WASHINGTON — For someone who has repeatedly hailed the Mueller report as “complete and total exoneration," President Trump seems to be going to great lengths to discredit it.
Reports on Monday exposed Trump and his Attorney General William Barr’s involvement in a wide-ranging, international effort to solicit help from foreign countries in undermining the conclusions of the investigation that overshadowed the first two years of Trump’s presidency.
Trump recently reached out to ask Australia’s prime minister for help investigating the origins of Mueller’s probe, The New York Times reported Monday. Attorney General William Barr, meanwhile, made overtures as recently as last week for assistance from Italian and British officials, The Washington Post reported soon after.
Their efforts promise to pour jet fuel on the raging inferno of Trump’s Ukraine scandal, which inspired an impeachment inquiry last week and has resulted in fresh subpoenas for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. They also shed a harsh light on the mysterious counter-investigation being led by John Durham, the career prosecutor Barr tapped earlier this year to lead a controversial probe of the origins of the investigation into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s ties to Russia.
Monday’s revelations present the highly unusual spectacle of a sitting attorney general globe-trotting around the world on a mission to help clear his boss, the president, from even the hint of wrongdoing in the Russia scandal. And he reportedly did so by pressing foreign countries for help investigating the actions of the FBI and CIA.
Barr has already been blasted by former DOJ employees and ex-prosecutors for his role in the Russia investigation’s endgame, when he released a summary of Mueller’s findings that downplayed the special counsel’s evidence that Trump obstructed justice. Barr’s conduct since has only continued to court controversy.
Shortly following his release of the Mueller report, Barr asserted, without evidence, that there was “spying” on the Trump campaign, and suggested a few bad apples at senior levels of the FBI may have abused their power, presumably out of nothing more than a raging anti-Trump bias. This spring, he brought in Durham to get to the bottom of it.
More recently, the DOJ has been scrutinized for providing the legal rationale for initially withholding from Congress the now-infamous whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s controversial interactions with Ukraine’s president. Law states such complaints should generally be turned over on a tight timetable.
The reports come less than two weeks after revelations that Trump pressured Ukraine's president to “look into” political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had a paid position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
Democrats accused Trump of improperly using the power of the presidency to pressure a foreign leader into helping his 2020 election prospects. Trump has denied wrongdoing and called his conversation with Ukraine's president "perfect."
The Department of Justice appeared to confirm the thrust of the Times’ and Post’s reports that Trump and Barr had been shopping the investigation into the Mueller report around to foreign leaders in a statement on Monday.
Pointing to Durham’s ongoing investigation of the “counterintelligence probe of the Trump 2016 campaign,” department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said the Trump administration has indeed been reaching out to other countries about helping with Durham’s work.
“Mr. Durham is gathering information from numerous sources, including a number of foreign countries,” Kupec said, without specifying which countries or how many there might be in total.
She said Barr himself asked Trump to make introductions abroad, on Barr and Durham’s behalf.
“At Attorney General Barr’s request, the President has contacted other countries to ask them to introduce the Attorney General and Mr. Durham to appropriate officials,” Kupec said.
Cover: President Donald Trump, left, and Attorney General William Barr, right, arrive to present the Medal of Valor to six police officers for stopping a mass shooter in Dayton, Ohio, and Heroic Commendations to five civilians for their heroism during the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)