With the Justice Department’s inspector general report on the origins of the Russia investigation expected to be released in a matter of days, reports of Attorney General Bill Barr’s disagreement with the independent probe’s findings have begun to trickle out. In particular, Barr has reportedly told colleagues at the DOJ that he is not convinced by Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s conclusion that the FBI had sufficient evidence during the 2016 presidential campaign to properly and lawfully open an investigation into Russian interference on July 31, 2016. The FBI probe was triggered by then–Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos’ comments that the Russians possessed hacked Hillary Clinton emails.
“The attorney general has privately contended that Horowitz does not have enough information to reach the conclusion the FBI had enough details in hand at the time to justify opening such a probe,” the Washington Post reports. “He argues that other U.S. agencies, such as the CIA, may hold significant information that could alter Horowitz’s conclusion on that point, according to the people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.” The inspector general operates independently of the attorney general, so Barr’s misgivings will not necessarily be reflected in the final draft of the internal review.
“It was not clear what Mr. Barr based his uncertainty on. The threshold to open the Russia investigation was not particularly high,” the New York Times notes. “The F.B.I. can open a preliminary inquiry based on ‘information or an allegation’ that a crime or threat to national security may have occurred or will occur, according to bureau policy. Typically, agents open counterintelligence investigations with a small amount of evidence, Lisa Page, a former F.B.I. lawyer who has also been a target of Mr. Trump’s ire, testified privately to congressional investigators last year.”
What we do know is that since taking over at the DOJ, Barr has taken an expansive and permissive view of the president’s executive authority to do just about whatever he pleases, and has also voiced skepticism of the rationale behind the FBI’s decision to open a probe into Russian approaches to the Trump campaign that ultimately led to the Mueller investigation and report. “Part of Barr’s reluctance to accept that finding is related to another investigation, one being conducted by the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, John Durham, into how intelligence agencies pursued allegations of Russian election tampering in 2016,” the Post notes. “Barr has traveled abroad to personally ask foreign officials to assist Durham in that work. Even as the inspector general’s review is ending, Durham’s investigation continues.”
It’s important to remember that the Trump World claim that everyone is biased against the president, and therefore nothing said against him is ever valid, is a foundational idea of the Trump presidency—and, more importantly, the Trump 2020 campaign. If there was no conspiracy, there is no justification to continue Barr’s personal push to investigate the investigators that has manifested itself in the simultaneous Durham investigation. The inspector general report, according to the Times, is “expected to sharply criticize the F.B.I.’s top leaders” but ultimately conclude that “the F.B.I. violated no rules.” That, however, is an unacceptable conclusion to Trump, who, more than ever, needs the Durham investigation to continue to make the FBI seem nefarious and all investigations unserious and untrustworthy.