Attorney General William Barr was widely accused of lying, dishonesty and being an all around hack for President Donald Trump on Monday afternoon over his reaction to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Officer of Inspector General (OIG) report on alleged abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) leading up to the Russiagate investigation started by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
“The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” Barr said in a statement minutes after the report was published. “It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory.”
But that’s not really what the OIG report concludes at all.
The report authored by Inspector General Michael Horowitz makes the following assessment of the Russia investigation’s foundation:
We concluded that [then Counterintelligence Division Assistant Director E.W. “Bill“] Priestap’s exercise of discretion in opening the investigation was in compliance with Department and FBI policies, and we did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced his decision. While the information in the FBI’s possession at the time was limited, in light of the low threshold established by Department and FBI predication policy, we found that Crossfire Hurricane was opened for an authorized investigative purpose and with sufficient factual predication.
“We did not find any documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to conduct these operations,” the report notes later–contradicting Barr’s claim that spying occurred. “Additionally, we found no evidence that the FBI attempted to place any [confidential human sources (CHSs)] within the Trump campaign, recruit members of the Trump campaign as CHSs, or task CHSs to report on the Trump campaign.”
Barr’s reality-deficient statement and theories were quickly and thoroughly lambasted by observers across the spectrum.
“I thought it was legitimately impossible for Trump to pick a worse AG than Jeff Sessions but Barr is every bit as punitive and even more of a compulsive liar,” said left-wing writer Paul Blest.
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace also took issue with Barr’s narrative:
Chris Wallace on Fox News on the DOJ IG report: “The headline is that they didn’t find the things that Bill Barr and Donald Trump alleged.” pic.twitter.com/bWVoJmLxp6
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) December 9, 2019
“The headline here is that he basically found the FBI conducted the investigation…on a proper legal basis,” Wallace summed up.
“For a prosecutor, in this case the chief prosecutor of our judicial system, to use a word like exculpatory is significant,” added journalist Shimon Prokupecz, in a cautious exercise of dubiousness.
University of California Irvine Law Professor Rick Hasen was a bit more blunt.
“Remember,” Hasen advised, “Barr is a partisan hack.”
“Once again Barr disagrees with a central finding of a lengthy investigation by a respected official,” noted former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, in reference to Barr’s similarly inaccurate categorization of the report authored by former special counsel Robert Mueller. “Last time, he delayed release of the report and misrepresented his findings. This time, it’s easy to see this for what it is—Barr’s politically motivated spin.”
In line with Barr’s statement, the attorney general’s hand-picked prosecutor John Durham took the opportunity to air his own grievances with the Horowitz report’s conclusions–setting up an internecine dispute and fodder for ever more conspiracy theories as to what actually occurred among the FBI’s ranks before the agency committed to an investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Durham’s Barr-like doubts also set him up for scorn:
what is up at the Department of Justice?? This is the natural upshot of Barr’s ordering up multiple investigations. https://t.co/uaqYotvoOL
— Harry Litman (@harrylitman) December 9, 2019
“It doesn’t speak well of Durham–who, recall, closed the CIA investigations [without] public explanation–that he agreed to put out this conclusory p.r. release today,” noted Georgetown Law Professor Mary Lederman–referencing Durham’s prior coverup of CIA torture on behalf of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “He should let his work speak for itself–but now, in contrast to Horowitz, he’s made himself look like a Barr stooge.”
And the slams on Barr kept rolling in:
Why, you’d almost think Barr had done something like this before, with the Mueller Report. Still confused why he’s not in prison yet. https://t.co/Bo53UOIIcq
— Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman) December 9, 2019
In addition to playing clean up for Trump, Barr is also making perfectly clear he will never authorize a criminal investigation of the president. Trump has a free pass for criminality as long as Barr is AG. https://t.co/E78B3msM0y
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) December 9, 2019
This is so wildly inappropriate for Barr to say. This is his political spin – which is not his job- not findings of fact or conclusions of a trustworthy investigation. https://t.co/DxTxiDHx3D
— Mimi Rocah (@Mimirocah1) December 9, 2019
The rules for when the FBI can open an investigation, how much evidence is needed, and what techniques can be used are…the Attorney General Guidelines!
If Barr was genuinely concerned (he’s not!) he could issue new guidelines. https://t.co/aXCX5dhzzO
— Chip Gibbons (@ChipGibbons89) December 9, 2019
Aside from the opprobrium and outrage, Barr’s factually incorrect summary of the OIG report also prompted calls for his ouster.
Non-partisan government accountability watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington took the opportunity to re-circulate an old petition calling on Barr to resign.
Sign the petition: Attorney General Barr must resign. https://t.co/pHMYCSv1S0
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) December 9, 2019
“Attorney General Barr has consistently sought to further the President’s political interests, rather than justice in America or the department he leads, so his splitting from the IG to argue that his department’s investigation was off base is unfortunate, but not surprising,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “Both parties should be committed to improving the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process and addressing the management and procedural issues the IG raised, but none of that should be used to attack a justified and successful investigation into Russian interference.”
[image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]