Attorney General William Barr said that the Obama administration’s FBI may have been acting in “bad faith” while probing whether President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign had ties to Russia.
Barr, in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday, dismissed findings by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, that the FBI wasn’t acting on a political bias when it surveilled Trump campaign staffer Carter Page for about a year.
“I think probably from a civil liberties standpoint, the greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government use the apparatus of the state, principally, the law enforcement agencies and the intelligence agencies, both to spy on political opponents. But as to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time in history that this has been done to a presidential campaign,” he told NBC on Tuesday.
Barr also accused the media of unremittingly carrying a misleading narrative that Trump colluded with Russia. Earlier this year, former special counsel Robert Mueller revealed Trump’s campaign didn’t collude with Moscow.
“I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press,” Barr said.
“I think there were gross abuses … and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI. I think that leaves open the possibility that there was bad faith.”
Horowitz concluded in a report released on Monday that the four applications for warrants to spy on Page contained 17 significant errors.
The errors and other failures amounted to “serious performance failures by the supervisory and non-supervisory agents,” his report said. Horowitz said that FBI agents didn’t investigate Trump out of political bias.
However, Barr told the broadcaster that Horowitz didn’t look very hard and claimed the inspector general merely accepted the FBI’s answers at face value.
“All he said was, people gave me an explanation and I didn’t find anything to contradict it…he hasn’t decided the issue of improper motive,” Barr remarked. “I think we have to wait until the full investigation is done.”
The attorney general added that he still believes Trump’s campaign was spied on.
“It was clearly spied upon,” he told the network. “That’s what electronic surveillance is … going through people’s emails, wiring people up.”
Barr added, “There was and never has been any evidence of collusion and yet this campaign and the president’s administration has been dominated by this investigation into what turns out to be completely baseless.”
The FBI launched a counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign in late July 2016. On Monday, Barr concluded that the investigation was “intrusive” and was initiated based “on the thinnest of suspicions.” The suspicions were “insufficient” to justify the steps the bureau went on to take, he said.
U.S. Attorney John Durham, whom Barr appointed to run a separate investigation on the Russia probe, backed Barr after the IG’s report was released Monday.
“Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened,” Durham said in a statement.
The FISA warrant applications featured claims from an unverified dossier of opposition research on Trump. Former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele compiled the dossier by using second- and third-hand sources with ties to the Kremlin. “Steele himself was not the originating source of any of the factual information in his reporting. Steele instead relied on a Primary Sub-source for information, who used his/her network of sub-sources to gather information that was then passed to Steele,” the IG report stated.
The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee ultimately paid for Steele’s work, a fact the FBI did not disclose in the warrant application.
The inspector general also made recommendations for the FBI and the FISA system. FBI Director Christopher Wray ordered the federal law enforcement agency to take more than 40 corrective steps to address Horowitz’s recommendations.
Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.