Frank Wilkinson for Bloomberg View:
Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware asked the attorney general this: If North Korean intelligence officers were to offer a U.S. campaign dirt on their opponent, should the campaign contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation?
This was not a trick question. North Korea is a barbarous regime that tortures and murders its own people while perpetually threatening other nations. Yet the law maintains that even Canadians are “broadly prohibited” from providing a “thing of value” to a U.S. campaign.
Barr paused, treading water, seemingly unsure how to answer. Finally, he allowed, “a foreign intelligence service, yes.”
There is nothing in U.S. law stipulating that only intelligence services are barred from such actions. The nation’s highest law enforcement officer was defining law downward in real time.
It wasn’t an isolated comment. Barr was similarly unwilling to defend the law when Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska asked him whether a foreign enemy of the U.S. could put campaign operatives on retainer and send them off to volunteer for a U.S. campaign.
Sasse’s hypothetical, one of few questions posed by a Republican on the panel that was meant to solicit information rather than advance false narratives, was based on the real-life example of Trump campaign chairman and convicted felon Paul Manafort. In 2016 Manafort joined the Trump campaign while deeply in debt to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, whom Sasse called a “bad dude” with “no alignment with the interest of the U.S. people and our public.”
Again, Barr demurred. “It depends on the specific circumstances,” he said. “It’s a slippery area.”