Attorney General William P. Barr will exit the Justice Department leaving behind a string of probes into misconduct by Obama-era officials that have mostly come up empty and sorely disappointed President Trump and his allies.
During his tenure, Mr. Barr repeatedly tasked U.S. attorneys from offices across the country to probe politically treacherous investigations. Mr. Barr initiated four of those probes and inherited two more from his predecessor, Jeff Sessions.
As each investigation began, Democrats fumed that Mr. Barr was using the Justice Department as a weapon against Mr. Trump’s enemies. In the end, however, conservatives were the ones seething when nearly all the investigations were busts.
Combined, the six probes generated one criminal charge and none has produced a public report.
“The Justice Department, in terms of enforcing the rule of law, has been an absolute, unmitigated failure because there is no evidence that any of those probes did a serious or substantial investigation of their purported targets,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group.
The only investigation that has proven fruitful so far was U.S. Attorney for St. Louis Jeff Jensen’s review of the criminal case against retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser.
Mr. Jensen uncovered previously undisclosed documents that provided exculpatory information, leading the Justice Department to drop the charges against Mr. Flynn.
U.S. Attorney for Connecticut John Durham’s probe into the origins of the Russia collusion investigation has dragged on nearly two years with little to show for it.
Mr. Trump had high hopes the investigation would expose wrongdoing by Obama-era officials, including Democratic presidential rival Joseph R. Biden, in time to sway the election. Repeated delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and bureaucratic issues forced Mr. Barr to appoint Mr. Durham as a special counsel so his work could continue into the Biden administration.
The slow pace angered Mr. Trump, who lashed out against Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham earlier this year.
Saying Mr. Durham had had “plenty of time” to finish his investigation, Mr. Trump insisted “the facts are on the table.”
Justice Department officials declined to comment for this article.
Some conservatives remain optimistic that the Durham probe eventually will produce results.
“I just don’t feel like most of my conservative friends would consider the Durham probe a failure,” said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, which advocates for appointment of conservative judges. “They are hopeful that because the probe is still open, something will come of it.”
The only action from the Durham probe has been the prosecution of Kevin Clinesmith, a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to falsifying a document to justify the wiretapping of Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Mr. Fitton dismissed the Clinesmith prosecution as “low-hanging fruit,” noting that the criminal conduct was uncovered by the Justice Department’s inspector general nearly a year before Mr. Durham brought charges.
“The Clinesmith prosecution was handed to them on a silver platter a year ago and in his plea deal he says he didn’t do anything wrong,” Mr. Fitton said. “What a sham!”
Andrew Leipold, a former member of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s team during investigations into President Bill Clinton, said the president’s allies should accept the possibility that the probes didn’t uncover any wrongdoing.
However, he said each U.S. attorney should have been required to report his or her conclusions.
“Conservatives are not entitled to certain findings, but we as Americans are,” he said. “This is our Congress, our president and our Justice Department, and we are paying for this. Conservatives have nothing distinctive to complain about.”
Mr. Barr selected the U.S. attorneys because they were outside the chain of command in Washington. They could therefore be touted as outsiders, giving the public and Mr. Trump confidence in their findings.
Much of their efforts were aimed at the work of special counsel Robert Mueller and the early stages of the Russia probe.
Ordering U.S. attorneys to conduct probes is unusual, but not unprecedented. But it is rare to do it as much as Mr. Barr did.
Eric H. Holder Jr., President Obama’s attorney general, only once appointed a U.S. attorney, for an investigation into the treatment of detained terrorism suspects.
Clinton, FBI and Hunter Biden
In 2019, Mr. Barr arrived at the Justice Department inheriting a probe started nearly two years earlier by John Huber, the U.S. attorney for Utah.
Mr. Huber had been tapped to look into corruption accusations against former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and the Justice Department’s actions in the Russia probe.
Republicans soon became angry over Mr. Huber’s refusals to update them on his work and key witnesses complaining that he refused to hear their testimony.
The probe closed in January with Mr. Huber privately telling the Justice Department he found nothing worth pursuing.
Mr. Trump called Mr. Huber a “garbage disposal” who did “absolutely nothing.”
In April 2018, Mr. Sessions appointed John Lausch, U.S. attorney for Chicago, to review the FBI and Justice Department’s response to congressional requests for documents related to Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Congressional Republicans had been accusing the FBI and Justice of slow-walking their requests.
He was also asked to look into alleged FBI surveillance abuses targeting members of the Trump campaign.
It is not clear whether Mr. Lausch is still reviewing document production and responsiveness, or whether his review uncovered anything.
The Durham probe was the first that began on Mr. Barr’s watch. It will continue into the Biden administration, vexing Republicans and Mr. Trump with its length.
Another probe was started in February 2020 when Mr. Barr tapped Scott Brady, U.S. attorney for Pittsburgh, to manage open investigations into wrongdoing in Ukraine related to Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter.
Mr. Brady was reviewing information passed along by Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, but nothing emerged publicly from the probe.
The inaction drew howls from Mr. Barr’s critics when Hunter Biden recently confirmed that he is under federal investigation in Delaware for an unspecified tax issue. He is also being investigated by federal prosecutors in New York.
Mr. Barr reportedly was aware of the two probes but shielded them from the public and lawmakers.
“These investigations have been worse under Barr and Sessions [than in the Obama administration] because they have been less transparent and more contemptuous,” Mr. Fitton said.
In May, Mr. Barr appointed two prosecutors to review matters related to the Flynn case. The first probe, overseen by Mr. Jensen, did yield some results.
John Bash, the U.S. attorney for San Antonio, led the second probe into whether Obama-era officials improperly requested the identity of Mr. Flynn, whose name appeared redacted on intelligence documents.
Mr. Bash resigned from the department in early October and concluded his probe without criminal charges or a public report.
The Justice Department declined to release his findings, some of which have been folded into Mr. Durham’s probe.
Mr. Brady, Mr. Bash, Mr. Huber all refused to comment. A spokesperson for Mr. Lausch did not respond to a request for comment.
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