Barr's investigation into origins of Russia probe expands

Washington (CNN)Attorney General William Barr is taking a far more expansive look at origin of the investigation into Russian interference than was previously known, according to his Senate testimony Wednesday.

Barr told lawmakers he is "working to try to reconstruct" the beginning of the investigation, and confirmed that his internal examination will include "reviewing" whether the dossier prepared by a former British spy was part of a Kremlin disinformation campaign. Barr said he "could not state with confidence" that it wasn't.
The attorney general added that he is also looking into whether there was "any overreach" by officials at the Justice Department and FBI when they launched the counterintelligence investigation in summer 2016.
    The details of Barr's plan to reconstruct the start of the Russia investigation comes as he is criticizing its conclusions. He said Wednesday that Trump had been "falsely accused of colluding with the Russians," noting that the special counsel investigation did not establish a criminal conspiracy of collusion.
    The statement was one of several that Democrats have seized on as evidence Barr is acting like President Donald Trump's personal attorney and not the top law enforcement official in the country. A number of Democrats are calling for Barr's resignation, and others have floated his impeachment as a possibility.
    Meanwhile, Trump appears to be pleased with what Barr is doing. Since the hearing wrapped, Trump has re-tweeted seven posts from a conservative legal group that has raised many of the same questions that Barr now says he's looking to answer. Some of these posts included debunked conspiracy theories about the investigation and called it a "deep state coup" against Trump.
    Barr's first disclosed he was investigating the "genesis" of the FBI counterintelligence investigation into Russia's interference at a hearing last month when he suggested to lawmakers he believed that "spying" occurred against Trump's campaign.
    His review comes on top of a DOJ Inspector General review of the use of warrants granted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which would allow the government to monitor someone's phone calls and other communications. The IG report is expected in the next few months.
    During the Wednesday hearing, Republican senators shifted the focus away from the outcome of the Mueller report, which detailed multiple points of contact between Russians and members of the Trump campaign and the campaign's willingness to accept information from a foreign adversary. Instead they pivoted back to the beginning of the probe making that the theme of their questions.
    "The extent that there was any overreach, I believe it was some -- a few people in the upper echelons of the bureau and perhaps the department, but those people are no longer there, and I'm working closely with (FBI Director) Chris Wray, who I think has done a superb job at the bureau, and we're working together on trying to reconstruct exactly what went down," Barr told Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee.
    Barr added that "many people seem to assume that the only intelligence collection that occurred was a single confidential informant and a FISA warrant. I'd like to find out whether that is, in fact, true. It strikes me as a fairly anemic effort if that was the counterintelligence effort designed to stop the threat as it's being represented."
    Republican Sen. Charles Grassley asked if the special counsel considered whether the dossier prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, was part of a Russian disinformation and interference campaign.
    "One of the things I'm doing in my review is to try to assemble all the existing information out there about it, not only from Hill investigations and the OIG, but also to see what the special counsel looked into," Barr said.

    FISA surveillance in 2016

    Many of the Republicans appeared to be picking up where California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes left off. Last year, while he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes publicly released redacted versions of declassified documents relating to the FISA warrants for Carter Page. Those documents already provided some, but not all, of the answers to the questions Barr is trying to figure out.
    Trump and his allies have charged that the FBI and Justice Department officials improperly used intelligence gathered by Steele in the FISA application on Page and misled the secret court about how Steele's dossier had been funded through a law firm by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, and did not disclose Steele's anti-Trump bias.
    The redacted versions of the FISA applications that Nunes released show the FBI did disclose a political motivation behind the dossier, stating that the person behind it was likely looking for information to discredit Trump's campaign.
    The applications to monitor Page also mentioned how he was associated in 2015 with two Russian spies who tried to recruit him, including one who was later indicted by US authorities for conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of Russia.
    The surveillance started under the Obama administration, but Trump's appointees at the Justice Department continued it. And all four federal judges who approved the warrants and renewals had been appointed by Republican presidents. When the surveillance began, Page had already left Trump's campaign, which undercuts some of Barr's assertion that "spying did occur" on the campaign itself.

    Revisiting the dossier

    CNN revisited the dossier earlier this year and analyzed the veracity of some of the claims, two years after it first came into public view. The most salacious claims in the dossier remain unproven -- like allegations that top Trump campaign officials colluded with Russians.
    But many of the allegations that form the bulk of the intellig