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 long-awaited 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 assertion 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. [Continue reading…]