Dec 10, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Barr attacks Russia investigation as "completely baseless"

Attorney General Bill Barr dismissed some of the findings of the Justice Department's inspector general report in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday, saying he doesn't agree that there was "sufficient predication" to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and that the prosecutor he appointed will have the final say.

"I think our nation was turned on its head for three years. I think based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by an irresponsible press. And I think that there were gross abuses of FISA. And inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI. 
And the attorney general's primary responsibility is to protect against the abuse of the law enforcement and intelligence apparatus and make sure that it doesn't play an improper role in our political life. That's my responsibility. And I'm going to carry it out."

Why it matters: Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report concluded that while there were some serious missteps pertaining to the FBI's surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, the Russia investigation was adequately predicated and was not tainted by political bias.

  • The report largely debunked theories promoted by allies of President Trump that the Russia investigation was a politically motivated "coup" perpetrated by the so-called "deep state."
  • Barr, meanwhile, told NBC's Pete Williams: "From a civil liberties standpoint, the greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government used the apparatus of the state ... both to spy on political opponents, but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election."
  • The purpose of the inspector general's role is to conduct independent investigations free of political influence. Barr's intervention has already set off allegations that he is spinning Horowitz's conclusions to benefit the president.

The big picture: Barr attacked the Russia investigation as "completely baseless," claiming that the FBI's surveillance of the Trump campaign was unprecedented and that FBI agents may have been operating with "bad faith" motivations.

  • He told NBC that veteran prosecutor John Durham is running a far more expansive investigation that includes examining conduct by investigators throughout the Russia probe.
  • Barr defended Durham's decision to issue a statement disputing some of Horowitz's findings on Monday, claiming, "I think it was sort of being reported by the press that the issue of predication was sort of done and over. Even though it was a very limited look at that issue by the IG ... I think it was important for people to understand that, you know, Durham's work was not being preempted."

Barr also declined to refute the conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, as FBI Director Christopher Wray and many other intelligence officials have done.

  • "I'm confident the Russians attempted to interfere in the election," Barr said. "I don't know about the Ukrainians. I haven't even looked into it, quite frankly."

Go deeper: Justice Department inspector general concludes Russia probe was justified

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