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" 'Bull Durham,' and 'Bull Barr' "

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"Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation." (S. Jonas, August, 2018)

Bull Durham Trade Mark.  It would be interesting to know exactly what Barr and (John) Durham are smoking.
Bull Durham Trade Mark. It would be interesting to know exactly what Barr and (John) Durham are smoking.
(Image by State Archives of North Carolina)
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After the original "Bull Durham" (tobacco), the next was a baseball movie starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins. (It is considered to be one of the best baseball movies, although for my money nothing has ever matched "The Natural" with Robert Redford, Glen Close and Robert Duvall. But that's another matter.) The central baseball character in "Bull Durham" was a pitcher who was phenomenal in the Minor leagues, not so phenomenal in the Majors. A major focus of the film was also the romance between the Sarandon character, a "baseball groupie," and the Costner character, a veteran minor league catcher brought in to tutor/coach, the Robbins character. The bottom line of the movie was that the romance did very well in the end, the pitcher not-so-well when he got to the major league level.

The "Durham" in the movie is of course the real place in North Carolina where the bulk of the action, baseball and otherwise, takes place. (The "Bull" comes from a tobacco brand that originated in Durham, which when bought by James B. Duke in 1898 became the American Tobacco Company, which made the "Lucky Strike" brand famous [or was it the other way round?]. Actually, it doesn't matter. Unrecognized by most U.S. people, tobacco products are still by far and away the major addictive-drug-carrier killers in the U.S., at around 480,000 per year. (And the U.S. is still locking up heroin users, heroin being a drug which when taken without additives doesn't kill very many.)

But in this column (as you might have guessed) we are dealing with another "Durham" and another kind of "Bull." The that is of course the fake case that a former Connecticut Federal prosecutor named John Durham allowed himself to be roped into by the "I'll-Never-Give-Up-in-Distorting-the-Facts-in-Defense-of-Trump" former Attorney General, William "Bill" Barr. (For the one recent exception to that rule, see the Postscript, below.) Durham was appointed as a Special Prosecutor in the waning days of the Trump Administration, to see if anything could be dug up about the beginnings of the "Trump-Russia" matter which could lead back to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Of course the "Trump-Russia" investigation eventually led not to "Hillary" but to the "Mueller Report" which, if one looked at it at all closely, absolutely nailed Trump. (Unfortunately, in my view, nothing has ever been done with the 75-or-so instances of Trump-Russia collusion that it unearthed or the half-dozen or so instances of [possible] Trump-obstructions-of-justice.) But the focus here is on the continuing obstruction of justice (at least in the literary, if not the judicial, sense of the word) that has been and still is being undertaken by Barr.

As I said in a previous column (oh so cleverly entitled "Katy Barr the Door"):

"As is widely known, Donald J. Trump hired William Barr as his personal lawyer inside the Justice Department (oops, I mean Attorney General) for one reason only: to try to shut down the Mueller investigation entirely and prevent any of its findings/reports from reaching the light of day. Lacking achievement of that objective (and it could have existed only in Trump's head, and perhaps the heads of one or more of his children and his acolytes at Fox"News"), Barr's assignment was: a) to short circuit Mueller's work to the extent possible and b) to make as light of the findings as possible."

The column of mine cited above goes over the falsehood-filled letter that Barr published before the actual release of the Report and other obstructive acts undertaken by him. And of course, Barr has not stopped doing that, as we will see below. But before we get to the current "Bull Durham" case, let's take a look at an earlier instance of Barr-protection-for-a-potentially-criminal-President.

As it happened, Barr was also President George H.W. Bush's Attorney General. In reference to the "Iran-Contra Scandal," one that in terms of foreign policy and U.S. interference in the affairs of another country (Nicaragua in this case) way outweighed in importance "Trump-Russia" (which actually was a matter "only" of foreign-propaganda interference in a U.S. election), Barr maneuvered and finagled to get Bush completely off the hook for responsibility for what should have been with criminal indications. Just as in "Trump-Russia" Barr managed to functionally bury Mueller, in "Iran-Contra" Barr managed to functionally (and in this case legally, with all sorts of pardons) bury Lawrence Walsh, the lead counsel on that investigation. (Just imagine if your major legacy for a life's work was "managed to disrupt not just one but two major Presidential scandals, with criminal implications for both [actually, recall that Mueller did obtain several criminal convictions --- think Manafort, and confessions], as an U.S. Attorney General.)

But now let's get to the current case, and "Bull Durham" (not the movie). (This section is based largely on the writing of Ms. Asha Rangappa, a colleague of Preet Bahara.) At what turned out to be the end of the Trump Presidency, Barr (still the Attorney General; he didn't resign until after the Trump-led "Stop the Steal" movement began to take it full form in November, 2020) started developing a just-in-case follow-up "investigation of 'Clinton Campaign collusion' intended to falsely trap Trump." He appointed as a Special Counsel the former U.S. Attorney for Connecticut, John Durham. Durham appeared on the scene in October 2020, after Impeachment I [for soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election, e.g., the "Ukraine" matter] . . . during the onset of COVID . . . and before Impeachment II (for "inciting insurrection)]. (It will be interesting to see how the 'January Sixth Commission' uses material from the second impeachment, if it does.)

As it happens, Barr had previously appointed Durham to investigate the (Trump) investigators after the release of the Mueller Report. Floating around (in spaces like Fox"News" there was a supposed FBI plot to bring down Trump prior to the 2016 election. Interestingly enough, it was an action by then FBI Director James Comey that flipped what had appeared to be a Clinton victory about ten days before the election to Trump. There was an early prosecution of an FBI lawyer who altered a document connected to the famous "Carter Page FISA warrant" about which the Right, especially Sean Hannity, made such a fuss.

Indeed, there was a slight error in a 2016 "Carter Page" FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant application footnote in a 140-page document, which just happened to have had no connection to the opening of the investigation into the Trump campaign. (Nothing came of that prosecution.) It is important to note that Page was hardly the innocent character which Team-Trump tried to portray him as. The first FISA warrant on Page, who regularly traveled to Russia, had been issued in 2013. After that kerfuffle, Durham then disappeared from view.

Then, resurfaced by Barr, in September, 2021 Durham indicted one Michael Sussmann, formerly an Assistant U.S. Attorney as well as a former partner at the law firm Perkins Coie (which worked for the Clinton campaign) for lying to the FBI. Sussman had also worked for the DNC after the famous episode where Roger Stone had reportedly collected material "on Hillary Clinton" conveniently, it has been alleged, supplied by Julian Assange, which Stone was able to conveniently dump into the media just at time of the release of the infamous "Billy Bush Tapes."

The purported Sussman lie concerned internet traffic which he claimed showed that the Trump Organization was communicating with Moscow through a secret server. The lie, Durham alleged, was the Sussmann told the FBI that wasn't acting on behalf of a client or any client, when in fact he was acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign. The problem for Durham was that notes of a subsequent meeting within the FBI revealed that they knew that Sussmann represented both DNC and Clinton interests. There was other self-contradictory evidence as well. The case went to trial this past April, and in May a unanimous jury acquitted Sussmann. On her way out the door after the conclusion of the trial, the Jury foreperson told reporters "that the entire enterprise had been a waste of time." [But not for Barr, it should be noted.]

In Ms. Rangappa's view (with which I of course agree) the Sussmann indictment was really just a vehicle to put a veneer of legitimacy on right-wing conspiracy theories. In an interview on Fox News following the verdict, former Attorney General Bill Barr admitted that "crystallizing the central role played by the Hillary campaign in launching"the whole Russiagate collusion narrative" was "far more important" than securing actual convictions. To me this is the central event of the whole episode. For Barr, it didn't matter what the conclusions of the legal processes vis-Ã -vis "Trump-Russia" were, just as it didn't matter what the legal processes were in re "Iran-Contra." And of course, it didn't matter that as demonstrated in the Mueller Report, the Trump campaign actually had around 65 collusionary contacts with the Russians.

As Ms. Rangappa said, Bull Durham's concern was "with Sussmann, cyber experts, and researchers running around trying to figure out the meaning of the internet data linking the Trump Organization to Russia." But who cares? Legally speaking, these details were irrelevant. What mattered was the substance of the conversation between Sussman and the FBI's Baker, not how a bunch of political operatives were conducting opposition research [emphasis added].

As it happened the supposed guilt-making conversation between Sussmann and the FBI occurred in September 2016. That was two months after the investigation into the Trump campaign's connection to Russia was already officially opened, based on intelligence provided to the FBI by the now-famous George Papadoupulos, via an Australian diplomat who reported to his embassy information that an obviously drunk, boastful Papadoupulos had given him at a bar in London. What really counts here is that what Barr and his crew were obviously interested in was not so much a conviction but in establishing an "atmosphere of conspiracy by the Clinton Campaign," so that a foundation would be established for Trump and his base to continue to claim that the Russia investigation was made up from whole cloth by the Clinton camp.

And then, Ms. Rangappa notes, there is a fine (or not so fine) legal point (among many that Durham chose to miss): "Finally, it's important to highlight that the charge against Sussmann is for false statements - something that [in other circumstances] Trump and his supporters have claimed isn't a 'real' crime but one that is only used to 'trap' people when they don't have anything else to get them with. Remember Michael Flynn? He was charged with making false statements to the FBI. How about George Papadopoulos? False statements to the FBI. Paul Manafort? He lied to prosecutors in violation of his plea deal. Roger Stone? He lied to Congress. These were all ostensibly 'process crimes' [SJ note: whatever that is] and 'perjury traps' that justified Trump pardoning every last one of them." But then again, as I have consistently noted on these pages (and others), "Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds" (at least according to folk like the Trumpers. Just imagine where we would be if anything like the Trump Insurrection had been the product of a Black Lives Matter march on the Capitol.)

So, what we really have here is another Barr set-up. (He does specialize in them, doesn't he?) As Fox News itself said:

"WASHINGTON - Key allegations that tied then-candidate Donald Trump to Russia and led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller originated with individuals linked to Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign, with former officials now questioning why Mueller's team of seasoned prosecutors didn't report those connections as part of their years-long probe. During the trial of Michael Sussmann" the first trial stemming from Special Counsel John Durham's years-long investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe " Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook testified that Hillary Clinton herself approved the dissemination of unproven and subsequently debunked information to the media alleging a covert communications channel between the Trump Organization and Russia's Alfa Bank."

Golly gee. If the dissemination of "unproven and subsequently debunked information" were disqualifying politically, there wouldn't be very many Repubs. left on the hustings these days.

Indeed, if the Repubs. win in 2024, the Durham Bull created by Bill Barr that set this whole thing up will be trotted out in its full glory (even though bulls don't trot; they just run), with indictment-not-based-in-the-law after indictment-not-based-in-the-law (like the Sussmann one) rolling out of the barrel. And that will be some ride in the larger campaign as, regardless of whom a titular Republican President might be, Republo-fascism spreads across the whole nation.


Post-script: It is fascinating that in a tape played before the January 6th Commission, Barr said: "I told the president it [claims of a 'stolen election' were] bullshit." "Mr. Barr is heard telling the committee's investigators. 'I didn't want to be a part of it.' " Barr is central to the Right Wing of the U.S. ruling class, its policies and procedures, as is Liz Cheney. I will be coming back to a consideration of that matter and what it means in a future column.

(Article changed on Jun 10, 2022 at 6:18 PM EDT)

(Article changed on Jun 13, 2022 at 3:22 PM EDT)

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY). As well as having been a regular political columnist on several national websites for over 20 years, he is the author/co-author/editor/co-editor of 37 books Currently, on the columns side, in addition to his position on OpEdNews as a Trusted Author, he is a regular contributor to From The G-Man.  In the past he has been a contributor to, among other publications, The Greanville PostThe Planetary Movement, and Buzzflash.com.  He was also a triathlete for 37 seasons, doing over 250 multi-sport races.  Among his 37 books (from the late 1970s, mainly in the health, sports, and health care organization fields) are, on politics: The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022; A Futuristic Novel (originally published 1996; the 3rd version was published by Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, Brewster, NY, sadly beginning to come true, advertised on OpEdNews and available on  (more...)

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