During Bill Barr’s Tuesday confirmation hearings, several Republican senators seized on reports that the FBI opened a counterintelligence probe into President Trump last year to grill the attorney general nominee on anti-Trump bias at the bureau.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) were among the committee members who asked Barr about the New York Times’ weekend report revealing the existence of the Trump probe, pushing questions that furthered the narrative that the President was unfairly targeted by federal investigators.
“Would you promise me and this committee to look into this and tell us whether or not a counterintelligence investigation was opened up by somebody at the FBI or Department of Justice against President Trump?” Graham asked at the start of the hearing.
Barr said that he’d “never heard of” a situation like this, and that no authority outside the FBI could prevent the bureau from opening this kind of investigation.
“Well, we need to look at that,” Graham said. “In terms of people who are actually enforcing the law, don’t we want to make sure they don’t have an agenda?”
“That’s right, Mr. Chairman,” Barr said.
According to the Times, investigators sought to determine whether Trump “was knowingly working for Russia or had unwillingly fallen under Moscow’s influence” after the President abruptly ousted FBI Director James Comey for his oversight of the federal Russia investigation.
Later in the hearing, Hawley invoked the Times’ report on the “stomach-turning” probe into the President, claiming that the investigation was launched only because Trump’s unconventional foreign policy stances towards Russia.
“In your experience with the FBI, is it strange to have a counterintelligence investigation begun because members of that bureau disagree with the foreign policy stances of a candidate for president?” Hawley asked.
“Yes,” Barr replied.
Barr replied affirmatively to a subsequent Hawley question about whether he was concerned if FBI agents were “making decisions about when and how to launch an investigation of an elected official” and doing so “in order to avoid being supervised or directed by their agency leadership.”
Kennedy mentioned the Times story when asking about intelligence leaks from federal agencies.
“How did The New York Times get that information?” Kennedy asked.
When Barr said he didn’t know, Kennedy pressed him to address “the leaks coming out of the FBI and Department of Justice.”
Despite this Trump-friendly line of questioning, Barr’s hearing was relatively short on partisan grandstanding or pointless lines of inquiry.
Graham traveled the farthest down this road in his opening questions for Barr, which included a reading of much-discussed anti-Trump text messages exchanged between former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
Barr said he was “shocked” when he first heard of the messages.
“Please get to the bottom of it,” Graham urged. “I promise you, we will protect the investigation, but we are relying upon you to clean this place up.”