Attorney General William Barr returned to Congress for a second day of hearings this morning — this time in front of the Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee — and again the questioning veered far from the Justice Department budget and straight into the Mueller report and the investigations that preceded it.
If there were any doubts that Barr — who was chosen by Trump to replace former AG Jeff Sessions after he wrote an unsolicited letter to the president outlining his views on the impossibility of charging the nation’s chief executive with obstruction of justice — was dedicated to doing everything in his power to protect Trump, his comments at today’s hearing obliterated them.
Most notably, Barr has now apparently decided to lend credence to the accusations made by the president and echoed by his most servile sycophants in Congress that American intelligence agencies illegally spied on his campaign during the 2016 elections.
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The Attorney General was asked about a statement he made yesterday that he would investigate the circumstances surrounding the initiation of the FBI counterintelligence investigation seeking to discover the interactions between Russia and the Trump campaign.
His reply raised concerns that Barr was placting the president by taking the politically defensive conspiracy allegations promoted by Fox News and extreme right-wing GOP toadies like Rep.David Nunes (R-CA), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) more seriously than the collusion and obstruction questions that Mueller investigated.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It’s a big deal,” Barr told the committee.
Referring to Justice Department rules intended to prohibit domestic surveillance of political figures, Barr said:
“I’m not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it’s important to look at that. I’m not talking about the FBI necessarily but intelligence agencies more broadly.”
Taken aback by the Attorney General’s statement, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) exclaimed: “You’re not suggesting that spying occurred?”
“I think spying did occur, yes, I think spying did occur,” Barr replied.
“I need to explore that. . . . I want to say that I am reviewing this. I haven’t set up a team yet,” Barr added. “I also want to make clear this is not launching an investigation of the FBI. Frankly, to the extent that there were any issues at the FBI, I do not view it as a problem that’s endemic to the FBI. I think there was probably a failure among a group of leaders there in the upper echelon.”
“I believe there is a basis for my concern, but I’m not going to discuss the basis for my concern,” said Barr. “I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I am saying I am concerned about it, and I am looking into it. That is all.”
Barr appears to be contradicting himself or at least making a fine distinction between the “spying” he thinks occurred and the “improper surveillance” that he denies alleging. More importantly, his comments suggest that he appears to be setting the stage for an investigation that could lead to the prosecution of senior former FBI leaders whom Trump has already ousted, such as former FBI Director James Comey and former Acting Director Andrew McCabe among others.
The Attorney General also opened himself up to accusations of lying to Congress by asking why Trump wasn’t briefed about possible attempts by foreign agents to influence his campaign when it’s been widely reported that the then candidate was informed about this possibility by FBI counterintelligence specialists shortly after he won the Republican nomination in the summer of 2016.
Barr said one of his questions is why Trump wasn’t briefed that his campaign could be the target of foreign influence ops.
NBC reported in December 2017 that Trump was warned about this in 2016:https://t.co/kCqew5pBuD
— Andrew Desiderio (@desiderioDC) April 10, 2019
Former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance pointed out the fault in Barr’s implied accusations against the integrity of the intelligence operations.
Barr is concerned the Trump campaign wasn’t briefed. Leaving aside the fact FBI did brief on the threat of Russian interference, Barr should be troubled that the campaign never picked up the phone & told the FBI about any, let alone all, of the outreach it had from Russians.
— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) April 10, 2019
Two other tidbits of information came out of Barr’s testimony in the Senate today. One is that the redactions in the Mueller report he intends to make public next week will be color-coded to indicate the reasons for the redactions.
The other is that the Attorney General does not plan to request that a judge authorize the release of material from the grand jury in the Mueller investigation — as had been done in the Watergate investigation and in the Starr report on the Bill Clinton impeachment — and that he does not intend to claim executive privilege to refuse to release any portions of the report.
It will be difficult to understand the implications of these last two revelations until the redacted report is released next week. Until then we’ll be hanging onto our seats in anticipation if a bumpy ride.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.