Monday 18 November 2019

Barr report due on FBI 'spying' on president's 2016 campaign

Credibility: US Attorney General William Barr is a Trump appointee
Credibility: US Attorney General William Barr is a Trump appointee

Devlin Barrett

US Justice Department officials are set to release a potentially explosive inspector general report about the FBI's investigation into US President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, according to multiple sources.

One person involved in the discussions said the target date for the report's release has been November 20, but another indicated that the Justice Department is unlikely to deliver it by then, and that it is more likely to come after Thanksgiving (November 28) because of the complicated issues at play.

The report's findings will be a major public test of Attorney General William Barr's credibility, given his past suggestions of significant problems with the investigative decisions made by former FBI leaders involved in the case.

The findings by Inspector General Michael Horowitz will also set the stage for the separate but related investigation led by US Attorney John Durham, who is investigating how US intelligence agencies pursued allegations that Russian agents might have conspired with Trump associates during the 2016 campaign.

Officials have recently said that investigation is pursuing potential crimes.

Mr Barr has spent weeks working on the declassification decisions, as Mr Horowitz scrutinised large volumes of classified information to assess how the FBI launched and pursued the investigation and related cases, people familiar with the matter said.

But a number of key figures in the probe have yet to receive draft sections of the inspector general's findings, suggesting that the public release is still at least a week away, according to people familiar with the matter. It is possible, too, that as draft language of the report is shared with different people, the entire process could become bogged down by disputes about the accuracy of certain passages.

Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, planned to meet with Mr Barr to talk about the report's planned roll-out, according to people familiar with the matter.

The inspector general's work is independent of the attorney general, but in this case, the two must work closely on the release because the inspector general does not have the authority to declassify information. Mr Barr does. Mr Horowitz is not expected to attend the meeting with Mr Graham, these people said.

In a letter to politicians last month, Mr Horowitz wrote that the declassification process was "nearing completion". The goal, he wrote, "is to make as much of our report public as possible. I anticipate that the final report will be released publicly with few redactions".

Congressional Republicans have been pushing for the inspector general's report to come out as quickly as possible, but they are also pressing Mr Barr to declassify as much information as possible - goals at odds with each other.

Republicans hope the report will give them ammunition to argue the FBI was corrupt in its pursuit of the president and his alleged ties to Russia, according to a person involved in the GOP discussions.

Congressional Republicans have defended Mr Trump amid the ongoing impeachment inquiry centred on his effort to convince Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Mr Trump's supporters have long called for officials to "investigate the investigators", and some GOP politicians have predicted the inspector general's findings will prove their accusations that a "deep state" cabal of anti-Trump bureaucrats sought to thwart his presidency.

Mr Barr has fuelled some of those suspicions.

At an April congressional hearing, for instance, the attorney general declared the Trump campaign was spied on during the 2016 campaign, though aides later said he used that term not in a pejorative sense, but in the more general meaning of surveillance.

"I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal," Mr Barr said. "I think spying did occur, but the question is whether it was adequately predicated and I'm not suggesting it wasn't adequately predicated, but I need to explore that." (© Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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