I have sworn — loudly and repeatedly — that I will not rise to the bait every time that President Trump or one of his merry band of administration minions does something outrageous, which is many times every day (including weekends).
But the dance that Attorney General William Barr did before the Senate Appropriations Committee this week was jaw-dropping.
As most everyone probably knows by now, the attorney general told committee members and the rest of the world that he’s ordering a review of the Trump-Russia probe’s genesis. He said, “I think spying on a political campaign — it’s a big deal, it’s a big deal.”
In response to a question from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Barr said, “I think spying did occur.”
Then, after stunned further questioning by members of the Senate panel, Barr did a tap dance that would have filled a Broadway stage. First, he made clear that he isn’t launching an investigation of the FBI, but instead suggested the problem may have occurred “because of a failure among a group of leaders at the upper echelons.”
He really back-pedaled later in the hearing when Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii asked the attorney general if perhaps he might want to use a different word than “spying,” with all of its inflammatory connotations.
Barr then made the rather sobering admission that he’s “not sure of all the negative connotations of that word,” — i.e., spying — and reframed it as “unauthorized surveillance.”
When pressed for evidence or a basis for the investigation and his comments, Barr had zero to offer. Instead, he said, “I’m not saying if improper surveillance occurred,” and later added that he was only “concerned about it.”
My late wife, Judy, used to say that, “Ninety percent of life is just good, old-fashioned common sense.” By that standard, Barr flunked the life test.
In fact, the attorney general’s comments reminded me of another high-ranking government official, whose actions and comments earned bipartisan scorn. That official? Former FBI Director James Comey. Comey was fired by President Trump for taking precisely the same ham-handed approach as Barr.
Somehow, I don’t think that Barr will face the same fate for a performance right out of the Trump playbook.
Amazingly, the attorney general of the United States has once again shifted the administration’s focus from the well-established, proven Russian interference in U.S. elections, and those of other democratic nations, and instead created a narrative that, without a shred of evidence being provided, places blame on unnamed U.S. agencies and government officials.
Rick Jasculca is chairman of a Chicago-based public affairs firm. He spent twelve years as a consultant to two White House Administrations.