Sometimes it’s helpful to take a few steps back in order to get a better perspective on what is happening around you right now.
If you turn the clock back about 30 years, you might recall that Reagan’s presidency was marred by the Iran-Contra scandal, while George H.W. Bush’s one term as president began as the world celebrated the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. What you might not recall from that period is that a couple of years into his presidency, Bush acted on the advice of his deputy Attorney General William Barr and pardoned several former Reagan administration officials for their role in the illegal arms deal, effectively ensuring that Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger would not testify that the former vice president had not really been “out of the loop,” as Bush had claimed, regarding that violation of law. Barr was later rewarded for his loyalty and expeditious handling of the matter by being promoted to Attorney General, where he served until Bill Clinton was elected in 1992.
Meanwhile in the former Soviet Union, new countries were forming, previously held state assets were being gobbled up by high-ranking officials, oligarchs were consolidating vast wealth, and an economy and government that resembled an organized crime syndicate was filling the newly created economic and political void. Foremost in the scramble for power was Vladimir Putin, the former head of the Soviet spy agency, who knew how to use his inside connections and secret dirt to leverage power for his own personal and political gain.
At the same time in the United States, according to recent revelations from tax returns over more than a decade during this period, a flamboyant New York businessman named Donald Trump was losing more than a billion dollars in a variety of failed ventures including casinos, hotels, an airline, and a football league, and paying virtually no taxes during that time. In fact, the estimate of a billion in losses might have been conservative, because according to a story told by Trump’s daughter Ivanka, her father once pointed to a homeless panhandler and said casually, “That guy is worth about eight billion dollars more than I am.”
Fortunately — though perhaps not coincidentally for Trump — toward the end of the nineties, when Trump’s real estate ventures were about all he had left and when he could not get a conventional loan from U.S. banks, along came a former Soviet official and another Russian investor who called themselves the Bayrock Group, and they began shifting Trump’s focus from real estate development to selling his worldwide “brand.” Within a few years, Deutsche Bank, which was now doing more business with Russian and eastern European investors, were willing to back some of Trump’s real estate developments, and by 2008, Donald Trump Jr. reported that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” One example was a property in Florida that Trump Sr. was able to sell to a Russian investor for $95 million during the depths of the housing collapse, apparently only for the odd purpose of allowing that oligarch to tear down the buildings and sell the land for a mere $35 million.
By 2015, Trump was boasting that in Russia, he had met with “the top level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top of the government people. I can’t go further than that,” he continued mysteriously, before adding, “and the relationship was extraordinary.”
What Trump labeled as “extraordinary” is probably true in the literal sense of the term, but others have found Trump’s “relationship” with the Russians to be peculiar and highly suspicious. So much so that in July of 2016, the FBI began to investigate whether Trump or members of his presidential campaign might be conspiring with Russians to influence the campaign and the election. Following revelations about that investigation in early 2017, Trump fired his FBI Director James Comey, but in order to quell the uproar that followed, a special investigation was authorized into Russian meddling, headed by Robert Mueller, another former FBI Director who was deeply respected by politicians on both sides of the aisle.
About a year into Mueller’s investigation, in June 2018, along came a 20-page letter from the former Attorney General William Barr to President Trump, in which the then-civilian Barr complained about the entire nature, scope, and alleged unfairness of the special counsel’s investigation. Trump obviously relished Barr’s criticism, and he rewarded Barr for his views by choosing him in 2019 to replace Jeff Sessions as the new Attorney General.
So it really should have come as no surprise to people who have followed Barr’s career that now Barr has tried to condense the 448 page Mueller Report into a four page letter that aims to exonerate the president of all wrongdoing, even though Mueller himself did not do that in his actual report. Meanwhile a newly elected Democratic House is exercising their Constitutional powers by conducting their own investigations into Trump’s finances, and his connections with the Russians during the campaign and during his administration.
In response, Barr seems to be acting more as Trump’s personal attorney rather than as the Attorney General of the United States. In the absence of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former “fixer” who has now been convicted on several charges, Barr has stepped in to try to “fix” the president’s troubles by arguing that Congress has no power to investigate or prosecute a sitting president, and that the courts might not have such power either. Suffice to say that the chairs of the House Committees on Financial Services, Intelligence, Judiciary, and Oversight and Reform all disagree, as does the House Speaker.
Barr recently taunted Mrs. Pelosi, asking if she had brought her handcuffs for him. But what she has brought are contempt charges that have been approved in committee and will likely soon be brought against Barr before the entire House.
Stay tuned for further developments.