The House Democrats’ impeachment investigation is getting all the press right now. But Attorney General William P. Barr’s investigation into the origin of the FBI’s 2016 probe of alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign could well prove more politically consequential.
News on Thursday that Barr’s investigation — headed by John Durham, the U.S. attorney from Connecticut — had become criminal in nature underscored this conclusion. Criminal investigations arise only when there is a suspicion supported by evidence that someone might have broken the law. These inquiries, unlike initial factual investigations, permit the issuance of subpoenas and the impaneling of a grand jury. Being able to compel the production of evidence is a powerful tool in uncovering the facts, as the man heading the Democrats’ impeachment efforts, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), knows.
Conservatives have long argued that the Obama administration used Clinton-campaign-financed opposition research — in the form of the Steele dossier — to improperly initiate the investigation and obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court, approval for wiretaps of Trump campaign officials. Barr’s investigation is meant to find out whether there is any truth to these allegations.
We don’t yet know the scope of Barr’s investigation, nor do we know what specific crime is being investigated. But if the reports that the investigation has moved into a criminal phase are true, then there could be more fire underneath that smoke than Democrats want to admit.
If so, Democrats face the prospect of an election year heavily influenced by regular news events that cannot help them. The Trump administration has, thus far, faced frequent news cycles dominated by investigations focused on alleged Trump wrongdoing — the Mueller and Schiff investigations. The Barr investigation would use the same powers and could produce the same results: indictments and news leaks that reveal a powerful tale of official, politically motivated corruption.
The truth is out there, and Barr is determined to find it. Democrats should be afraid.