Attorney General William Barr and the US attorney he picked to lead a probe into the origins of the Russia investigation criticized the FBI on Monday and contradicted some of the key findings of a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
Barr excoriated the FBI for launching what he called an “intrusive investigation” into a presidential campaign based on the “thinnest of suspicions.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general found that the FBI properly opened its investigation into Russian election interference but said there were major errors in how the agency conducted the probe.
The distance between Barr and the inspector general on one of the report’s most critical findings marked a striking contrast, and appeared to create space for President Donald Trump and his defenders to argue that the Russia investigation and the special counsel investigation it spawned were fundamentally flawed. The move is reminiscent of Barr’s actions around the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report when the attorney general sought to frame the results of that investigation in the best light possible for Trump.
The report released Monday by Inspector General Michael Horowitz did not find “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions” to open investigations that initially focused on Trump campaign advisers Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
John Durham, the US attorney who was handpicked by Barr to lead the separate probe, said that while he has the “utmost respect” for the inspector general’s office, he disagreed with some of the report’s findings.
“I have the utmost respect for the mission of the Office of Inspector General and the comprehensive work that went into the report prepared by Mr. Horowitz and his staff,” Durham said in a statement.
“However, our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department. Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S. Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”
The FBI launched their counterintelligence investigation into possible links between the Russian government and Trump campaign officials in July 2016. It was not until 2017 that the investigation was revealed publicly. Instead it was then-FBI director James Comey’s announcement that the FBI would investigate more emails potentially related to Hillary Clinton’s private server that would end up rocking the election.
Clinton later said she believes the decision cost her the presidency.
The inspector general investigation, launched in early 2018, centered on a series of warrants the FBI filed with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as it sought to investigate Page, a onetime foreign policy adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign.
The warrants stated that the FBI believed Page “has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government,” according to redacted copies the bureau released last year.
To bolster their request to the surveillance court, the FBI relied at times on claims about the 2016 Trump campaign collected in a dossier of unverified intelligence reports by former British spy Christopher Steele.
Investigators from the watchdog office reviewed more than 1 million records and conducted more than 100 interviews as part of the probe. Horowitz will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on December 11 to discuss the findings of his report.
Read Barr’s full statement below:
“Nothing is more important than the credibility and integrity of the FBI and the Department of Justice. That is why we must hold our investigators and prosecutors to the highest ethical and professional standards. The Inspector General’s investigation has provided critical transparency and accountability, and his work is a credit to the Department of Justice. I would like to thank the Inspector General and his team.
The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken. It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory. Nevertheless, the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration. In the rush to obtain and maintain FISA surveillance of Trump campaign associates, FBI officials misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings, and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source. The Inspector General found the explanations given for these actions unsatisfactory. While most of the misconduct identified by the Inspector General was committed in 2016 and 2017 by a small group of now-former FBI officials, the malfeasance and misfeasance detailed in the Inspector General’s report reflects a clear abuse of the FISA process.
FISA is an essential tool for the protection of the safety of the American people. The Department of Justice and the FBI are committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to rectify the abuses that occurred and to ensure the integrity of the FISA process going forward.
No one is more dismayed about the handling of these FISA applications than Director Wray. I have full confidence in Director Wray and his team at the FBI, as well as the thousands of dedicated line agents who work tirelessly to protect our country. I thank the Director for the comprehensive set of proposed reforms he is announcing today, and I look forward to working with him to implement these and any other appropriate measures.
With respect to DOJ personnel discussed in the report, the Department will follow all appropriate processes and procedures, including as to any potential disciplinary action.”
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s David Shortell contributed to this report.