Bill Barr disputes key finding of inspector general report that debunks Trump’s Russia probe claims

Barr backs the president over his own inspector general’s two-year investigation into the FBI's Russia probe

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published December 3, 2019 6:20PM (EST)

U.S. Attorney General William Barr (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. Attorney General William Barr (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Attorney General William Barr told associates he “disagrees” with part of the upcoming Justice Department’s inspector general report. Although it reportedly criticizes the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation, it also debunks many of the claims that President Donald Trump has made about the probe, according to The Washington Post.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the FBI’s Russia investigation is expected to be released next week. The New York Times reported that the it is expected to show there is no evidence that the FBI “spied” on Trump’s campaign, as Barr and the president have claimed. It is also expected to conclude that FBI officials were not politically motivated in pursuing the investigation.

Though the report is expected to criticize FBI leaders and some aspects of the probe’s handling, like issues with applications to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, the report found that the FBI acted properly in its investigation, according to The Times.

Barr is said to disagree with a key finding in the report that the FBI had enough information in July of 2016 to launch the investigation into members of Trump’s campaign, The Post reported Monday.  Barr was not “swayed” by Horowitz’s “rationale” in concluding that the FBI had sufficient basis to begin the investigation, sources told the outlet.

The Russia investigation was launched after the FBI learned that then-campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told others that Russia hacked Hillary Clinton’s emails before it was publicly revealed that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked.

The attorney general has argued that other agencies like the CIA could have information that disputes Horowitz’s conclusion, according to The Post. It remains unclear if he plans to make his opinions public.

Barr could submit a formal letter that would be included in the final report or simply voice his views publicly. The inspector general operates independently of the attorney general, so Barr cannot instruct him to alter the report. Barr has also praised Horowitz’s work on the investigation.

Part of Barr’s dispute with Horowitz’s conclusions is related to the probe he tasked to U.S.  attorney John Durham, who is reviewing how intelligence agencies handled the allegations of Russian election interference. Barr has personally traveled overseas to ask foreign officials to aid Durham’s investigation.

Along with the contention over whether the FBI probe was justified, the report also undercuts Barr’s claim that the FBI spied on Trump’s campaign.

“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr told lawmakers in April. “I think spying did occur, but the question is whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”

Barr also alleged that “there was probably a failure among a group of leaders there in the upper echelon.”

Trump, meanwhile, has tried to counter reports that the inspector general undermined his claims about the FBI probe. Trump told reporters Tuesday that he believes Barr was “quoted incorrectly” in the report, according to Politico.

“I do believe that, because I'm hearing the [inspector general’s] report is very powerful,” Trump said. “But I'm hearing that by reading lots of different things — not from inside information. It's really from outside information. I think all we have to do is wait.”

Trump admitted it “would be a little disappointing” if reports about the inspector general’s findings are true, though he insisted that it was only “one aspect” of the investigation.

“I do think the big report to wait for is going to be the Durham report. That's the one that people are really waiting for,” he added. “And he's highly respected, and he's worked very hard. And he's worked long hours, I can tell you, and gone all over the world. So we'll see. But the Durham report is the report people are really looking forward to.”

Barr was not directly quoted in the story, which was also reported by The New York Times. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec did not dispute the report.

Kupec said in a statement to The Post that the inspector general investigation “is a credit to the Department of Justice. His excellent work has uncovered significant information that the American people will soon be able to read for themselves. Rather than speculating, people should read the report for themselves next week, watch the Inspector General’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee and draw their own conclusions about these important matters.”

Barr’s reported criticism of the report may fuel Democratic aspersions on the attorney general’s impartiality.

Barr infamously penned an unprompted 19-page memo criticizing aspects of the Mueller probe before he was even appointed to head the Justice Department. The criticism intensified after Barr issued a four-page summary of Mueller’s final report that the special counsel reportedly complained “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of the investigation’s findings.

Barr has come under fire more recently after the Justice Department failed to follow up on criminal referrals submitted by three Trump appointees related to Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

Barr has accused Democrats of wrongdoing in their impeachment inquiry.

“In waging a scorched-earth, no-holds-barred war against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in shredding norms and undermining the rule of law,” he said in a speech last month.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who accused Barr of committing a “crime” in his “decision to mislead the public in his testimony to Congress” in response to Mueller’s criticism of his summary, told MSNBC that Barr’s decision not to share the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s Ukraine call with Congress indicated that “he’s gone rogue.”

"When you see Barr sitting there, what's his motivation?” Pelosi said at a news conference earlier this year. “His motivation — his loyalty — is not to his oath of office, and it is to Donald Trump. But all of it — and the Republicans in Congress — is to the special interests.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.,tweeted that the latest report showed that “Barr is seemingly about to abandon all pretense of independent law enforcement by his reported plan to rebut & rebuke the IG’s report.”

“His rumored support for delusional conspiracies plays to Trump & sycophants. It threatens another blow to DOJ credibility & American justice,” he wrote.

Frank Figliuzzi, the former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence, told MSNBC that the report shows that Barr’s “consistent ability to ignore facts.”

“If it’s true, that he is going to side against his own inspector general . . .  He will again be choosing to ignore a neutral fact-finder and come up with his own set of alternative truth,” he said. “He will disgrace his office if he chooses to ignore the facts . . . The only person more pleased tonight that the attorney general might be at odds with own department, other than the president of the United States, is the president of Russia. There could not be a more destructive attorney general than if Vladimir Putin had appointed Barr himself.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh