Jurisprudence

Bill Barr Has Started Lying About the Long-Awaited Inspector General Report

William Barr pursing his lips and holding his hands together in a way that makes him look particularly sinister.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks about the Justice Department’s Russia investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign, during the Wall Street Journal’s annual CEO Council meeting, at the Four Seasons Hotel on December 10, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

It’s becoming hard to find new ways to describe the depths to which Attorney General William Barr will sink to warp truth and the work of his own Justice Department to advance President Donald Trump’s interests. Barr distorted the findings of the Mueller probe before he would release it, gave a press conference defending Trump’s actions upon releasing Mueller’s damning actual findings, used his DOJ to block the release of evidence and testimony related to Trump’s wrongdoing with no legitimate justification, and refused to comply with congressional subpoenas in contempt of Congress. This week, Barr outright lied about the monthslong investigation that produced a 434-page report into the opening of the FBI’s probe of links between Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government.

On Monday, the Justice Department’s inspector general announced in no uncertain terms that there was no conspiracy to derail Trump’s campaign in the opening of the “Crossfire Hurricane” counterintelligence investigation of Trump’s campaign links to Russia. “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions,” the IG report concluded, to open the investigations into four Trump campaign figures. Those investigations ultimately resulted in guilty pleas by three of those figures for a series of crimes related to their interactions with Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians.

In an interview with NBC News published on Tuesday, Barr claimed that Inspector General Michael Horowitz had not reached the conclusion Horowitz said he reached.

“All he said was, people gave me an explanation and I didn’t find anything to contradict it. … He hasn’t decided the issue of improper motive,” Barr said. “I think we have to wait until the full investigation is done.”

Barr went further, claiming again—this time in direct contradiction to the evidence—that the previous administration might have unlawfully spied on President Barack Obama’s political rival, Trump. “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,” he told NBC News.

Again, Horowitz’s report reached the opposite conclusion after his investigation “sought to determine whether there was evidence that political bias or other improper considerations affected decision-making in Crossfire Hurricane, including the decision to open the investigation.”

Barr has been going beyond damage control for Trump, though, by actively trying to produce false narratives out of thin air. The “full investigation” he referenced is a separate probe currently being conducted by a hand-picked investigator, John Durham, who on Monday said that he also didn’t agree with Horowitz’s findings.

“Last month, we advised the inspector general that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened,” Durham said.

Last week, though, the Washington Post reported that Horowitz had given Durham the opportunity to back up some of the president’s more outlandish claims that the FBI had improperly spied on his campaign, which have been repeated by the attorney general. According to the Post, Durham could not provide evidence to back up this theory.

This is all very much in line with how Barr treats his department—as a personal law firm for Trump. In addition to defying Congress on the Mueller probe and distorting that investigation’s findings, his DOJ has carried water for the president in cases where Trump was acting in his personal capacity. When Congress sued an accounting firm to access Trump’s financial documents as part of its regular oversight and Trump personally sued, the DOJ stepped in to lend a helpful amicus brief. While Barr has done his best to avoid direct involvement in Trump’s efforts to compel Ukraine to provide dirt on Joe Biden, he has still helped cover Trump’s tracks in the Ukraine affair. Barr’s DOJ refused to investigate the initial whistleblower allegations against Trump, which may have produced evidence of campaign finance violations or outright bribery. He has also backed the president in Trump’s campaign to outright obstruct the impeachment inquiry as the White House has refused to comply with a single subpoena for documents or testimony. It’s no surprise he would now lie about the Horowitz report, but it is still a new low.

The inspector general’s investigation did not by any means find that the FBI had performed flawlessly in the Russia inquiry. Horowitz found 17 errors in the application process for FISA surveillance of former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page and that one FBI attorney had added a note to a single email used in the investigation that altered its meaning. But focusing on these low-level mistakes—and one possible minor abuse—would not validate Trump’s yearslong campaign to discredit U.S. intelligence services, and so Barr will go further.

Horowitz’s investigation, meanwhile, was comprehensive with the IG’s office having interviewed more than 100 witnesses, including the most senior officials in Barack Obama’s Department of Justice, such as former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and former FBI Director James Comey. All of the witnesses told roughly the same story. As the report describes the actions of the FBI’s top counterintelligence official, Bill Priestap, who made the decision to open the investigation:

Priestap said that he did not recall any disagreement about the decision to open Crossfire Hurricane, and told us that he was not pressured to open the case. 

In the entirety of Horowitz’s more than 170 interviews and review of “more than one million documents that were in the Department’s and FBI’s possession,” he found nothing to contradict the claim of Priestap and every other witness.

Even Fox News was able to acknowledge this reality, with Chris Wallace reporting “the headline is that they didn’t find the things that Bill Barr and Donald Trump alleged.”