In an hour-long, wide ranging interview with CBS News’ Jan Crawford, Attorney General Bill Barr provided a significant amount of new information regarding the Mueller Report, the Russia Investigation, and his examination of the events surrounding the 2016 presidential election.
Barr addressed the actions taken by the leadership of the FBI and other agencies, and noted the dangers of allowing “government power, law enforcement or intelligence power, to play a role in politics, to intrude into politics, and affect elections.”
He also addressed declassification, his ongoing investigation into surrounding matters, and the involvement of U.S. Attorney John Huber, Inspector General Michael Horowitz, and U.S. Attorney John Durham.
Barr’s Apolitical Positioning
Barr, who had served as Attorney General in the early 90s, came out of private practice to take the current Attorney General position, and as such appears to be a perfect choice by President Trump. During the interview he addressed the partisan attacks made upon him, allowing that he was fully aware they would occur prior to taking the position:
“I realize we live in a crazy hyper-partisan period of time and I knew that it would only be a matter of time if I was behaving responsibly and calling them as I see them, that I would be attacked because nowadays people don’t care about the merits and the substance.”
Barr continued, noting that “Any attorney general in this period is going to end up losing a lot of political capital, and I realize that, and that is one of the reasons that I ultimately was persuaded that I should take it on because I think at my stage in life it really doesn’t make any difference.”
Barr’s Declassification Request
On May 23, 2019, President Trump issued a Memorandum giving declassification authorization to Attorney General William Barr. The memo noted that AG Barr has full authority to “declassify, downgrade, or direct the declassification or downgrading of information or intelligence that relates to the Attorney General’s review.”
President Trump himself sent out a related release from his Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, that included a reference to the genesis of the declassification order—“At the request and recommendation of the Attorney General of the United States.” AG Barr apparently asked President Trump for the declassification authority.
This was confirmed by Barr himself who told Crawford the same during his interview:
CRAWFORD: So did you ask the president for authority to declassify?
CRAWFORD: You asked the president?
BARR: Yes and also you know, the direction of the intelligence agencies to support our efforts.
Barr’s admission that he had asked the President for declassification authority provided a clarification to earlier responses from President Trump who had somewhat cryptically told Fox News’ Catharine Herridge regarding declassification, “Whenever they need it, I’ll be doing it. But I will be declassifying it. Everything.”
Barr also confirmed that he had the ongoing support from our intelligence agencies—and specifically named Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel:
CRAWFORD: So did you discuss this with the DNI and head of the CIA?
CRAWFORD: And what’s their response?
BARR: That they’re going to be supportive.
Barr’s response seems to put to bed media claims that both Coats and Haspel might have been hindering Barr’s investigative efforts.
On Matters of Obstruction
There has been much made of Mueller’s recent press conference, particularly his comments on not reaching a decision on obstruction. Barr addressed this issue, noting that Mueller took the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion that a sitting president could not be indicted into account but also included “a number of other prudential judgments about fairness and other things and decided that the best course was not for him to reach a decision.”
Notably, following the confusion from Mueller’s press conference, the DOJ and the Special Counsel’s office released a joint statement:
“The Attorney General has previously stated that the Special Counsel repeatedly affirmed that he was not saying that, but for the OLC opinion, he would have found the President obstructed justice.”
“The Special Counsel’s report and his statement today made clear that the office concluded it would not reach a determination—one way or the other—about whether the President committed a crime. There is no conflict between these statements.”
Barr previously said that Mueller had told him his conclusions on obstruction would be same with or without the OLC opinion. During Mueller’s somewhat confusing press conference, many interpreted Mueller’s comments to mean that the OLC opinion was the singular issue. In the joint statement, both Muller and the DOJ stated that there would be no conclusion on obstruction even without the OLC opinion.
Despite the joint statement, Barr said that he believed Mueller could have reached a conclusion on obstruction, and stated both he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein were surprised when Mueller did not do so.
Barr said that he and Rosenstein did not agree with much of the legal analysis contained in the report and felt it represented the “views of a particular lawyer or lawyers and so we applied what we thought was the right law, but then we didn’t rely on that.”
Barr pointed out that in order for the determination of a crime, the DOJ would have had to prove corrupt intent noting that “the report itself points out that one of the likely motivations here was the president’s frustration with Comey saying something publicly and saying a different thing privately, and refusing to correct the record.”
Lack of Grand Jury Redactions
Barr addressed his issuance of a four-page summary of Mueller’s findings, noting that he was forced to do so because Mueller had not identified which material in his report was actually underlying grand jury material—also known as 6E information—despite repeated advance requests from Barr:
“because we were not involved in the investigation we would have no way of looking at the report determining what was grand jury material and what wasn’t, so we had for a period of weeks been asking the special counsel’s office to highlight the stuff so we could quickly process it for release.”
Barr noted that “My intent was to get out as much as I could as quickly as I could. To do that I would have to, as a matter of law, make sure that grand jury material was redacted because regardless of the political posturing that’s going on it’s not lawful for me to just make that public.”
For unknown reasons, Mueller failed to identify the grand jury information, information so sensitive it could not be released to Congress, in the report that he delivered to the attorney general. Barr said he was surprised this had not been done by Mueller, and noted that “it immediately meant that you know it was going to be a period of weeks before we could get the report out.”
In other words, it was Mueller’s failure to identify grand jury information within his own report that forced Barr to put out his four-page summary, as he and Mueller went about the laborious process of identifying the grand jury details prior to a broader release:
CRAWFORD: You expected the special counsel’s office to redact that material, so to point out what should be redacted—
BARR: Right. Right.
CRAWFORD: So the four-page summary would have been unnecessary?
On Election Interference by Russia
Barr noted that Mueller “did some impressive work in his investigation, you know, identifying some of the Russian hackers and their influence campaign,” and noted that if this sort of effort had begun earlier, “things could have been a lot different.” This shifted the focus back to the Obama administration’s lack of focus in this regard:
CRAWFORD: [I]t’s just hard to understand why it wasn’t taken more seriously.
CRAWFORD: Why do you think it was not?
BARR: I have no idea. That’s one of the things I’m interested in looking at.
Barr said that there were warnings about Russia’s efforts being made in April of 2016, but these warnings failed to result in the proper level of countermeasures and responses from our intelligence community. As Barr noted, “Surely the response should have been more than just, you know, dangling a confidential informant in front of a peripheral player in the Trump Campaign.”
Counterintelligence Activities & Spying
Barr spent a fair amount of time during the interview discussing the counterintelligence activities undertaken by the FBI. As he noted, much of this activity appears to have fallen outside of normal practices and procedures.
Barr observed that “These counter-intelligence activities that were directed at the Trump Campaign, were not done in the normal course and not through the normal procedures as far as I can tell. And a lot of the people who were involved are no longer there.”
Barr was also asked about his testimony that he believed spying on the Trump campaign had occurred. He reiterated his belief that this had taken place, but noted that he needed to understand the reason behind the activity:
CRAWFORD: You’re saying that spying occurred. There’s not anything necessarily wrong with that.
CRAWFORD: As long as there’s a reason for it.
BARR: Whether it’s adequately predicated.
Barr noted that “it’s just as dangerous to the continuation of self-government and our republican system, republic, that we not allow government power, law enforcement or intelligence power, to play a role in politics, to intrude into politics, and affect elections.
A Serious Red Line
In particular, the role of intelligence agencies in the 2016 presidential election, both foreign and domestic, were a specific cause of concern for Barr who noted that “the use of foreign intelligence capabilities and counterintelligence capabilities against an American political campaign to me is unprecedented and it’s a serious red line that’s been crossed.”
Barr explicitly stated that there were counterintelligence activities taken against the Trump campaign, and while allowing that there may have been valid reasons for some of the actions, he also said that he wanted to see “what were the standards that were applied. What was the evidence? What were the techniques used? Who approved them? Was there a legitimate basis for it?”
As he noted, one of the core responsibilities of the Attorney General is to make sure that government power is not abused and that the right of Americans are not transgressed by abusive government power.
Barr noted that he selected US Attorney John Durham to investigate the origins of the Russia probe that officially began during the Obama administration with the FBI’s opening of their July 31, 2016, counterintelligence investigation. In reality, the origins of the intelligence communities’ efforts likely extend back into at least 2015.
Notably, Durham is already involved in the criminal leak investigation involving former FBI General Counsel James Baker.
Barr noted that both he and Durham, who was going to conduct a “thorough and fair review,” were working closely with the various intelligence agencies, including the FBI and the CIA, to “reconstruct what happened.”
Barr explained that Inspector General Horowitz, who is currently investigating FISA abuse surrounding the FISA warrant on Trump campaign member Carter Page, does not have the power to investigate beyond the current, active employees of the Department of Justice. A frequent tactic used by those who have come under investigation is to simply resign, thereby removing themselves from the IG’s authority. Nor can the IG exert much, if any, control over officials outside the DOJ.
Is Huber Looking into the Clinton Foundation
US Attorney John Huber had been assigned by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to act as an outside prosecutor working in tandem with IG Horowitz. Barr made clear that there had been a transition in Huber’s responsibilities.
As Barr noted, “Huber had originally been asked to take a look at the FISA applications and the electronic surveillance but then he stood back and put that on hold while the Office of Inspector General was conducting its review.”
In Barr’s words, Huber had been “on standby” waiting for IG Horowitz to refer matters to him to be handled criminally. Durham is now taking over this role from Huber.
But it appears that Huber has been engaged in another line of investigation during this time. In a comment that was nearly passed over, Barr stated that Huber had “other issues he’s been working on [that] relate to Hillary Clinton. Barr noted that “[t]hose are winding down and hopefully we’ll be in a position to bring those to fruition.”
There have been previous reports that the Clinton Foundation has been under investigation by Huber, but Barr did not elaborate on which issues were being worked on by Huber and what, exactly, he meant by “fruition.”
Barr’s Remaining Questions
Barr, who was asked about his basis for having Durham continue his investigation, appears to have some healthy skepticism for what transpired during the 2016 election, noting that “I had a lot of questions about what was going on. I assumed I’d get answers when I went in and I have not gotten answers that are satisfactory, and in fact probably have more questions, and that some of the facts that—that I’ve learned don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened.”
Barr, while being careful with disclosure of information, said that “[t]hings are just not jiving,” and seemed to indicate that he was looking at events that transpired prior to the FBI’s initiation of their counterintelligence investigation.
When questioned over timeline concerns, Barr said that “I won’t confirm that, but I’ll just say that, you know, there’s some questions that I think have to be answered, and I have a basis for feeling there has to be a review of this.”
The Small Group
Barr was careful to note he did not feel there was a problem throughout the entire FBI, noting that “activities were undertaken by a small group at the top which is one of the—probably one of the mistakes that has been made instead of running this as a normal bureau investigation or counterintelligence investigation. It was done by the executives at the senior level. Out of head quarters.”
Barr again noted that he did not see this as a bureau-wide, or agency-wide issue, and said that all the intelligence agencies were “being very cooperative in helping us.”
Barr was asked about President Trump’s tweets regarding treason—and if he agreed with that assessment. Barr responded that he looked at the term from a purely legal perspective, noting “I don’t think it’s actually implicated in the situation that we have now.”
But he did note the level of bias exhibited, calling it “appalling” and rightly noting that if the “shoe was on the other foot we could be hearing a lot about it. If those kinds of discussions were held you know when Obama first ran for office…”
Media Complicity and Complacency
The media’s role during the last several years has been particularly notable. In some respects, the media has played the most disingenuous of roles. Areas of investigation that historically would have proven irresistible to reporters of the past have been steadfastly ignored. False narratives have been all-too-willingly promoted, and facts have been ignored.
The New York Times and the Washington Post have been the go-to outlets for leaks from the intelligence community, and most major news organizations for over two years have promoted the Russia-collusion narrative.
Despite ample evidence to the contrary, they have not admitted they were wrong, likely because doing so would mean they would have to admit their complicity.
Barr voiced similar concerns during his interview, noting “The fact that today people just seem to brush aside the idea that it is okay to you know, to engage in these activities against a political campaign is stunning to me especially when the media doesn’t seem to think that it’s worth looking into.”
Barr returned to this a bit later in the interview, noting “The media reaction is strange. Normally the media would be interested in letting the sunshine in and finding out what the truth is. And usually the media doesn’t care that much about protecting intelligence sources and methods. But I do and I will.”
Shredding Our Institutions
As he closed out his interview, Barr noted that he did not regret taking the job of attorney general, despite a hyper-partisan response from the Left:
BARR: I think it’s important that we not, in this period of intense partisan feeling, destroy our institutions. I think one of the ironies today is that people are saying that it’s President Trump that’s shredding our institutions. I really see no evidence of that, it is hard, and I really haven’t seen bill of particulars as to how that’s being done.
BARR: From my perspective the idea of resisting a democratically elected president and basically throwing everything at him and you know, really changing the norms on the grounds that we have to stop this president, that is where the shredding of our norms and our institutions is occurring.
CRAWFORD: And you think that happened even with the investigation into the campaign, potentially?
BARR: I am concerned about that.
It was an amazing interview from a man placed at the nexus of investigations into a series of amazing events. Let’s hope that he is able to get to the bottom of what transpired to ensure that it can never happen again.