Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee say they want to know if President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland, will allow special counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane probe to continue.
“I have no reason to think he should not remain in place," Garland told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Feb. 22.
In reality, if confirmed, Garland won't allow Durham to stay in place, never mind issue a report. The prospect that Biden’s attorney general might allow Durham to indict former Obama administration officials is ludicrous. Remember that documents released over the past year gave evidence that as vice president, Biden was not only aware of the spying operation against Trump administration officials but participated in it. Biden not only knew that the FBI was framing incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn but suggested that the Department of Justice might charge Flynn for violating the Logan Act.
In other words, the FBI officials that Durham is reportedly investigating are Biden’s co-conspirators. To allow them to be indicted would not only point to Biden’s guilt but also show that the most powerful man in the world is unable or unwilling to protect allies who have helped advance the cause of the party he now leads. That would show Biden to be weak.
Garland understands that his primary duty as Biden’s chief law enforcement officer isn't to oversee the fair and equal treatment of all Americans under the law but to protect the president and the party he serves.
The Biden administration has already shown it's a very different animal than Trump’s. During his four years in office, Trump’s allies complained that his biggest problem was staffing. It’s true that key spots in his administration were filled with officials who opposed his America First agenda. There were problems with the personnel office, insiders explain. Further, sometimes Trump family members pressed for friends without the experience or commitment to implement Trump’s vision.
But even those least experienced or most opposed to Trump’s vision would have fallen in line if he’d given them cause to fear him.
In "The Prince," Machiavelli writes that in deciding between earning the love and respect of his subjects, the successful prince must choose the public mood that he can control. Instead, the 45th president of the United States sought love. Perhaps the clearest record of that is to be found in former FBI Director James Comey’s memos of his meetings and conversations with Trump. They are unintentionally moving documents, showing that Trump solicited the help and even friendship of experienced bureaucrats such as Comey.
But to him, Trump’s entreaties signaled weakness.
Soon, Comey saw that the new president had become frustrated when the director failed to publicly clear him of any ties to Russia. And Trump only asked him again to clear him. Instead of firing Comey in disgrace, he cut Flynn loose and then petitioned Comey to go easy on the retired general, the one man who was most loyal to the president. As a result, Trump got the Mueller investigation, which consumed two years of his presidency. But even then, there was still time for Trump to elicit the respect that is engendered by fear.
William Barr may be a decent man, but he's a Washington man and thus subject to the winds of power that course through the capital. What makes a Washington man honorable is not any abstract sense of duty but the fear that if he doesn’t serve his boss, he will be destroyed. In the spring of 2020, Barr counseled the president against firing FBI Director Christopher Wray, warning it would be taken as evidence that the White House was in chaos in the middle of an election year.
Barr could have fired Wray himself, and had reason to do so, for withholding documents from DOJ prosecutors. But the attorney general was probing the president. By agreeing to Barr’s wishes, Trump indicated there would be no price to be paid for crossing him. Barr hedged his bets with the potential victory of a candidate who had shown that by spying on the Trump team, there was no question he would, if victorious in November, retaliate against Trump’s attorney general for chasing him. With no pressure on him from Trump, Barr didn't pressure his prosecutor to choose between issuing indictments by late summer, as had previously been promised, or being replaced by someone who would.
For all practical purposes, the Durham investigation was over by last April.
Biden’s attorney general would have an additional incentive to shut down Durham for good. Let’s say the special counsel had the evidence to indict the senior FBI officials he had been investigating. That would confirm what Republicans have been saying about Crossfire Hurricane since 2017—the FBI wasn’t investigating Russian interference, it was spying on a presidential candidate and then the commander-in-chief.
To show that Biden’s party was lying about that would suggest that maybe the Democrats were lying about other things, too, maybe lying about everything. They lied about the phone call that got Trump impeached; they lied about the “mostly peaceful” George Floyd riots; they lied about the Jan. 6 protests by calling them an armed insurrection; and most importantly, they lied about the transparency and legitimacy of the 2020 election.
Republicans could try to fight Garland’s nomination or at least use the hearings to advance a case about Democratic Party corruption, but they won’t, because they fear the new administration.