The Slatest

Trump-Fueled DOJ Probe Into Obama “Unmasking” Conspiracy Reportedly Comes Up Empty

Barr speaks into Trump's ear as they walk down the steps of Air Force One.
One of Trump’s greatest ally-pawns in this attempted whitewash has been Attorney General Bill Barr. Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

In the alternate universe far, far from our own, Donald Trump isn’t a grifter, but a paragon of integrity undone by ordinary but malicious American bureaucrats at the behest of a previously assiduously norm-following American president who suddenly went berserk and tried to take down a political rival. As president, Trump has, obviously, tried to push this fiction with mind-numbing results, enlisting his mouth, Twitter account, sundry self-serving internet hucksters and hangers-on, the Republican Party writ large, and various organs of the American government to try to pass this finger paint rendering of reality off as a historical document. One of Trump’s greatest ally-pawns in this attempted whitewash has been Attorney General Bill Barr. Need a strategic investigation? A timely exoneration? A political insinuation under the guise of law and order? How about a legal or ethical equivalence? For all of the above, Barr’s your guy. And Trump has called on him over and over again.

But reality is reality and Trump is still Trump. And we got yet another reminder of that fact when the Washington Post reported Tuesday that the “unmasking probe” Barr commissioned to root around in the Obama-era decision-making process that led to the Russia investigation basically came up with nothing untoward. In the face of the damning—but somehow not politically fatal—revelations of the Mueller report, Trump and his allies began repurposing the fact that he was somehow still president as evidence of not only his innocence but a grand, sinister conspiracy against him. Enter the accusation of “unmasking,” a not-out-of-the-ordinary process where, when conducted in good faith, government officials request names be unredacted in order to gain more insight into intelligence gathered about American citizens in foreign intelligence reports. U.S. Attorney John Bash, whom Barr entrusted with the review—which overlapped with other investigations—found no “substantive wrongdoing,” the Post reports. Bash will not file any charges and will not even issue a public report of the findings. Bash announced last week he was resigning from the Department of Justice and has since left his post.

“The department—both under Barr and Trump’s previous attorney general, Jeff Sessions—has repeatedly turned to U.S. attorneys across the country to investigate matters of Republican concern, distressing current and former Justice Department officials, who fear that department leaders are repeatedly caving to Trump’s pressure to benefit his allies and target those he perceives as political enemies,” the Post notes. “Bash’s team was focused not just on unmasking, but also on whether Obama-era officials provided information to reporters, according to people familiar with the probe, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive investigation. But the findings ultimately turned over to Barr fell short of what Trump and others might have hoped, and the attorney general’s office elected not to release them publicly, the people familiar with the matter said. The Washington Post was unable to review the full results of what Bash found.”