trump would be able to call his own witnesses during a Senate trial, particularly with a Republican majority dictating the rules. If the Russia investigation winds up as part of an impeachment trial, then Trump would be able to use these reports and earlier disclosures to place the conduct of the Obama administration under the spotlight before the public.

Trump would have plenty to work with in such a trial. The original focus was on his campaign aide Carter Page, who ultimately was not indicted on any crime. Mueller could not find a single crime by George Papadopoulos other than a marginal false statement that led to a whole 12 days in jail. Mueller ultimately found that no Trump official knowingly dealt with Russian hackers or trolls. If Durham finds irregularities and improper conduct in the Russia investigation, it will reinforce the claim by Trump that his campaign was improperly targeted by hostile FBI officials.

Even worse is there could be a one two punch coming on the Russia investigation. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is said to be close to releasing his report on the secret surveillance targeting Trump officials. The report is expected to be both comprehensive and damaging for many involved in the start of that investigation. Durham and Horowitz will not be easily dismissed. Both are widely respected and are working with career investigators. If either finds improper conduct, it could reinforce the position of Republicans and moderate Democrats in voting against the impeachment or removal of Trump, who strongly maintains that the Obama administration not only improperly targeted his campaign for investigation but proved lax in investigating allegations against Democrats ranging from Hillary Clinton to Joe Biden.

Convicting a president in an impeachment trial requires evidence and clarity. Even if Democrats only proceed on the Ukraine call, Trump will be able to claim that he sought evidence tied to the Russia investigation to assist Horowitz and Durham in their own investigations. He will be able to call witnesses like Hunter Biden on his business dealings in Ukraine while his father handed out more than a billion dollars in aid.

It is doubtful that Democrats could resist references to the Russia investigation in an impeachment trial, which would trip the wire for Trump to bring in countervailing evidence from the Horowitz or Durham reports. Esquire Magazine could right about the nature of this river, but while it may lead to many things, clarity is not likely one of them.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

98 thoughts on “Mischief or Misfud? Barr Calls Reveal Ongoing Investigation, Not Incrimination”

  1. With the massive gaffe machine that Biden is, do Democrats really want dementia ridden Joe Biden to get up on a witness stand on the matter of the Ukraine…really. My guess is that he will get up there and give plenty of ammunition as to why Trump was more than valid in making a request of Ukraine to take a look at that case.

    To me you have Trump and Biden involved in the same thing. They both are accused of leveraging aid for a personal result (although there is scant proof that Trump did actually leverage aid, where as there is video of Biden bragging about it). Both did something that could have been considered to possibly bring a personal benefit, but both also had the whole “confronting corruption,” excuse. If you buy the excuse for Biden, you have to buy the excuse for Trump as well.

    Democrats may be willing to throw the excuse out for both because they are willing to sacrifice Biden to remove Trump, but really, that damages national security and hurts all future Presidents in a serious way. It means running for President is a complete get out of jail free card. Immunity, no investigations for any wrong doing, and means no President can ever do anything again that may seem to be of a personal benefit, even if it is of the utmost importance, and in the best interests of the country. Democrats will essentially be doing what they have tried to do with Kavanaugh. Turning the system on it’s head, where a positive has to be proven and the negative is always the default position.

  2. NBC today:

    “Sen. Ron Johnson, a top Republican ally of President Donald Trump, said a U.S. diplomat told him in August that the Trump administration had frozen almost $400 million in aid to Ukraine because the president wanted a commitment that Kyiv would carry out investigations related to U.S. elections.

    The Wisconsin senator, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Friday, said he called Trump about the allegation on Aug. 31, and that Trump vehemently denied it.

    “He said—expletive deleted—’No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?” Johnson recounted Trump as telling him in the call, according to the paper.

    Johnson told The Wall Street Journal that he was informed of the allegations by U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

    Speaking to reporters in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, before The Wall Street Journal story was published, Johnson said that during the Aug. 31 talk, he asked Trump to “give me the authority to tell [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelinskiy that we were going to provide that” aid.

    “I didn’t succeed,” Johnson said, according to audio of the interview posted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

    As for why not, Johnson said Trump had concerns, including about “what happened in 2016.”

    Johnson told The Wall Street Journal that he’d reached out to Sondland after discovering the aid, which Johnson had advocated for, had been frozen. Sondland said the administration had been working on an arrangement with Ukraine in which the country would appoint a new prosecutor general and move to “get to the bottom of what happened in 2016—if President Trump has that confidence, then he’ll release the military spending,” Johnson told the paper.

    The senator said the suggestion made him “wince.” “My reaction was: ‘Oh, God. I don’t want to see those two things combined,'” Johnson told the paper.

    The money was released in September after news of the freeze became public and led to bipartisan push from Congress.

    Johnson told reporters last month that he’d asked Trump to release the aid for Ukraine, but did not mention his conversation with Sondland.

    1. As for why not, Johnson said Trump had concerns, including about “what happened in 2016.”

      Oh no, the President is concerned about what happened in 2016. Breaking News! He’s not alone. So was Hillary, so much that a book was written on it. Not to worry, with the IG and Durham, Barr will get all the answers and then we won’t need to worry about 2020.

      Buckle up cupcake.

  3. For those keeping score at home, no WH people or GOP Congressional leaders booked on the Sunday talk shows and Trump, in a phone call with GOP representatives on Friday said Rick Perry made him call Zelensky, which he didn’t want to do.

    Good times.

    1. who cares. sunday is for church & relaxing. not watching the running dogs of the corporate media inside on boob tube

  4. the Left sees everything through the myopiculars of gaining more power and more control. They never think about money, taxes or economics just happy to run the printing presses of borrow, inflate, and repudiate the debt using the Cycle or Circle of Repression.

    1. Hey Mike, you’ll find the Lefts take on money, taxes and economics on Mitch McConnell’s desk. It’s probably buried under all the stuff he has to sign to enrich his wife’s family in China. We get he’s busy, golfing with a President who doesn’t feel his Oath of office should apply to him….since he and Barr agree he should be a King. Those silly Dems actually believe the American revolution is still relevant! Can you believe how little they care, with all those pesky impeachment efforts to honer our Constitution? Yep. Those crazy Lefties never really got onboard of the Ship of Fools. They’re all such Losers 🤪🤣

    2. Dude, your hero and the GOP just blew up the deficit to over $1 trillion for 2020 in a period of economic growth when tax receipts are up.

  5. Barr’s Role In Secret Ukraine Probe Taints Him As ‘Compromised’

    It wasn’t long ago that William Barr downplayed The Mueller Report. Barr inferred said report ‘exonerated’ Trump; which it didn’t.

    Now we learn that Barr was more than happy to use his position as Attorney General to investigate conspiracies on Donald Trump’s behalf. Conspiracies widely doubted by foreign policy professionals.

    One could argue that Jeff Sessions, in his first months as Attorney General, should have investigated the 2016 Election. But at that point Trump’s main focus was alleged vote fraud by ‘illegal aliens’. Trump’s sham of a commission went nowhere very quickly. Even Republican Secretaries of State resented the notion they had failed in their duties.

    Trump not only failed to investigate foreign interference, he dismissed the possibility as ‘Fake News’. Trump even went to far as to assure the Russian Ambassador, before TV cameras, that James Comey had been fired.

    So now we learn that only quite recently Trump decided to investigate the 2116 Election. But Trump kept this probe a secret while involving his Attorney General and Secretary of State. We, the American Public, have only learned of this investigation through a whistle blower.

    This all begs the question, ‘Why would Trump wait until his third year in office to finally investigate 2016?’ And ‘why’ does Trump blame Ukraine, instead of Russia? It’s ironic since Russia menaces Ukraine. Which looks again like Trump is working on Putin’s behalf.

    1. It wasn’t long ago that William Barr downplayed The Mueller Report. Barr inferred said report ‘exonerated’ Trump; which it didn’t

      Oh yes it did. They spent 32 months ‘investigating’ (not counting the preliminaries running informants) and what they came up with was (1) process crimes and (2) the tax returns and taxi medallions of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen (about which the Trumps had no reason to know anything), (3) indictments of Russian internet trolls they figured they’d never have to argue in court, and (4) verbose spin about ‘obstruction of justice’ which amounted to an accusation that Trump was obstructing the obstruction investigation with mean tweets. To top it off, we discover that Mueller is so confused he needs a minder when he appears in front of Congressional committees and has never heard of Fusion GPS. The whole business was a fraud run by Andrew Weismann.

      We live in a time when liberals are intellectual and moral frauds.

      1. “We live in a time when liberals are intellectual and moral frauds.”

        So true. That’s why people are leaving the left and never coming back.

      2. Absurd XIV, you mention Manafort above. That’s the clue. That’s why Trump hates Ukraine. Because Ukraine cooperated in the prosecution of Mamafort. And the latter was revealed as a shameless pocket-stuffer; grabbing all the cash he could during his employment in Ukraine.

        Hunter Biden may have aspired to stuff his pockets as well. Trump, however, doesn’t honestly care about pocket-stuffing. He only resents that his boy was caught. Trump, in fact, is a terrible messenger for the anti-nepotism movement. Ivanka and Jared’s presence in the White House makes a mockery of Trump’s concern.

        1. That’s why Trump hates Ukraine. Because Ukraine cooperated in the prosecution of Mamafort. And the latter was revealed as a shameless pocket-stuffer; grabbing all the cash he could during his employment in Ukraine.

          There is no indication outside the empty space between your ears that

          1. Trump hates the Ukraine; or that

          2. The co-operation of the Ukrainian government was necessary to nail Manafort for tax evasion; or that

          3. Injuries done to Manafort by 3d parties are of interest to Trump. He worked for Trump for five months. I’m sure he’s pleased that Manafort did not invent cock-and-bull to advance Andrew Weismann’s scams.

      3. Tabby 14: The Mueller Report DID NOT EXONERATE Trump. Trump never cooperated with the investigation, refused to sit for deposition, had Giuliani incompletely and evasively answer written questions and then refused to fill in the missing/incomplete information upon follow up request. Because of the lack of complete information and lack of cooperation by Trump, Mueller could not come to any final conclusions about collusion as to Trump himself, but his campaign did provide Russian hackers with sensitive internal polling information on where to direct a social media disinformation campaign against Hillary Clinton, and Manafort and others lied. That does NOT mean there was no collusion as to Trump. When you don’t cooperate, investigators have incomplete information. There was plenty of evidence of obstruction of justice, though.


        1. The Mueller Report DID NOT EXONERATE Trump.

          That’s because Mueller was NEVER tasked, nor did he have the authority to EXONERATE anyone. Now if he had actually found evidence of impeachable offenses, Pelosi would have already had the full house vote for an official impeachment investigation.

          Never fear though, Barr, Durham and the IG are on the case and you’ll finally have the evidence necessary for the justice system to do its thing. Of course that assumes you’re motivated by such things as equal justice, due process and the rule of law.

    2. Ha! You are rightly afraid of Barr and Durham because they aren’t compromised and are doing the job Mueller failed to do. Who is Josef Mifsud? It’s a simple question we need to answer. I understand why that frightens you.

  6. Its why they created the Russiagate hoax…….to hide their CRIMES!!
    Especially the CIA……and John Brennan who was 100% behind the Russiagate ruse and pushed the Steele dossier. Proved liar and criminal Brennan is set to be interviewed under OATH by lead investigator Durham …
    Aaron Maté
    ‏Verified account @aaronjmate
    Aaron Maté Retweeted Deadline White House
    The 2016 investigation discredited itself by relying on DNC-funded dirt
    (Steele) & a laughably weak predicate (Papadopoulos hearsay) That’s
    why it’s being investigated & that’s why those behind it, like
    Brenann, & those who credulously/endlessly hyped it, like MSNBC, are
    Deadline White House
    ‏Verified account @DeadlineWH
    “I’m supposedly going to be interviewed by Mr. Durham as part of this
    non-investigation… I don’t understand the predication of this
    worldwide effort to try to uncover dirt… that would discredit that
    investigation in 2016” – @JohnBrennan w/ @NicolleDWallace
    Deadline White House‏Verified account @DeadlineWH
    “I’m supposedly going to be interviewed by Mr. Durham as part of this
    non-investigation… I don’t understand the predication of this
    worldwide effort to try to uncover dirt… that would discredit that
    investigation in 2016” – @JohnBrennan w/ @NicolleDWallac
    THIS John Brennan,
    CIA admits to spying on Senate staffers | World news | The …
    https://www.theguardian.com › world › jul › cia-admits-spying-senate-staffers
    Video for john brennan lied to congress
    ▶ 1:34
    Jul 31, 2014
    John Brennan issues apology after acknowledging that agency spied on … “The CIA unconstitutionally spied on …

  7. Beginning the article stating you fully endorse an investigation into the Ukraine incident (thanks buddy, glad you agree with upholding the constitution) then pretzel- swivel into your pseudo psychology take of hypoxia by that same Congress, nay the American people no less! Is hilarious…dare I say hysterically so? So is the thrust of this article that a serious investigation that could lead to impeachment , not to be a sobering endeavor? One which we should contemplate with genuine concern? Instead, say you with your Shakespearean use of the word “ hypoxia “ we should maybe do so with a laugh, maybe a wink and a serious Chill pill ? As aforementioned Bard might say.. Hey sorry dude, I didn’t mean to harsh you’re mellow! 😆

    1. Cynthia,

      Can’t you read between the lines?

      Orange Man Bad!

      Further: DC it seems was all most always corrupt… if you will sell your soul, your family, the nation they’ll pay off congressmen/senators/whole law firms & they’ll all get rich selling out the people they swore an oath to represent with the bribes/Treasonous Sedition/Espionage, & thus are Foreign & Domestic Enemies & the citizen’s rule book compels them to defend this Nation against them..

      Even JT? So far there’s ?’s

      The Citizens have already paid a massive generational price. My guess is those Traitors that have been Ph’in the Citizens over from DC will be paying now some past due bills.

      Thank You Orange Man! LOL;)

      1. They are about to discover the true oranges behind of the orange mans origins…ok I’m dizzy now 😶. But on a serious note, it’s the irony of this point in history that honest, decent civil servants really do exist. They genuinely care about this country regardless of politics. It must be surreal to believe in the duties of their office, only to find it’s Steve Carrells Micheal Scott who’s running the show.

  8. “I have always maintained that the Congress has a legitimate interest in investigating the Ukraine controversy. However, the chorus of recriminations on the Barr matter reveal the hype triggering much of the hypoxia.

    And the hypoxia explains the word salad emitted by House Democratic leaders – it’s a symptom of hypoxic brain damage.

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