House Democrats in February stripped Georgia Republican
Marjorie Taylor Greene
of her committee assignments, punishment for promoting conspiracy theories. Democrats this week rewarded their own conspiracy theorist with a powerful position at the Justice Department. Anyone miss William Barr yet?
Lawfare Executive Editor Susan Hennessey announced this week she’s taking a job at the department’s National Security Division, reportedly as senior counsel. Lawfare began in 2010 as a national-security blog, though by the Trump era it had become an unabashed mouthpiece for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency, and partisan enough to marinate in the anti-Trump fever swamps.
Before QAnon, there was that tinfoil-hat document called the Steele dossier. It read like the world’s worst spy novel—secret meetings, perverted sexual acts, bribes, blackmail, cutouts—but Ms. Hennessey and her fellow Lawfare contributors lapped it up and played a central role in building and promoting the Russia-collusion fiction. Ms. Hennessey’s history as a National Security Agency lawyer gave credibility to the craziness.
“The allegations are being taken quite seriously,” she assured readers in a post in January 2017, when news of the dossier first broke. Dossier author
is “a person whose work intelligence professionals take seriously,” she added. She also promised that this was not a case of Obama officials “leaking sensitive information” out of “revenge,” since intelligence officials treat sensitive information “with the utmost care.” Within days Lawfare was weaving madcap webs involving
Roger Stone, Russian banks and
Like all good conspiracists, she also worked hard to cast doubt on facts that disproved her theories. She excoriated a 2018 memo by former House Intelligence Chairman
about FBI surveillance abuses, suggesting it was a “lie.” She wrote this before she’d even read the memo, which proved accurate. When the Justice Department inspector general released a 2019 report lambasting the FBI’s conduct in the Russia probe (including that Mr. Steele had cobbled together gossip), she tweeted that she didn’t “think the findings are significant enough” to “justify the work of a podcast.” (In the runup to her job offer, thousands of her prior tweets disappeared.)
To understand conspiracy theorists, the question isn’t usually so much the subject of their delusions, but what drives them to believe them. On the right, recent conspiracies have been driven by the need to believe
actually won the 2020 election. In the Hennessey case it is driven not only by partisanship but by a desire for the Justice Department to use its power to take out political opponents. Ms. Hennessey cheered on every Mueller prosecution, no matter how political or misguided. That’s what makes her recent appointment so worrisome.
Especially because we are already seeing signs Justice is flexing its power again for political purposes. There’s the recent raid against former Trump lawyer
an aggressive move. Equally concerning are stories suggesting Justice and other federal agencies are moving to use the events of Jan. 6 as an excuse to surveil and crack down on “domestic extremists.” While we can all be concerned about terrorism or violence, Democrats have already made clear that they believe “domestic extremists” and “conservatives” are one and the same.
CNN reported recently that the Department of Homeland Security was debating ways to get around laws by working with outside groups to sneak into private messaging apps and monitor “extremist chatter.” The
New York Times
last month said President Biden had recruited employees of Justice and the FBI for a National Security Council team focused on “domestic extremism,” and the White House is debating “executive orders to update the criteria of terrorism watch lists to potentially include more homegrown extremists.”
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last month released a November opinion blasting the FBI for abusing its surveillance authority by evading safeguards designed to prevent spying on U.S. citizens. The court noted that the FBI accessed information involving “health-care fraud, transnational organized crime, violent gangs, domestic terrorism involving racially motivated violent extremists, as well as investigations relating to public corruption and bribery.” Imagine this FBI power in a repoliticized Justice Department.
Senior management is supposed to be the check on FBI and prosecutorial overreach, but the Obama Justice Department threw that over, and the hiring of Ms. Hennessey suggests the Biden administration is doing so too. As attorney general, Mr. Barr worked to restore accountability, but signs are growing that his successor,
was chosen mostly as a figurehead—to provide the patina of respectability while the partisans get to work. The days of Justice Department politics aren’t over. They look to be beginning again.
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Appeared in the May 14, 2021, print edition as ‘Justice’s Resident Conspiracist.’
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