Democrats, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, are clamoring for Attorney General Barr to recuse himself from all matters pertaining to Ukraine that might come up in Justice Department investigations. They know Barr isn’t going to do so, but hope to discredit him with this sort of a drumbeat.
There is no reason for Barr to recuse himself. Democrats base their call for recusal on “concerns about [Barr’s] role in President Trump’s efforts to damage a political opponent and undermine the Russia investigation.”
Neither alleged concern has any basis in fact. Let’s start with Barr’s alleged role in Trump’s effort to damage a political opponent. Trump did try to damage Joe Biden by, at a minimum, encouraging Ukraine to investigate the former vice president and his son.
Barr, however, had no role in this. It’s true that Trump mentioned Barr during the “perfect” phone call in which Trump spoke to Ukraine’s president about investigating the Bidens. But from all that appears, Barr did not communicate with Trump about Ukraine before the call, did not follow up with the Ukrainians, and did not discuss Ukraine with the president or the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
As Andy McCarthy says, “being mentioned on a phone call is not a basis for recusal.”
The Democrats don’t bother to allege any involvement by Barr in discussions with Ukrainians. Instead, they note that shortly after Trump’s phone conversation with Ukrraine’s president, Barr went to Italy in connection with an investigation of the 2016 election.
Italy doesn’t even rhyme with Ukraine.
But even if Barr had spoken with the Ukrainians following the phone call, it’s far from clear that this would warrant recusal. If Barr spoke about matters relating to the investigation being carried out by U.S. Attorney John Durham, for example, that would be perfectly appropriate. It’s Barr’s job to oversee such investigations.
To call for the recusal of Barr on that basis would be to call on him to withdraw from an investigation on the ground that he participated in it. I think that’s called a circular argument.
Only if Barr spoke with Ukrainians about investigating the Bidens might there be a problem. But there’s no evidence or indication that this happened.
Now let’s move on to Barr’s alleged efforts to “undermine the Russia investigation.” What are the Democrats talking about here? They seem to mean that the Durham investigation is an effort to “discredit” the Mueller investigation.
But I don’t understand Durham to be investigating Mueller’s work which, after all, did not find that Trump colluded with Russia. I understand Durham to be investigating possible criminal wrongdoing that prompted the Mueller investigation (which caused a huge expenditure of time and energy, but came up empty).
Durham’s findings wouldn’t undermine or discredit Mueller’s work regarding alleged collusion with Russia (though it might prompt questions as to why Mueller didn’t explore certain angles). The Democrats are trying to wrap their Deep State collaborators, who may well be a target of Durham’s investigation, in the cloak of respectability that Mueller, whatever his limitations at this stage of his career may be, retains.
In any event, the Democrats’ argument is that the Durham investigation shouldn’t proceed, not that Barr can’t participate in it if/when it raises matters relevant to Ukraine. The fact that Barr authorized an investigation the Dems don’t like is no basis for his recusal.
Finally, the Democrats say that Barr shouldn’t participate in investigating Rudy Giuliani and his Ukrainian associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. As a basis for this, they note that Trump mentioned Barr “in tandem with Giuliani three times” during his phone conversation with Ukraine’s president.
But again, there is no evidence that Barr ever discussed Ukraine with Giuliani and, as I understand it, Barr says he didn’t. And there is certainly no indication that Barr was ever involved in any Ukrainian matter involving Giuliani, Parnas, or Fruman.
Indeed, Barr had no personal involvement, other than as an investigator, in any matter the DOJ appears to be investigating. As McCarthy notes, he was not a government official during the 2016 election and had no part in the Obama administration’s dealings with Ukrainian officials.
Unlike with Jeff Sessions, then, there is no reasonably foreseeable scenario in which Barr becomes a fact witness in any Justice Department investigation.
Accordingly, there is no reason for Barr to recuse himself from matters relating to Ukraine that may come up in DOJ investigations. The Democrats’ claim that he should do so is frivolous.