In an revealing interview on Fox News that aired Friday morning, Attorney General Bill Barr said that he’s been “trying to get answers to questions” to questions regarding the government’s counterintelligence activities during the 2016 election, and has thus far “found that a lot of the answers have been inadequate.”
When asked about the Steele dossier’s role in the controversy, Barr said it was “very unusual” for the FBI to use inaccurate opposition research to conduct counter-intelligence.
The attorney general also scoffed at Democrats who have lambasted him over his handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, calling their attacks an attempt to discredit him, “partly because they might be concerned about the outcome of a review.” Indeed, after this interview, many former Obama administration officials should be feeling very concerned. Especially since the AG suggested that he is zeroing in on the highly problematic period of time between Election Day and Inauguration Day when he said “some very strange developments” took place.
Barr spoke to “America’s Newsroom” host Bill Hemmer from El Salvador where he’s was meeting with law enforcement officials about “stopping illegal narcotics, dismantling the MS-13 gang and other criminal groups, and fighting illegal immigration and human trafficking.”
The attorney general told Hemmer that there are a number of probes into the origins of the Russia investigation, but none of them seem to have looked into “the entire waterfront.”
“The first step it trying to find out what happened. And we’re trying to get our arms around that, getting all of the relevant information from the various agencies, and starting to talk to some of the people who have information,” Barr said.
He added that he found it “interesting” that the investigation was handled by a select few at a “very senior level” of the departments.
“The thing that is interesting about this is this was handled at a very senior level at these departments. It wasn’t handled in the ordinary way that investigations or counter intelligence activities are conducted. It was sort of an ad hoc small group. And most of these people are no longer with the FBI or CIA or the other agencies involved,” the attorney general said.
Barr said the reason why the entire case is so difficult to gauge is because so far, “no one has really looked at it.”
I think there’s a misconception out there that we know a lot about what happened. The fact of the matter is, Bob Mueller did not look at the government’s activities. He was looking at whether or not the Trump campaign had conspired with the Russian. But he was not going back and looking at the counterintelligence program. And we have a number of investigations underway that touch upon it–the main one being the Office of Inspector General is looking at the FISA warrants… I thought once I came in all of the questions that I had would already have been answered but that is not the case…
When asked when he thought the government started spying on the Trump campaign, he answered: “What I will say is I’ve been trying to get answers to the questions and I’ve found that a lot of the answers have been inadequate.”
Barr seemed particularly interested in the period between Election Day and Inauguration Day when he said “some very strange developments” took place – including the January 7, 2017 briefing intelligence officials gave to the president at Trump Tower and “the leaking of information subsequent to that meeting.”
At that meeting, then-FBI director James Comey briefed then-President-elect Trump only on the most salacious parts of the unverified Steele dossier unverified dossier. Details about the meeting later leaked to the press, giving them the “news hook” they needed to write about the dossier’s now discredited allegations.
Comey briefed then-President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on the intelligence assessment on Jan. 5, 2017.
“That’s one of the things … we need to look at,” Barr said.
Barr’s review could prove as politically explosive as the Russia probe itself. President Trump is watching closely, and tweeted Friday morning that those who spied on his campaign committed “treason” and could face “long jail sentences.” It comes as congressional Democrats ramp up their own investigations into the Trump administration, including looking at obstruction allegations in connection with the Russia case.
It emerged earlier this week that hard-charging U.S. Attorney John Durham was tapped to examine the origins of the Russia investigation, and has been working on his review “for weeks.” Bill Barr assigned Durham to conduct the inquiry into alleged misconduct and alleged improper government surveillance on the Trump campaign in 2016 as well as whether Democrats improperly colluded with foreign actors.
Durham will focus on the period before Nov. 7, 2016—including the use of FBI informants, as well as alleged improper issuance of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants. Durham was asked to help Barr to “ensure that intelligence collection activities by the U.S. Government related to the Trump 2016 Presidential Campaign were lawful and appropriate.”
A source also told Fox News that Barr is working “collaboratively” on the investigation with FBI Director Chris Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and that Durham is also working directly with Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who is currently reviewing allegations of misconduct in issuance of FISA warrants, and the role of FBI informants during the early stages of the investigation.
In his interview with Hemmer Friday, Barr stressed that it is important “to find out what the government was doing during that period,” noting that so far, a lot of the explanations have been “inadequate” and don’t make sense.
I’ve been trying to get answers to questions and I found that a lot of the answers have been inadequate. And I’ve also found that some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together.
So in a sense, I have more questions today than I did when I first started. Some of what things don’t hang together, some of the explanations of what occurred. People have to find out what the government was doing during that period. If we’re worried about foreign influence, for the very same reason shouldn’t we be worried about whether government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale?
FOX NEWS: You said back in April that you thought there was spying going on in the Trump campaign. When do you think that started?
AG BILL BARR: I'm not going to speculate when it started. We're going to find out when it started… the explanations don't hang together. pic.twitter.com/ZISRdlo7ZL
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 17, 2019
Barr was careful to note, “I’m not saying that happened, but I’m saying that we have to look at that.”
As to Speaker Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) recent claim that he lied under oath, he said: “It’s a laughable charge and I think it’s largely being made to try to discredit me partly because they may be concerned about the outcome of a review of what happened during the election.”
The unflappable AG added: “They may be trying to undermine my credibility, but obviously you can look at the face of my testimony and see on its face that there was nothing inaccurate about it.”