Barr said to dis­pute key find­ing that backs FBI


At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam P. Barr has told as­so­ciates he dis­agrees with the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral on one of the key find­ings in an up­com­ing re­port — that the FBI had enough in­for­ma­tion in July 2016 to jus­tify launch­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into mem­bers of the Trump cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the matter.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral, Michael Horowitz, is due to re­lease his lon­gawaited find­ings in a week, but be­hind the scenes at the Jus­tice Depart­ment, dis­agree­ment has sur­faced about one of Horowitz’s cen­tral con­clu­sions on the ori­gins of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The dis­cord could be the pre­lude to a ma­jor fis­sure within fed­eral law en­force­ment on the con­tro­ver­sial ques­tion of in­ves­ti­gat­ing a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Barr has not been swayed by Horowitz’s ra­tio­nale for con­clud­ing that the FBI had suf­fi­cient ba­sis to open an in­ves­ti­ga­tion on July 31, 2016, these peo­ple said.

Barr’s public de­fenses of Pres­i­dent Trump, in­clud­ing his asser

tion that in­tel­li­gence agents spied on the Trump cam­paign, have led Democrats to ac­cuse him of act­ing like the pres­i­dent’s per­sonal at­tor­ney and erod­ing the in­de­pen­dence of the Jus­tice Depart­ment. But Trump and his Repub­li­can al­lies have cheered Barr’s skep­ti­cism of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

It’s not yet clear how Barr plans to make his ob­jec­tion to Horowitz’s con­clu­sion known. The in­spec­tor gen­eral re­port, cur­rently in draft form, is be­ing fi­nal­ized af­ter in­put from var­i­ous wit­nesses and of­fices that were scru­ti­nized by the in­spec­tor gen­eral. Barr or a se­nior Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial could sub­mit a for­mal let­ter as part of that process, which would then be in­cluded in the fi­nal re­port. It is stan­dard prac­tice for ev­ery in­spec­tor gen­eral re­port to in­clude a writ­ten re­sponse from the depart­ment. Barr could forgo a writ­ten re­but­tal on that spe­cific point and just pub­licly state his con­cerns.

Spokes­peo­ple for the in­spec­tor gen­eral and the FBI de­clined to com­ment.

Jus­tice Depart­ment spokes­woman Kerri Ku­pec said in a state­ment that the in­spec­tor gen­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion “is a credit to the Depart­ment of Jus­tice. His ex­cel­lent work has un­cov­ered sig­nif­i­cant in­for­ma­tion that the Amer­i­can peo­ple will soon be able to read for them­selves. Rather than spec­u­lat­ing, peo­ple should read the re­port for them­selves next week, watch the In­spec­tor Gen­eral’s tes­ti­mony be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, and draw their own con­clu­sions about these im­por­tant mat­ters.”

The Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion was opened af­ter the FBI was told of state­ments made by a then Trump cam­paign aide, George Pa­padopou­los, that the Rus­sians pos­sessed hacked Hil­lary Clin­ton emails. Pa­padopou­los’s al­leged com­ments were key be­cause they were made well be­fore any public al­le­ga­tion that Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives had hacked the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

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. 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.

Barr has also praised the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s over­all work on the matter, ac­cord­ing to one per­son fa­mil­iar with the matter. The in­spec­tor gen­eral op­er­ates in­de­pen­dently of Jus­tice Depart­ment lead­er­ship, so Barr can­not or­der Horowitz to change his find­ings.

But the prospect of the na­tion’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial sug­gest­ing the FBI may have wrongly opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, even af­ter the in­spec­tor gen­eral an­nounces the agency was jus­ti­fied in do­ing so, will prob­a­bly gen­er­ate more par­ti­san bat­tles over how the Jus­tice Depart­ment and the FBI op­er­ate.

It is not un­usual for an at­tor­ney gen­eral or the Jus­tice Depart­ment to dis­agree with some of an in­spec­tor gen­eral’s find­ings. How­ever, typ­i­cally those dis­agree­ments oc­cur be­cause se­nior lead­ers at the depart­ment be­lieve the in­spec­tor gen­eral has been too crit­i­cal. In this case, Barr has con­veyed to oth­ers his be­lief that Horowitz has not been crit­i­cal enough, or is at least reach­ing a con­clu­sion pre­ma­turely.

Peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the draft lan­guage of Horowitz’s re­port said that while it is crit­i­cal of some FBI em­ploy­ees, and found some sys­temic prob­lems in sur­veil­lance pro­ce­dures, it over­all does not agree with Trump’s charge that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was a “witch hunt” or a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated at­tack on him first as a can­di­date and then as pres­i­dent.

In­stead, the draft re­port found that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was opened on a solid le­gal and fac­tual foot­ing, these peo­ple said.

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. 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.

Barr’s dis­agree­ment with Horowitz will prob­a­bly spark fur­ther crit­i­cism from Democrats, who have al­ready ac­cused Barr of us­ing his po­si­tion to pro­tect the pres­i­dent and un­der­mine fed­eral law en­force­ment.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) charged in Septem­ber that Barr had “gone rogue.”

In re­cent weeks, Democrats have charged that Barr’s Jus­tice Depart­ment was too quick to de­cide not to in­ves­ti­gate Trump over his ef­forts to per­suade Ukraine’s pres­i­dent, Volodymyr Ze­len­sky, to an­nounce an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den. The Ukraine con­tro­versy has led to an im­peach­ment in­quiry.

Crit­i­cism of Barr pre­vi­ously cen­tered on his han­dling of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The case that be­gan in 2016 was taken over in May 2017 by spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III. Af­ter a nearly two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Mueller filed a lengthy re­port of his find­ings to Barr, by which point he had charged 34 peo­ple with crimes, in­clud­ing 26 Rus­sian na­tion­als. Those charged and con­victed in­cluded Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man, for­mer per­sonal at­tor­ney, for­mer deputy cam­paign chair­man and for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser.

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing the Mueller re­port, Barr re­leased a short let­ter sum­ming up its main points, in­clud­ing that there was in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to ac­cuse any Trump as­so­ciates of con­spir­ing with the Rus­sians. Barr also said Mueller had made no de­ter­mi­na­tion about whether Trump had sought to ob­struct the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but Barr and his then deputy con­cluded he had not.

When the full re­port was re­leased, Democrats protested that Barr had im­prop­erly skewed the find­ings to be more fa­vor­able to Trump. Barr has dis­missed such crit­i­cism, and charged it is Democrats who are abus­ing le­gal pro­ce­dures and stan­dards in their quest to drive Trump out of the White House.

“In wag­ing a scorched-earth, no-holds-barred war against this ad­min­is­tra­tion, it is the left that is en­gaged in shred­ding norms and un­der­min­ing the rule of law,” Barr said in a speech last month.

In his first months on the job this year, Barr made clear he had se­ri­ous con­cerns about how the FBI had con­ducted the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble col­lu­sion be­tween Trump as­so­ciates and Rus­sia.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral de­clared in April that the Trump cam­paign was spied on, though aides later said he used that term not in a pe­jo­ra­tive sense but in the more gen­eral mean­ing of sur­veil­lance.

“I think spy­ing on a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign is a big deal,” Barr told law­mak­ers. “I think spy­ing did oc­cur, but the ques­tion is whether it was ad­e­quately pred­i­cated and I’m not sug­gest­ing it wasn’t ad­e­quately pred­i­cated, but I need to ex­plore that.” He also crit­i­cized for­mer lead­ers of the FBI, say­ing, “I think there was prob­a­bly a fail­ure among a group of lead­ers there in the up­per ech­e­lon.”

Cur­rent and for­mer law en­force­ment of­fi­cials have said that, when pre­sented with in­for­ma­tion about a pos­si­ble plot to un­der­mine the U.S. elec­tion, they had a duty to in­ves­ti­gate, and that it would have been wrong not to have launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

In the months since, Barr, through Durham, has pur­sued in­for­ma­tion re­lated to a one­time as­so­ciate of Pa­padopou­los, a Euro­pean aca­demic named Joseph Mif­sud.

Mif­sud was pub­licly linked to Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence ef­forts in late 2017, when Mueller re­vealed Pa­padopou­los had pleaded guilty to ly­ing to the FBI about the de­tails of his in­ter­ac­tions with Mif­sud.

Shortly af­ter his name sur­faced pub­licly, Mif­sud told Ital­ian me­dia he did not work for Rus­sia. “I never got any money from the Rus­sians: my con­science is clear,” Mif­sud told La Repub­blica. “I am not a se­cret agent.”

Since then, the pro­fes­sor has dis­ap­peared from public life, lead­ing to a host of the­o­ries about him and his where­abouts. While court pa­pers filed in Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion sug­gested Mif­sud op­er­ated in Rus­sia’s in­ter­ests, Pa­padopou­los, con­ser­va­tives and con­spir­acy the­o­rists have sug­gested he was work­ing for Western in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

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