The forthcoming release of an internal Justice Department watchdog report on the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation won’t be the last word on the matter, Attorney General William Barr has told conservative allies.
Long a skeptic of the Russia probe, and particularly the FBI’s tactics to investigate Trump campaign associates, Barr believes questions remain about some of the intelligence and other information the FBI used to pursue the investigation, according to people at the Justice Department and in Congress familiar with his thinking.
That view stands in contrast to what is expected from Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report, due to be released next Monday, which is expected to conclude that the FBI’s investigation was legally predicated, despite errors and potential wrongdoing by some lower-level FBI employees involved in it, CNN reported last month.
“The inspector general’s investigation is a credit to the Department of Justice,” said Kerri Kupec, Justice Department spokeswoman. “His excellent work has uncovered significant information that the American people will soon be able to read for themselves. Rather than speculating, people should read the report for themselves next week, watch the inspector general’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and draw their own conclusions about these important matters.”
Long before Horowitz’s report was complete, Barr had already decided the inspector general’s review wouldn’t be enough to answer some of his concerns, some of which he has made public.
In 2017, before he became attorney general, Barr told The New York Times that he thought the Justice Department had more reason to investigate Hillary Clinton and her family’s foundation – along with a conspiracy theory involving a Uranium mining company – than it did to investigate Donald Trump. “I have long believed that the predicate for investigating the uranium deal, as well as the foundation, is far stronger than any basis for investigating so-called ‘collusion,’ ” he told the Times.
Even after initial internal briefings as attorney general earlier this year, Barr told other Justice officials he had information that bolstered some of his qualms about the department’s handling of the Russia probe. It’s not clear where he obtained that information.
Barr is a voracious consumer of conservative media, including some organizations that have fed skepticism about Russian election interference and the activities of Trump campaign associates.
Horowitz’s jurisdiction extends only to the Justice Department and its agencies, including the FBI, and the inspector general investigators didn’t speak to intelligence agency employees. His report is expected to measure the FBI’s conduct based on current Justice Department standards. The threshold of evidence needed to open a counterintelligence investigation is relatively low, and Barr has suggested that the department may need to tighten procedures for counterintelligence investigations that involve political campaigns.
Earlier this year Barr appointed John Durham, a Connecticut federal prosecutor, to conduct what he said was a broader investigation, which is reviewing actions by the CIA and other intelligence agencies that provided information to the FBI probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Durham’s work is expected to continue into next year.
It’s not uncommon for attorneys general to disagree with inspector general conclusions, and at times they have made those disputes clear in responses appended to their watchdogs’ reports. A person familiar with the matter says there aren’t plans for Barr to include a formal rebuttal to Horowitz’s findings in the final inspector general report.
Instead, Barr has told allies to wait for Durham’s investigation, which he believes will be more complete.
Still, next week’s release of the Horowitz report will likely present an awkward split-screen moment for the Justice Department: the internal watchdog presenting findings that provide backing of the Justice Department’s handling of a high-profile investigation, with the attorney general refusing to embrace those findings and instead promising there’s more to come.