U.S. Attorney General William Barr listens to concerns raised about public safety in rural Alaska during at a roundtable discussion at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium on Wednesday, May 29, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska. Barr did not take questions from reporters in his first public appearance after former special prosecutor Robert Mueller spoke to reporters after resigning at the completion of his report into Russian interference into the 2016 election. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
If you happened to watch former FBI Director James Comey’s interview last Sunday with Chris Wallace, you may recall that Comey tried to distance himself from the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign. He also attributed the mistakes and omissions during the FISA Court application process to “sloppiness” and claimed he “didn’t know the particulars of the investigation.”
Attorney General William Barr responded to these remarks (spoiler – he debunked them) and much more during a wide-ranging interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum. The first half of their discussion was aired on Thursday night and the rest will be aired on Friday.
Right out of the gate, MacCallum asked Barr if he was surprised that Comey is so convinced that all of this was completely above board. He responded, “I think the IG report and the recent letter from the FISA Court pulls the rug out from under that analysis. There was serious misconduct as the court itself has said.”
Barr referred to Horowitz’ testimony. Last week, Horowitz had said “on the one hand, the mistakes could at the very least be gross incompetence, on the other hand, it could also be improper motive…that’s why we have John Durham looking into this.”
MacCallum asked Barr to respond to Comey’s remarks. Barr explained, “Some of them [the errors and omissions] were very hard to square with mistakes and sloppiness. A number of these episodes leave open the possibilities of inferring bad faith or improper motive…I’ve reached no determination on that, nor do I think a final determination is appropriate until all the evidence is in.”
Barr takes issue with Comey trying to wrap himself “inside the institution” of the FBI and emphasizes that it’s the conduct of a few individuals at the top who are being questioned, they are not attacking the FBI as an organization.
MacCallum played a clip from the Wallace interview where Comey is criticizing Barr’s comments following the release of the IG report. Comey said, “He does not have a factual basis as the Attorney General to be speculating that agents acted in bad faith. The facts just aren’t there. Full Stop. That doesn’t make it any less consequential, any less important, but that’s an irresponsible statement.”
Barr replied that he’d made effectively and substantively the same statement the IG had made, that the serious misconduct couldn’t be easily explained away. “As he [the IG] said, it could involve bad motive and he was not in a position given the limited scope he has of making that final determination. So it’s not speculation. I think there are episodes there that simply cannot be squared with innocent mistakes.”
She then played a clip of Comey trying to distance himself from the investigation. Comey told Wallace, “As a director sitting on top of an organization with 38,000 people, you can’t run an investigation that’s seven layers below you. You have to leave it to the career professionals to do…If a director tries to run an investigation, it can get mucked up in other kinds of ways given his or her responsibilities and the impossibility of reaching the work being done at the lower levels.”
MacCallum asked Barr, “Do you believe that?”
In his signature forthright manner, which I find both amusing and endearing, he said, “No.”
Barr explained, “One of the problems with what happened was precisely that they pulled the investigation up to the executive floors, and it was run and birddogged by a very small group of very high-level officials. The idea that this was seven layers below him is simply not true.”
In early 2017, according to President Trump, Comey told him three times that he was not the target of the investigation. She asked Barr if it was possible that Trump wasn’t under investigation. Barr said that “effectively, the President was being investigated. They were investigating the Trump campaign and Trump associates.”
Barr indicated that he was especially concerned with the FBI’s actions after the election when “they learned that their whole case had collapsed, and they really had no basis to take it further.”
They discussed the future of the FISA Court. Barr spoke positively about the reforms Christopher Wray will be implementing. Barr opposes abolishing the Court because it provides critical tools to law enforcement.
For obvious reasons, Barr offered very little information about the Durham investigation other than to say he is not involved in the day-to-day activities, he hasn’t given Durham a timeline and that it will be “quite a few months” before the investigation is complete.
MacCallum pivoted to the origins of the investigation, and the accuracy of statements made by George Papadopoulos and Carter Page which he obviously wasn’t able to talk about in an interview. He did say they are looking into the pre-July 2016 period and they have several questions, one being, “Was in fact the comment by Papadopoulos the real predication or was it a pretext for a pre-existing desire to take a look at the Trump campaign?
Interesting, Barr said, “By the time the President entered office, it was becoming clear that there was no basis to these allegations. Not just the dossier falling apart, but the information that they were relying on as to Page and to Papadopoulos.”
Finally, she asked Barr what he would have done in 2016 if he were the FBI Director, given the information about Page and Papadopoulos. And this is something I have never heard before and it’s possible Barr was simply being generous. Here’s what he had to say:
Well, as I read the Horowitz report, the three reactions from Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and President Obama appear to have been, ‘well, shouldn’t we give him a defensive briefing?’ I think that would be the natural impulse for anybody who was interested in getting to the bottom of things quickly and was skeptical of any notion that President Trump’s campaign was in cahoots with the Russians and also was concerned about protecting the election. If you’re interested in protecting the election, you give a defensive briefing.
MacCallum asks “Why do you think they didn’t do that?”
Barr smiles and replies, “We’ll see.”