One day after the Justice Department’s inspector general released a report that concluded the FBI was justified in opening an investigation into Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign’s ties to the Russian government, Attorney General William Barr sharply contradicted that conclusion.
“I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press,” Barr said in an interview with NBC News. “I think there were gross abuses … and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.”
Barr went on to say the probe that would morph into special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation may have been started in “bad faith.”
Asked whether, after reading Michael Horowitz’s findings in the IG report, he still believed the Trump campaign was spied upon, Barr was resolute.
“It was clearly spied upon. I mean, that’s what electronic surveillance is,” he said in reference to a FISA warrant obtained by FBI agents to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
Under pressure from Trump, who has long railed against the FBI investigation into his 2016 campaign, Barr tasked Horowitz to look into how the Russia probe began. While citing numerous mistakes in how the investigation was carried out, Horowitz concluded that the FBI acted without political bias when it opened its inquiry.
Just as he did after Mueller submitted his report in March, Barr came to Trump’s defense when Horowitz’s findings were made public Monday. Barr absolved Trump of any wrongdoing and put the blame for what he called a “baseless” investigation on former President Barack Obama’s administration.
“From a civil liberties standpoint, the greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government use the apparatus of the state … both to spy on political opponents but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of an election,” Barr said.
Mueller’s investigation resulted in the indictment of 34 people, many of them Trump campaign aides, and three Russian businesses. One of the aides was Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who was found guilty of filing false income tax returns, failure to file reports of foreign bank accounts and bank fraud. He also pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy against the United States and witness tampering and is currently serving a sentence of 81 months in federal prison.
While Mueller’s report did not conclude that members of Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign, it did document “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”
For Barr, that evidence fell short of justifying the start of the probe.
“There was and never has been any evidence of collusion, and yet this campaign and the president’s administration has been dominated by this investigation into what turns out to be completely baseless,” he told NBC News.
Trump faces the prospect of impeachment over what Democrats allege was his attempt to obtain foreign help from Ukraine to influence the outcome of his 2020 reelection campaign.
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