A Talk With Bill Barr About Russiagate, the FBI, and Accountability
“Like most institutions in our country … [the FBI is] being slowly politicized. And I think it is ruinous to the country.”
Former Attorney General Bill Barr does not mince words about FBI misconduct in its pursuit of candidate, and then president, Donald Trump. “I think the behavior of the leadership of the FBI during 2016 and the first part of 2017 has been catastrophic,” Barr told me in a recent interview. “It harmed the country, it was completely unfair to the president, and it has completely undercut the FBI.”
I asked Barr for a brief description of what the FBI did that was so damaging. How would he characterize it? “Well, in July , before the election, they pounced on the flimsiest pretext, on the idea that there was collusion between Trump and the Russians, which is something the Clinton campaign was trying to whip up,” Barr began. “And they jumped on it. I don’t think there was a predicate for them to do it. And they started this investigation [Crossfire Hurricane] of the campaign.”
“And then they used what they should have known was a deeply flawed document, the so-called Steele dossier, to go and get a FISA application,” Barr continued. “And they ignored exculpatory information prior to the election. But I think the most serious activity happened after the election. By that time, it had become clear to them that the dossier was garbage. And they doubled down on this case. And [then FBI Director James] Comey announced pretentiously to the Congress that he had Trump, the campaign, under investigation. It throttled the administration, and I still believe that it’s inexplicable behavior. It’s hard to explain that.”
Barr, who appointed special counsel John Durham, said that Durham’s investigation has “fleshed out the role that the Clinton campaign played” in the matter, and also “the responsiveness of the FBI to this dirty trick.” Durham, Barr said, has exposed “very troubling behavior by the FBI in essentially trying to explain away information that didn’t fit into their apparently preformed narrative.”
In light of all that, Barr said, “I was hoping that there’d be accountability at the FBI.” But now, after Durham losses in two court cases, Barr does not see accountability ever coming for the bureau in the Russiagate matter. This is from the interview:
YORK: You talked about these acts taken by people at the highest level of the FBI, which really did create, certainly in Trump supporters, a lot of distrust of the FBI, hostility toward the FBI. Do you think there has been any accountability for that?
YORK: Do you think there will be any accountability?
BARR: Accountability in the sense of criminal or civil penalties? No.
YORK: Even reputational damage? Some sort of accountability?
BARR: Well, reputation in this country is largely under the control of the mainstream media, which likes to overlook these kinds of sins. But I think the story will be told, and maybe in a more sober age, people will appreciate how destructive and damaging to the country this was.
When Barr said “maybe in a more sober age,” he laughed a little, as if to say there might not be a more sober age anytime soon.
The key point Barr made was that criminal investigations require evidence and meticulous process. During the Durham investigation, Trump supporters who hoped to see Comey in an orange jumpsuit were either unaware of, or ignored, the requirements of a criminal investigation. “I tried to explain to people that when you’re going to charge – in order to pursue a government official for a crime when that official is performing their duties, and doesn’t do anything that is facially criminal, you need very strong proof of corrupt motives,” Barr said. “And absent that, there wasn’t going to be any case.”
Still, Barr felt the Durham investigation was “essential.” Why? “Because I thought it became very clear that the issue wasn’t whether there was collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign. The real question was how this false narrative got started, and why people doubled down on it after the  election, and when they knew that it really was nonsense. And so, I think [Durham] is getting as much to the bottom of it as anyone could, and I think, ultimately, will write a report, which is what I asked him to do.”
In the end, then, it all comes down to Durham’s report. There won’t be any more trials – two losses is apparently enough. What there will be is a report that Barr hopes will answer the key questions about the FBI’s conduct. But what about after that? The former FBI officials involved will go on to more book deals, TV deals, professorships, corporate jobs, seats on boards of directors, and the like. They will be fine. But what about the FBI itself? The events of 2016-2017 suggest that it has changed, and not for the better.
“Durham’s case shows that the politicization doesn’t necessarily stop at the top,” Barr said. “Like most institutions in our country, like most agencies in the government, like many professional organizations, press, medical, science, [the FBI is] being slowly politicized. And I think it is ruinous to the country, and the next Republican administration is going to have to clean things out.”
This content originally appeared on the Washington Examiner at washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/former-ag-barr-there-will-be-no-fbi-accountability-after-russiagate-debacle.
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