Jeff Sessions only wished he had it this good. Had Donald Trump not discussed his new personal hydroxychloroquine regimen, his expression of implied disapproval over William Barr’s earlier comments might have made bigger headlines. Instead, the media largely glossed over Trump’s reply to ABC’s Jonathan Karl, who asked Trump to respond to his attorney general’s declaration that the evidence in the John Durham probe didn’t indicate any basis for a criminal investigation into Barack Obama or Joe Biden.
“I’m a little surprised by that statement,” Trump responded, adding, “I don’t know about being disappointed or not.” If the shoe were on the other foot, Trump continued, “I’d guarantee they’d be going after me.” CNN has a good mashup of Barr’s reply at the earlier presser and Trump’s complete reply below:
“I think Obama and Biden knew about it. They were participants, but, so I’m a little surprised by that statement,” Trump told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, saying he would need to take a closer look at Barr’s remarks, which he said he just recently learned about. …
“I don’t know about being disappointed or not,” Trump said. “But I have no doubt that they were involved in this hoax. One of the worst things ever to befall this country, in terms of political scandal. I have absolutely no doubt that Obama and Biden were involved and, as to whether or not it was criminal, I would think it would be very serious. Very, very serious. It was a takedown of a president, regardless of me — It happened to be me. And in my opinion, it was an illegal takedown.”
Trump called the move a “double standard.”
“If it was me, I guarantee that they’d be going after me. In his case, they’re not so — I think it’s just a continuation of a double standard. I’m surprised by it,” Trump said.
Trump also pointedly questioned whether Karl had characterized Barr’s comments fairly, a point that ABC fails to report in its article. Clearly Trump hadn’t heard much about Barr’s response to Pete Williams’ question about “ObamaGate,” which is a little surprising itself. The presser updated a story about what turned out to be a major al-Qaeda terrorist operation that targeted US military personnel, and the question went directly to ObamaGate, both topics that one would guess would prompt an extensive briefing of the president shortly afterward, even if the president himself was too busy to watch the live event.
Karl hadn’t cast it in misleading terms, but he did leave out considerable context, as did the New York Times when it first reported Barr’s comments. Both made Barr’s comments sound like a rebuke of Trump’s allegations, which was decidedly not the case. Barr argued that abuses of power took place in Operation Crossfire Hurricane in intelligence, law enforcement, and prosecutorial efforts, essentially agreeing with Trump on that point. Barr accused some within that project of “advancing a false and utterly baseless Russia collusion narrative against the president.” Barr’s point, however, was that not all abuses of power are in fact crimes, and anything outside of clear federal crimes is not within the Department of Justice’s authority to rectify. Hence, Barr notes, the likelihood of Obama and Biden getting targeted in a criminal investigation is very low indeed — but that doesn’t mean everyone involved is off the hook, at least not yet.
Still, one has to imagine that Trump’s not going to like that nuance much, even if it does still support his overall argument. It’s not the same kind of alleged betrayal that Trump claims Sessions committed by recusing himself from the FBI’s probe and allowing Rod Rosenstein to take over, but it’s not exactly linking arms with Trump either. Perhaps when Trump gets briefed on Barr’s full remarks, he’ll feel more comfortable with Barr’s sensible approach. Trump needs an AG that can credibly clean up the DoJ and FBI more than he needs a mouthpiece for a Mission:Impossible attempt to push a prosecution against Obama. Will he recognize that, though, or will Trump start pressuring Barr the way he did Sessions?