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AG Barr Addresses ‘Obamagate,’ Says He Doesn’t Expect Durham to Criminally Investigate Obama or Biden

After a Monday press conference that largely consisted of Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray criticizing Apple for refusing to assist federal law enforcement in unlocking the Naval Air Station Pensacola terrorist’s phone, Barr took questions. Pete Williams of NBC News went there with his second question, asking the attorney general to comment on Obamagate.

The major headline here is that Barr, based on what he knows at this moment, doesn’t expect John Durham‘s criminal investigation of the origins of the Russia probe will yield criminal investigations of either former President Barack Obama or former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Barr, whose department recently moved to dismiss the criminal case against former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, said that he would not allow the criminal justice system to be used for “partisan political ends.”

“This is especially true for the upcoming elections in November,” Barr said, adding that it is “critical” that we have a 2020 election in which the American people have a chance to vote based on “robust” policy debate — not criminal debate.

“Any effort to pursue an investigation of either candidate has to be approved by me,” Barr noted. In January, Barr said that the FBI, heading forward, would have to get approval from him before “opening of a counterintelligence investigation of a presidential campaign.”

That announcement came just over a month after the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its report on the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Inspector General Michael Horowitz did say that he was “concerned […] that Department and FBI policies do not require that a senior Department official be notified prior to the opening of a particularly sensitive case such as this one.”

On Monday, Barr called the Russia probe of then-candidate Donald Trump and his associates a “grave injustice, unprecedented in American history.”

It was based on a “false and utterly baseless, Russian collusion narrative,” he said, railing against “two different standards of justice.”

“We can’t allow this to ever happen again,” he said. As for the current and forthcoming status of the Durham probe? “I have a general idea of how Mr. Durham’s investigation is going,” Barr said.

Barr said that Durham is, indeed, investigating whether federal laws were broken. If so, Barr said, those responsible will be held accountable. But he doesn’t expect that there will be probes of Obama and Biden.

President Trump has accused Obama, without evidence or elaboration, of committing a crime.

“I don’t expect Mr. Durham’s work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man,” Barr said of Obama and Biden. He said Durham’s criminal investigation is focused on others.

Barr also said that this would not be a “tit for tat exercise.” He said that ensuring a “single and proper standard of justice for everybody” is the goal.

Notably, Barr mentioned the recent Supreme Court Bridgegate decision, which highlighted the differences between an abuse of power and a federal crime. Although Bridgegate was certainly corrupt, it didn’t satisfy the elements of federal criminal bribery, the Supreme Court ruled.

Barr used the case to note the difference between something that he believes can be cured through a criminal trial and something that voters need to handle at the polls.

[Image via DOJ screengrab]

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Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.