Attorney General William Barr criticized former FBI Director James Comey after the former agency chief attempted to downplay his role in the investigation into the Trump 2016 presidential campaign.
Comey, over the weekend, said that he was “seven layers” removed from the counterintelligence operation, code-named “Crossfire Hurricane,” and the launching of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court-approved probe into Trump campaign aide Carter Page for up to a year. Barr and Comey were responding to the findings of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report that found 17 “significant errors” in how the FBI applied to surveil Page.
“The idea that this was seven layers below him is simply not true,” Barr told Fox News on Wednesday. “I think that one of the problems with what happened was precisely that they pulled the investigation up to the executive floors, and it was run and bird-dogged by a very small group of very high-level officials,” he added.
Comey had previously defended the FBI’s use of the FISA courts during the investigation, but Horowitz found that the FBI’s three investigative teams made errors and omissions when applying for the Page Warrant, and the inspector general, in a Senate hearing, blasted the FBI’s “entire chain of command.” Comey was in charge of the FBI when Operation Crossfire Hurricane was initiated.
“He’s right, I was wrong,” Comey told “Fox News Sunday” on the FBI’s handling of the FISA warrant application and its subsequent renewals, adding that “I was overconfident as director in our procedures.”
Comey attributed the FBI’s errors to “sloppiness,” adding that he “didn’t know the particulars of the investigation” as director.
“As a director sitting on top of an organization with 38,000 people, you can’t run an investigation that’s seven layers below you,” he said. “You have to leave it to the career professionals to do … If a director tries to run an investigation, it can get mucked up in other kinds of ways given his or her responsibilities and the impossibility of reaching the work being done at the lower levels.”
In the Wednesday interview, Barr further found fault with how, in his interview, Comey tried to “wrap” himself “in the institution” by insinuating that officials who criticize him are criticizing the FBI itself.
“One of the things that I object to is the tack being taken by Comey, which is to suggest that people who are criticizing or trying to get to the bottom of the misconduct are somehow attacking the FBI,” Barr said. “I think that’s nonsense. We’re criticizing and concerned about misconduct by a few actors at the top of the FBI, and they should be criticized if they engaged in serious misconduct.”
What’s more, Barr said that people should feel free to criticize him.
“People feel free to criticize me, and I don’t say, ‘Gee, you’re attacking the honest men and women of the Department of Justice,'” he told Fox.
In his Fox interview, Comey downplayed the central role that former British spy Christopher Steele’s unverified information played in the FISA process. There were “significant questions” raised about the “reliability of the Steele dossier that was used in the Carter Page FISA applications,” Horowitz concluded, adding that “the FISA applications relied entirely on information from the Steele reporting to support the allegation that Page was coordinating with the Russian government on 2016 U.S. presidential election activities.”
The Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for Steele’s work, a fact the FBI did not disclose in the warrant application. A number of FBI officials directly involved in preparing and signing the FISA warrants have all either left or been fired from the bureau, including Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok.
Comey said Steele’s work didn’t play “a huge part of the presentation to the court.”
About a year before the bombshell Fox interview, Comey in 2018 told MSNBC that the FISA process is “incredibly rigorous” and criticized Republicans of the Page FISA warrant for trying to interject politics into the process. And after the inspector general’s report was released on Dec. 6, Comey said the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s campaign “was just good people trying to protect America.” That was before Horowitz went in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and faulted the FBI’s leadership.