Barr Puts FBI On Blast And Accuses Obama Admin Of Spying In NBC Interview

Attorney General William Barr speaks at the International Conference on Cyber Security at Fordham University School of Law on July 23, 2019. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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December 10, 2019 3:29 p.m.

Going as far as accusing the FBI of possibly acting “in bad faith,” Attorney General Bill Barr on Tuesday doubled down on his rejection of the Justice Department inspector general’s finding that the FBI did not improperly launch its investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.

During an interview that seemed aimed at keeping President Donald Trump’s “deep state” conspiracy theories alive, Barr also accused the Obama administration of spying on Trump’s campaign. The interview came one day after a report by the Department of Justice Inspector General’s office debunked many of Trump’s claims of unfair treatment by the FBI.

“I think probably from a civil liberties standpoint, the greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government used the apparatus of the state, principally the law enforcement agencies and the intelligence agencies, both to spy on political opponents, but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election,” Barr told NBC News correspondent Pete Williams.

He also rejected inspector general Michael Horowitz’s conclusion that the FBI had sufficient evidence to open its investigation the 2016 election, and defended the Trump campaign’s repeated contacts with Russia as merely business as usual.

“We have to remember, in today’s world, presidential campaigns are frequently in contact with foreign persons,” Barr said. “And indeed, in most campaigns, there are signs of illegal foreign money coming in. And we don’t automatically assume that the campaigns are nefarious and traitors and acting in league with foreign powers.”

Barr brushed off Horowitz’s finding that the FBI’s probe was not motivated by political bias, arguing that Horowitz’s investigative methodology was weak and therefore “he hasn’t decided the issue of improper motive.”

“He starts with limited information,” Barr said. “He can only talk to people who are essentially there as employees. And he’s limited to the information generally in the FBI.”

The attorney general asserted that only after U.S. Attorney John Durham has completed his work can a judgement on the FBI’s motivations be made. Barr tapped Durham earlier this year to run a separate, criminal investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.

“I think right now it would be premature to make any judgment one way or the other,” he said.

And in any case, Barr argued, Horowitz’s report showed that the FBI had in fact acted improperly.

“The core statement in my opinion by the I.G. is that these irregularities, these misstatements, these omissions were not satisfactorily explained,” he told Williams. “And I think that leaves open the possibility to infer bad faith.”

When the reporter asked him to clarify whether he meant there was political or confirmation bias, Barr demurred.

“Well, I think there are a number of scenarios but I don’t want to, you know, get into them,” the attorney general said. “I think there could have been a lot of motivations involved and different motivations.”

“There could have been motivations in the FBI and motivations outside the FBI by other players in this,” he continued.

Barr then doubled down on his claim that the Trump campaign was “spied upon.”

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