Attorney General William Barr is said to have stirred behind-the-scenes turmoil at the Justice Department by telling associates that he disagrees with a key finding in a draft report on Russia and the 2016 presidential election.
The report, due out next week, is being prepared by the department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, who reportedly contends “that the FBI had enough information in July 2016 to justify launching an investigation into members of the Trump campaign,” the Washington Post reported late Monday, citing “people familiar with the matter.”
“The discord [in the Justice Department] could be the prelude to a major fissure within federal law enforcement on the controversial question of investigating a presidential campaign,” the Post says.
President Trump, in London for a NATO summit, was quick to respond, claiming that Barr was “misquoted” in the Post story.
“I think he was quoted incorrectly. I do believe that because I’m hearing the report is very powerful,” Trump told reporters, adding that he’s heard “there’s a lot of devastating things” in Horowitz’s draft.
Trump insisted he does not have “inside information” about the matter and can only wait to learn what’s in the report when it is released, but added that he’ll be “disappointed” if the Post report is accurate.
Barr’s reported doubts about the Horowitz report “are significant because they could be perceived as the nation’s top law enforcement officer siding with Mr. Trump, who has long cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Russia investigation, over law enforcement officials,” says the New York Times.
The Post says the prospect that Barr may suggest that the FBI “may have wrongly opened an investigation into a presidential campaign, even after the inspector general announces the agency was justified in doing so, will probably generate more partisan battles over how the Justice Department and the FBI operate.”
Ironically, Trump “has spent months hyping the inspector general’s report … [and] has said that it will validate his long-held but unsubstantiated claim that his campaign was improperly spied on and targeted by high-ranking Obama administration officials,” says The Hill.
The Times notes that Barr’s skeptical take on the FBI’s investigation “could place more pressure on John H. Durham — the federal prosecutor [in Connecticut] who is conducting a separate criminal inquiry into the roots of the Russia investigation — to find evidence backing Mr. Barr’s position.”
Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, issued a statement praising the inspector general’s investigation as “a credit to the Department of Justice,” adding that Horowitz’s “excellent work has uncovered significant information that the American people will soon be able to read for themselves.”
“Rather than speculating,” Kupec writes, “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.”
“People familiar with the draft language of Horowitz’s report said that while it is critical of some FBI employees, and found some systemic problems in surveillance procedures, it overall does not agree with Trump’s charge that the investigation was a ‘witch hunt’ or a politically motivated attack on him first as a candidate and then as president,” the Post says.