Barr noted that the long-awaited report found that FBI officials were unable to provide good explanations for many decisions, including numerous inaccuracies and omissions in surveillance requests for Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser.
“That leaves open the possibility to infer bad faith,” the attorney general said. “I think it’s premature now to reach a judgment on that. There could have been a lot of motivations involved — and different motivations.”
Barr’s stance puts him starkly at odds with FBI Director Christopher Wray, who said on Monday he didn’t believe that improper motivations played any role in the bureau’s actions in the Trump-Russia investigation. That prompted a tweet from President Donald Trump on Tuesday that skewered Wray and said the director “will never be able to fix the FBI.”
Barr played down those public disagreements, saying that Wray had embarked on aggressive reforms, particularly to a slew of problems Horowitz identified with the bureau’s process for handling Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications.
However, the attorney general lashed out at former FBI leaders and at the media for indulging theories about collaboration between Russia and the Trump campaign even after contradictory evidence emerged.
“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 an irresponsible press,” Barr said. “I think there were gross abuses of FISA and inexplicable behavior.”
The attorney general said he was deeply troubled that the FBI continued to press on with its theory about the Trump campaign and told judges that the basis for the investigation was growing stronger, when it was actually eroding.
“There was not one incriminatory bit of evidence to come in. It was all exculpatory,” Barr said. He said he was particularly troubled that the FBI never alerted the Trump campaign to the concerns, even as U.S. officials as high-ranking as President Barack Obama warned Russia to back off.
Trump critics have noted that Page had disaffiliated with the campaign before the surveillance of him began in October 2016, but Barr said the FBI took a deep dive into his email accounts, looking at messages back to the period when he was more actively working with Trump’s aides.
“They went through everything from Carter Page’s life,” the attorney general said. “They were covering the period that he was in the campaign, and that’s exactly the reason they went for the FISA to get that stuff.”
Barr said that questions the inspector general was unable to resolve about the Russia probe were now being examined by the career prosecutor he tapped to look into those issues, U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut.
“That’s why we have Durham,” the attorney general said in another appearance later Tuesday at a Wall Street Journal conference in Washington.
Barr also defended Durham’s decision to issue a highly unusual statement on Monday saying he’d obtained some unspecified evidence that cast doubt on Horowitz’s conclusion that the investigation had an adequate basis.
“I think it was definitely appropriate,” the attorney general told NBC. “I think it was necessary to avoid public confusion.”
Barr demurred when asked by The Journal about the newly announced, proposed articles of impeachment against Trump, but did say that raising plausible claims of privilege shouldn’t be a basis for impeachment.
The attorney general also said he was thankful he never delved into the Ukraine-related issues that have animated the impeachment drive.
“I was smart enough not to get involved in the Ukraine. … That hadn’t reached the top of my to-do list yet,” Barr said, also taking care to distance himself from Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Trump private lawyer who seems to have been Trump’s point man on the issue. “I’ve had no dealings with Ukraine. I’ve had no dealings with Rudy Giuliani about Ukraine.”