The FBI should get sign-off from the attorney general and the director of the FBI before opening a counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign, Attorney General William Barr said on Monday.
The determination, which Barr said was agreed to by FBI Director Christopher Wray, is one of the most influential changes to be proposed in the wake of a Justice Department inspector general report that faulted the FBI for its handling of certain investigative steps as it probed potential ties between the campaign of President Donald Trump and Russia beginning in 2016.
It is also certain to renew criticism that Barr has undermined the Justice Department’s independence and is injecting politics into a significant and sensitive decision-making process.
Barr has long been a skeptic of the FBI’s work and reasoning in the Russia investigation, and has said for months that counterintelligence investigations should be given stricter oversight.
When Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his report last month, Barr publicly disagreed with some of its findings, disputing Horowitz’s conclusion that the FBI had enough evidence to open a full investigation in the first place.
“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,” Barr said in a statement at the time.
According to the Horowitz report, the Justice Department was not notified of the opening of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation, codenamed “Crossfire Hurricane,” until two days after its launch.
It’s unclear how high up at the FBI approval was given to the opening of the investigation.
According to the Horowitz report, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told inspector general investigators that there had been unanimous agreement to open the investigation among top FBI brass, including then-Director James Comey, ahead of the launch. But Comey told investigators he had not been involved in the decision to open the case.
Barr told New York Magazine last year that sensitive decisions should be made by politically appointed leaders, like the attorney general, because they are more accountable to the American people through elections.
“Career people are just as capable of acting politically with a small p, and I think, at the end of the day, if you’re making a decision, it should be made by people who are accountable,” Barr told the magazine.
The FBI has undertaken a number of changes to its procedures in the wake of the report, including revising the way agents seek intrusive electronic surveillance warrants.