Attorney General Bill Barr was forced to correct a false claim he made on Wednesday that the FBI failed to give the Trump campaign a defensive briefing on the threat posed by Russia during the 2016 campaign.
Barr said Wednesday afternoon that during the morning session of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, he asserted that the Trump campaign did not receive a briefing in which then-candidate Trump was told that he was “a specific target.” Barr acknowledged that Trump received a “lesser” briefing about “general” threats.
The attorney general’s initial response played into a line of questioning from Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) during the Wednesday Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Cornyn accused the Obama administration of failing to do more to stop the Russian election meddling threat and claimed that the Justice Department and FBI “decided to place their bets on Hillary Clinton and focus their efforts on investigating the Trump campaign.” He then argued that Congress must now probe what the Obama administration did to put their “thumb on the scale” for Clinton.
The Republican senator then asked Barr whether the Trump campaign received a defensive briefing during the 2016 campaign on “what the Russians were trying to do and advise him to tell people affiliated with his campaign to be on their guard and be vigilant about Russian efforts to undermine public confidence in the election.”
“My understanding is that didn’t happen,” Barr said.
“I think under these circumstances, it’s one of the things I can’t fathom — why it did not happen,” Barr continued when asked by Cornyn if this would be an “extraordinary or notable failure.”
The FBI did give Trump and his campaign a defensive briefing in August 2016, as the Justice Department confirmed in an October 2017 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The briefing “focused on the broad range of threats posed by foreign intelligence agencies” and was also given to Clinton’s campaign, per the letter.
In the briefing, senior FBI officials warned Trump that foreign countries, like Russia, would try to infiltrate and spy on his campaign, according to a December 2017 NBC News report.