Bill Barr has stepped outside the U.S. Attorney General’s traditional role to run political interference for Donald Trump, barreling through Europe and alarming U.S. allies in a Quixotic quest to upend his own government.
Barr has been working at the behest of the White House on an investigation widely viewed as an effort to overturn US intelligence service findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to aid Trump.
He’s attempted to enlist intelligence services in the United Kingdom, Italy and other countries to shift the blame for foreign meddling away from Russia.
He’s trying to flesh out an unfounded conspiracy theory that Ukraine was actually behind the election interference and set up Russia to take the fall. It was reportedly trying to help Trump rival Hillary Clinton.
The theory is counter to the conclusions of every single U.S. intelligence agency and the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller.
But Barr is in a race against time.
Impeachment hearings are growing even more damning for Trump by the day.
The House has voted to move the investigation to the next phase. Testimony that has been gathered behind closed doors will now be made public in open hearings, leading to a vote on articles of impeachment.
Meanwhile, a judge has ordered the release of hundreds of pages of, heretofore, classified documents that support Mueller’s findings.
Among the most shocking revelations, the documents show former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort created the Ukraine conspiracy, according to media reports.
According to notes from interviews by Mueller’s team, former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates fingered Manafort for suggesting Ukraine was the culprit.
Manafort was sentenced to prison for fraud and illegally lobbying in the US on behalf of overseas interests, among other crimes.
Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is in charge of the back-channel effort.
Over the past several months Giuliani consulted with Manafort repeatedly through Manafort’s lawyer, according to The Washington Post.
He was seeking information about a purported ledger that would bolster his unsubstantiated theory that the Clinton campaign conspired with Ukraine during the election.
In the United States, impeachment hearings have largely overshadowed Barr’s overseas activities in the news media. But European outlets have reported extensively on his dealings.
After his European sojourn, Barr upgraded the Justice Department’s probe to a criminal investigation with the power to subpoena witnesses. It’s unknown how he has been able to jump a key legal hurdle–probable cause–to justify the action.
Ukraine has emerged as a central player in Congress’s impeachment investigation, as well.
Trump allegedly withheld military aid to Kiev destined for its fight against Russian-backed separatists. The plan was to force the government to open investigations into his chief Democratic political rival, Joe Biden, and Biden’s son, in addition to the 2016 election.
Barr is pursuing the far-right conspiracy that Ukraine framed Russia by impersonating Russian hackers. Both Trump and Giuliani have repeatedly referenced the theory on social media.
In essence, Barr has been asking UK and Italian governments to aid his investigation of the FBI, CIA and Mueller investigators. Trump also tried to press Australian prime minister Scott Morrison to do the same thing.
One British official with knowledge of Barr’s effort said the Trump administration was “in quite robust terms,” asking for help “doing a hatchet job on their own intelligence services,” according to London’s Independent newspaper.
The investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia–and ultimately Mueller’s investigation–were linked to a chance May 2016 meeting between Alexander Downer, the then Australian high commissioner in London, and Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.
Papadopoulos bragged about obtaining Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s emails from the Russians. Downer passed on what he’d heard to Australian officials, who passed it on to the FBI.
The federal law enforcement agency launched its investigation in June 2016.
Former MI-6 British intelligence officer Christopher Steele was hired, first by a Republican group, and later by a law firm associated with Clinton’s campaign, to report on Trump’s ties to Russia.
The report was passed on to then-FBI director James Comey who shared it with Republican Sen. John McCain. It subsequently leaked to the news media. Trump fired Comey in December 2017 for failing to squelch the Russian investigation.
Steele was well-known to U.S. intelligence agencies and considered credible. He’s known for his Russian expertise. Among his findings, he said Russia had compromising information on Trump, through his involvement with prostitutes during a 2013 Miss Universe pageant held in Moscow.
Barr traveled to Italy to flesh out reports that Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese academic, told Papadopoulos about Russian involvement in the election.
Mifsud has not been seen in public since November 2017. The Mueller report suggested he is a possible Russian asset; Trump supporters claim he was working with western intelligence services.
Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte revealed that Barr had visited his country twice in the previous two months.
John Durham, who is conducting Barr’s criminal investigation, was with him. They reportedly pressed Conte to provide information on the activities of US intelligence services, according to The Independent.
The Barr investigation is reportedly working on the theory that Crowdstrike, a private cyber security firm, was behind the hacking.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) hired the company to investigate the breach of its email servers by Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU.
Right-wing conspiracy mongers insist that Crowdstrike is based in the Ukraine and housed the DNC’s servers.
The company is owned by Dmitri Alperovitch, a Russian national and U.S. citizen, whose family came to the United States during the Soviet era. Crowdstrike is actually based California.
In his infamous July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump referenced Crowdstrike in his request for an investigation into the Bidens.
“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike. I guess you have one of your wealthy people. The server, they say Ukraine has it,” said the Trump, according to a white House summary of the conversation.