Feinstein, Warner Ask DOJ Watchdog to Review Barr’s Comments on Atkinson Firing

April 18, 2020 Updated: April 19, 2020

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) have asked the Justice Department inspector general to review Attorney General William Barr’s comments over the dismissal of the intelligence community watchdog, claiming that Barr misstated the facts about the firing.

The senators sent a letter to Inspector General Michael Horowitz and the acting director and chief counsel of the Office of Professional Responsibility, Jeffrey Ragsdale, on April 17, to express concern about statements Barr made in a recent interview with Fox News.

During that interview, Barr said the president was right to dismiss the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, who handled the whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Barr said Atkinson had exceeded his authority when he disclosed to Congress the whistleblower complaint that centered around a phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“From the vantage point of the Department of Justice, he had interpreted his statute—which is a fairly narrow statute that gave him jurisdiction over wrongdoing by intelligence people—and tried to turn it into a commission to explore anything in the government and immediately reported to Congress, without letting the Executive Branch look at it and determine whether there was any problem,” Barr said during the interview.

The senators alleged that Barr had “misstated key facts,” and that this raised broader questions about whether the attorney general was “following Department policies and rules of professional conduct that demand candor and impartiality from lawyers, particularly those who serve the public trust.”

The senators added that this wasn’t the first time Barr had allegedly misstated facts in order to defend the president. They focused on Barr’s assertions that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into alleged Trump campaign ties with Russia in 2016 “without any basis,” saying that it was misstated because it ran contrary to Horowitz’s conclusion that there was a “legitimate legal and factual basis to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.”

During that interview, Barr had said he was troubled by the findings from the ongoing investigation, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, into the FBI’s 2016 counterintelligence investigation on the Trump campaign, saying that “the evidence shows that we’re not dealing with just the mistakes or sloppiness.”

The letter also claimed that Barr had “repeatedly mischaracterized key aspects of Special Counsel Mueller’s findings in letters to Congress and public statements.

“It is critical that the American people have confidence in the work of the Justice Department, which requires that all of its employees—and most importantly, the Attorney General—be truthful and impartial,” the senators wrote in the letter (pdf). “Accordingly, we request that you investigate whether Attorney General Barr’s statements in matters involving the interests of the President violate applicable Justice Department policies and rules of professional conduct.”

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

The senators’ letter comes about two weeks after the president received criticism for firing Atkinson.

Atkinson played a central role in the series of events leading up to the impeachment effort against Trump last year. He vetted the anonymous whistleblower complaint and determined that it should be forwarded to Congress as a matter of urgency. The complaint contained allegations about Trump’s conduct during a phone call with Zelensky last July.

House Democrats used the complaint as a basis to accuse Trump of leveraging his office and withholding U.S. aid to Ukraine to obtain “dirt” on a political opponent—2020 Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

A transcript of the call, which was released by the White House shortly after the allegations were made, revealed that Trump had asked Zelensky to “look into” Biden’s dealings in Ukraine but hadn’t pressured him or used any quid pro quo in the call. Trump has repeatedly said there was nothing wrong with the call.

Earlier this month, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) sent a letter to acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell raising concerns about recent staffing changes without congressional authorization.

In that letter, Schiff said that his committee was “reviewing the circumstances of Mr. Atkinson’s dismissal, including whether his termination was intended to curb any ongoing investigations or reviews being undertaken by his office.”

Trump previously defended the firing, saying that Atkinson mishandled the whistleblower complaint, which he said didn’t have to be rushed.

“He’s a total disgrace,” Trump said. “That’s my decision. I have the absolute right.”

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan