Most of the Attorney General’s comments during congressional hearings this week were rather perfunctory from what I saw. Democrats were trying to score points with various declarations about how the entire Mueller report needed to be released, mixed with insinuations that the Justice Department must be up to no good somehow. Barr mostly stuck to the script and said he’d have the redacted report ready in the next week or so. But as John discussed last night, there was one moment where something unexpected happened. Following a question from Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Alabama), Barr calmly announced that he would be looking into the origins of the Russia investigation and whether the entire premise of it was legitimate or not. This seems to go deeper than a simple clean-up operation following a long investigation and it’s taking the story in a direction the Democrats definitely don’t want to go. He plans on expanding upon the previous work done by IG Horowitz. (From John Solomon writing at The Hill)

Barr made clear Tuesday that his review is distinct and more far-ranging than IG Horowitz’s investigation. It goes back to the moment when a probe code-named Crossfire Hurricane was opened on July 31, 2016, by Trump-hating FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok.

That probe’s goal was to determine whether Trump was colluding with Russia to hijack the election. And, very quickly, the FBI chose to use an opposition research project, funded by Trump rival Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party and written by British intelligence operative Christopher Steele, as key evidence — even though it was unverified at the time.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has settled the collusion issue, concluding (like House and Senate intelligence committee Republicans before him) that there was no Trump-Russia conspiracy.

If you thought we’d heard the last of this cast of characters, including Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Andrew McCabe, and the Steele dossier, guess again. Based on Barr’s answers, that’s precisely where the current investigation is going and it’s already started.

Democrats want to sweep all of these questions under the rug for obvious reasons, but it seems clear that the public has at least as much of a right to know the origin story of this two-year soap opera as they do the findings of the Russia probe. It should be obvious that not every investigation has to end in a prosecution. If we already knew all of the answers in the beginning there wouldn’t be any need for an investigation. But there definitely needs to be some indication that a crime may have possibly taken place before you start diving down rabbit holes.

That’s the question Barr needs to answer next. Was there any sign that the Russians were actively involved with Donald Trump and/or people in his campaign in attempting to “influence” the election? Or were they just throwing dirt in the gears on social media as a foreign actor? If it’s the former, then an investigation was called for, but they’re going to need to come up with something better than that ridiculous Steele dossier.

But what if that’s all there was? What if the real reason for this two-year journey through the bizarre was intended to be an “insurance policy” against a Trump presidency, as was suggested in some of the previously leaked details? That leaves us in uncharted territory, so when Barr wraps this up over the summer we may be opening up a whole new chapter in this drama.