Less than 24 hours after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his much-anticipated report on the origins of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Attorney General Bill Barr sat for an interview in which he disputed many of the report’s conclusions while offering very little evidence for why.
I went through the transcript of Barr’s interview with NBC’s Pete Williams. The most notable lines are below.
1. “I think the heart of the IG’s report really focused on how the investigation was conducted once it got going.”
Not really. I mean, I suppose we could debate what “the heart” of a 435-page report is, but the BIG takeaway from Horowitz’s report was that there was no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced” the decision to open the counter-intelligence probe. Which goes directly counter to what President Donald Trump (and others) have been saying about the investigation for the better part of the last two years.
2. “One area I do disagree with the IG. And that was whether there was sufficient predication to open a full-blown counterintelligence investigation, specifically, using the techniques that they did.”
But, that’s – as I just said – the central finding of the Horowitz report. That’s like saying you like everything at McDonald’s except the fried food. Also, what evidence does Barr offer up for his belief that the inspector general’s conclusion is wrong? Oh, he doesn’t provide any.
3. “And we have to remember, in today’s world, presidential campaigns are frequently in contact with foreign persons. And indeed, in most campaigns, there are signs of illegal foreign money coming in.”
Really? Where’s the evidence for that claim? And, just so we’re clear, what the FBI – and eventually special counsel Robert Mueller – were looking into was whether or not anyone on the Trump campaign (most notably former foreign policy adviser Carter Page) had been compromised by the Russians. And how/why the Russians were interfering in our election. Which is a little different than occasionally being “in contact with foreign persons.”
4. “Remember, there was and never has been any evidence of collusion. And yet this campaign and the President’s administration has been dominated by this investigation into what turns out to be completely baseless.”
Barr is technically correct. But he misses this point: The FBI would have no way of knowing when it began its investigation that, eventually, the Mueller report would find no collusion. The job of the FBI is to investigate suspicious behavior. Not to presume outcomes or be judged by where/what the investigation turns up.
5. “They opened the investigation into the campaign and used very intrusive techniques.”
Again, much of this lies in the eye of the beholder. As the Horowitz report makes clear, the FBI broke no rules and showed no favoritism in pursuing the counterintelligence probe.
6. “All (Horowitz) said is people gave me an explanation. And I didn’t find anything to contradict it. So I don’t have a basis for saying that there was improper motive.”
This is major-league, bigly hair-splitting and spin by Barr. Remember that in his report, Horowitz wrote that he found no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced” the counterintelligence operation. Barr is arguing, Horowitz only talked to the people he was told to talk to – and they all told him that there was no political motivation involved. But that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t! We just don’t know!
7. “I think right now, it would be premature to make any judgment, one way or the other.”
Remember that, in the run-up to the release of the Horowitz report, Trump – and the rest of his cohort from Fox News host Sean Hannity on down – had circled the release of the Horowitz report as a seminal moment when the truth would finally come out. But now that the report is out – and it doesn’t say what Trump and the rest wanted it to – it’s “premature to make any judgment.” Riiiiight.
8. “This leaves open the possibility to infer bad faith.”
In which the attorney general suggests that the FBI was acting in bad faith in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election despite the fact that his own watchdog has just released a report in which it is made clear that there is no evidence of political motivation at the root of the probe.
9. “Oh, it was clearly spied upon. I mean, that’s what electronic surveillance is. I think wiring people up to go in and talk to people and make recordings of their conversations is spying.”
Barr knows better. As he has done in the past, he is using the loaded – and pejorative – word “spying” to describe a lawful FISA warrant executed against Page. The Horowitz report is quite clear that while there were errors and mistakes in the FISA application process, none of them were found to be intentional or politically motivated.
10. “I think it was sort of being reported by the press that the issue of predication was sort of done and over.”
The President of the United States repeatedly pointed to the IG report as the thing that would blow the cover off the secret and shady way that the probe was begun. The report concluded the exact opposite. So now we are ignoring the report entirely?
11. “I think our nation was turned on its head for three years. I think based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by an irresponsible press.”
Say it with me: The Russians ran a deep, well-funded and coordinated effort to influence the 2016 election. They aimed to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton because they believed Trump would be better for their interests. The intelligence community concluded that. The Mueller report concluded that. The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that. That’s not a “completely bogus narrative.” And the media didn’t “hype” it. We reported on it. The end.