(CNN)There was an interesting development about Fox News in recent days, and it wasn’t just about the sudden departure of anchor Shephard Smith.
Why did Attorney General Bill Barr meet Wednesday night with Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch, and (as the New York Times reported) do so at the media mogul’s home?
Neither would publicly comment, but the meeting — between a public servant who has shown himself increasingly as a Trump loyalist, and the owner of the President’s longtime favorite, cheerleading, cable news network — has raised a few eyebrows, and with good reason.
As Rep. Harley Rouda, a California Democrat who serves on the House Oversight committee, bluntly declared on my SiriusXM radio show Friday: “What the hell is the attorney general of the United States doing meeting with the head of Fox? And for what purpose could that possibly be, especially in light of the fact this is happening exactly at the same time the president of the United States is saying Fox News isn’t being kind enough to him?”
Rouda added he believes it’s within the purview of the House Oversight committee to investigate this meeting.
A key — and consequential — question that might be answered by the committee is whether was this a legitimate meeting concerning the government business or was it to help Trump’s 2020 campaign? Recall that the attorney general of the United States, per the Justice Department’s own website, serves as the “chief law enforcement officer of the Federal Government.”
Barr himself testified in May, under oath, before Congress about his focus as attorney general, “I’m in the business of determining whether a crime has been committed.” Was Barr investigating potential crimes in his meeting with Murdoch and if so, were they so significant that the AG himself had to travel to New York, as opposed to sending FBI agents?
Or maybe the visit with Murdoch — a Trump supporter and confidant — was about something else altogether. As he fends off an impeachment inquiry while trying to run for reelection, Trump has indeed become increasingly critical of Fox News. He slammed a Fox News poll last week that showed 51% of those surveyed think he should be impeached and removed from office.
“Whoever their Pollster is, they suck,” Trump explained on Twitter.
In mid-August, he told reporters, “Fox has changed. And my worst polls have always been from Fox. There’s something going on at Fox, I’ll tell you right now. And I’m not happy with it.”
Trump followed up that criticism with numerous similar tweets over the past few months, one criticizing what he dubbed the “new” Fox News for — in his view — allowing the DNC’s communications director to appear on the network and go unchallenged. “We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” he groused.
More recently, in late September, Trump went after Fox News’s Ed Henry — including retweeting a tweet that described Henry as a “lying shit head” — for simply asking a guest if he was OK with Trump asking Ukraine’s president in his July 25 phone call to “dig up dirt on former vice president Joe Biden and his son.”
One wonders whether Trump directed Barr to travel Murdoch’s house to lobby for better media coverage from his favored network as the 2020 election looms. It should be surprising if this self-characterized law-and-order Attorney General risked violating federal rules that prohibit the use of governmental resources for “personal benefit or for the benefit of others,” or, for that matter, ran afoul of the Hatch Act, which prohibits executive branch employees from “engaging in partisan political activity while on duty.”
But Barr has a track record that makes this plausible. Recall the infamous July 25 phone call where Trump asked Ukrainian President Zelensky to “look into” the 2016 actions of Joe Biden and his son Hunter. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.
Trump repeatedly told Zelensky that both Barr and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani would give him a call, which gives the sense that Trump may view Giuliani and Barr as having similar roles. Barr’s spokeswoman denied that “the President has asked the AG to investigate Biden.” And Rudy Giuliani? Two of his associates who were arrested last week on charges of campaign finance violations, are accused of helping Giuliani try to discredit Joe Biden, Trump’s potential 2020 rival.
Barr has already shown us that he’s willing to safeguard Trump. We saw that with the four-page summary Barr issued ahead of his release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which framed the report as far more favorable to Trump then it was.
And recently Barr determined in short order that Trump did not violate campaign finance laws in his July 25 phone conversation with Zelensky, despite Trump point-blank asking the Ukrainian president to investigate one of his leading political rivals (the President denies his purpose was political).
Perhaps there’s an innocent explanation for why Barr traveled from Washington to the New York home of the head of media network Trump had been increasingly criticizing for negative coverage. And the best way for Barr to share that information is under oath before Congress. Anything else would simply not be credible.