Full Interview: Barr Criticizes Inspector General Report On The Russia Investigation | NBC News

Channel: NBC News
Published: 12/10/2019 08:28 PM

In an exclusive interview, Attorney General William Barr spoke to NBC News' Pete Williams about the findings on the Justice Department Inspector General's report on the Russia investigation and his criticisms of the FBI. » Subscribe to NBC News: http://nbcnews.to/SubscribeToNBC » Watch more NBC ...

Mr. attorney-general, why do you say that the fbi opened the investigation of the trump campaign on the thinnest of suspicions? Well, i'm glad to get into the issue of predication. But let me just start out by saying that i think you have to put this in context. I think the heart of the igs report really focused on how the investigation was conducted once it got going, and that is especially the v ...
ry serious abuses of fisa that occurred, much of which has been, in my view, not accurately reported by the press. Over the last day, but in one area i do disagree with the ig, and that was whether there was sufficient predication to open afull-blown counterintelligence investigation, specifically using the techniques that they did to collect intelligence about the trump campaign. Well, well, as a policy matter. Why? Why not open an investigation on a thin pretext? I guess on the one hand you could say it's a presidential campaign, it's very sensitive. You need better at evidence. On the other hand, you could say it's a presidential campaign. We have to be very careful. There could be a threat to our political process. Well, i think, i think, probably from a civil liberties standpoint.

The greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government used the apparatus of the state, principally the law enforcement agencies and the intelligence agencies both tospy on political opponents, but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election. As far as i'm aware, this is the first time in history that this has been done to a presidential campaign, the use of these counterintelligence techniques against a presidential campaign, and we have to remember that in today's world, presidential campaigns are frequently in contact with foreign persons And indeed, in most campaigns, there are signs of illegal foreign money coming in and we don't automatically assume that the campaigns are nefarious and traitors and acting with foreign powers, there has to be some basis before we use these very potent powers in our core. First, amendment activity, andhere, i felt this was very flimsy. Basically, i think the department has a rule of reason, which is at the end of the day, is what you're relying on sufficiently powerful to justify the techniques you're using and the question there is. How strong is the evidence? How sensitive is the activity you're looking at and what are the alternatives, and i think when you step back here and say what was this all based on? It'S not sufficient, remember there was and and never has been any evidence of collusion. And yet this campaign and the president's administration has been dominated by this investigation into what turns out to be completely baseless. Well, of course, it doesn't turnout that way at the beginning that at the start, because so let's let's look at the - if you know, let's look at what the basis of it was so in may 2016, apparently a 28 year old, violent campaign volunteer, says in a Social setting - this is george papadopolis, is george papadopolis, and this was described by the foreign official who heard him as who, who couldn't remember exactly what was said, but it was characterized as a suggestion of a suggestion. He suggested that there had been a suggestion from the russians that they had some adverse information to hillary, which they might dump in the campaign. Well, what was going on in may, you may recall: thatwe, were in the thick of the investigation of hillary clinton's secret server, and the media was full of stories and the blogosphere was full of stories and political circles in washington were full of stories and speculation that The russians had in 2014, two years before hacked into her secret server and were therefore in a position to drop this stuff during the election. In fact, the day before this comment was made in a bar, foxnews was reporting that their sources told them. There was a debate going on in the russian government as to whether or not to drop this the hillary clinton's emails between the intelligence agency and the foreign ministry, but that related to hillary'sserver, so the fbi, what the fbi did is later after the dc, the dnc Hack and the dumping through wikipedia wikipedia in july, wikileaks, wikileaks yeah wikileaks in july. They get this information that this somewhat vague statement was made in a bar and they jumped right into a full-scale investigation before they even went and talked to the foreign officials about exactly what was said.

They opened an investigation of the campaign and they used very intrusive techniques. They didn't do. I think what would normally be done under those circumstances, which is to go to the campaign the and there certainly were people in campaign that could be trusted, including a members of judiciaire senate judiciary committeeand, the governor of new jersey, former us attorney. There were people to talk to, and what i find particularly inexplicable is that they talked to the russians, but not to the presidential campaign. On august 4th brennan braced, the head of russian intelligence. He calls the head of russian intelligence and says we know what you're up to you better, stop it. He did it again later in august, and then president obama talked to president putin in in september and said: we know what you're up to you better cut it out, so they they go and confront the russians. Who clearly are the bad guys and they won't go and talk to the companions and say youknow? What is this about? So the inspector general says he found no evidence to indicate that the fbi's decision to start this investigation was based on political bias. Do you agree? Well, what he actually, i think you have to understand what the igs methodology is, and i think it's the appropriate methodology for an inspector general. He starts with limited information. He can only talk to people who were essentially there as employees and he's limited to the information. Generally in the fbi, but his approach is to say, if i get a explanation from the people i'm investigating that is not unreasonable on its face, then i will accept it as long as there's not contradictory.

Testimonialor documentary evidence, in other words it's a very deferential standard and all he said is people gave me an explanation and i didn't find anything to contradict it. So i don't have a basis for saying that there was improper motive, but he hasn't decided the issue of improper motive. Have you? No, i think we have to wait until the investigation. The full investigation is done and that's the fundamental distinction between what durham is doing and what the ig is doing. Durham is not limited to the fbi. He can talk to other agencies. He can compel people to testify one of the the problems in the ids investigation. I think he would agree is that comeyrefused to sign back up for his security clearance and therefore couldn't be questioned about classified matters. So someone like someone like durham can compel testimony. He can talk to a whole range of people, private parties, farlan governments and so forth, and i think that is the point at which a decision has to be made about motivations, and i think we right now would be premature to make any judgment one way or The other. I just wonder, though, about the what the fbi would say. I think here is okay, so they opened an investigation, no more.

Nobody was ever charged. They were concerned about possible russian meddling in the in the election. Why not open thisinvasive investigation? What'S the harm you've said, intrusive means. So what is your concern about the fact that they did this? Well, i think the big picture is this from day. One remember they say: okay, we're not going to go to talk to the campaign. We'Re gon na put people in there water them up and have these conversations with people involved in the campaign, because that way, we'll get the truth from the very first day of this investigation, which was july, 31st, 2016 all the way to its end. In september 2017, there was not one incriminatory bit of evidence to come in. It was all exculpatory the people that they were taping denied any involvement with russiadenied. This very specific facts that the fbi was was relying on. So what happens? The fbi ignores? It presses ahead. Withholds that information from the court with holes critical, exculpatory information from the court while it gets a electronic surveillance warrant, it also withholds from the court clear-cut evidence that the dossier that they ultimately relied on to get the fisa warrant was a complete sham. They they hid information about the lack of reliability, even when they went the first time for the warrant, but but in january after the election, the entire case collapsed when the principle source says, i never told i never told steal this stuff, and and and - and this Was all speculation noi have zero information to support this stuff? At that point, when their entire case collapsed, what do they do? They kept on investigating the president and they well into his administration after the case collapsed.

But here to me is the damning thing: they not only didn't tell the court that what they had been relying on was. It was completely you know rubbish. They actually started putting in things to bolster the stele report by saying. Well, we talked to the sources and they appeared to be truthful, but they don't inform the court that what they're truthful about is that the dossier is is false. So that's hard to explain and at the core statement in myopinion the ig is that these irregularities, these missed statements, these omissions were not satisfactorily explained and i think that leaves open the possibility to infer bad faith. I think it's premature now to reach a judgment on that, but i think that further work has to be done and that's what their arm is doing. This, of course, is where the inspector general is most critical of the fbi. When you, when you say bad faith, are you saying a bias, because there can be all sorts of bias there could be political bias, confirmation bias? What do you think happened? Well, i think there are a number of scenarios, but i don't want to you know, get intothem. I think there could have been a lot of motivations involved in different motivations and there could have been motivations in the fbi and motivations outside the fbi by other players. In this, this thing focuses on the fbi. There was a lot going on around this. That is not the subject matter of horowitz's report, but i think, has a direct bearing perhaps on what was going on in the fbi, based on what you know so far.

Is it still do you still stand by your statement that the campaign was spied upon? It'S clearly spied upon, i mean that's what electronic surveillance is. I think wiring people up to go in and talk to people andmake recordings of their conversations is spying. I think going through people's emails, which they did as a result of the fisa warrant. They went through everything you know from from pages life. He wasn't in the campaign at the point where no being in the survey. Yes, but his emails were go back. I mean the main reason they were going for. The fisa warrant initially was to go back historically and seize all his emails and texts and all that stuff from back months and even years, so they were covering the period that he was in the campaign and that's exactly the reason they went for the fisa to Get that stuff. So what do you thinkwhat questions? Will john durham address that the ig didn't well durham is is looking at the whole waterfront. He is looking at the issue of how it got started, he's looking at whether or not the narrative of the trump being involved in the russian interference actually preceded july and was in fact the precipitating trigger for the investigation. He'S. Also, looking at the conduct of the investigation, there are some things that were done in the investigation that are not included in horowitz's report and he's looking at those things, but also a few weeks ago.

I told him that he should spend just as much attention on the post-election period, and i did that because of someof the stuff that horowitz has uncovered, which to me is in explicit, such as flickable. Well, what i said is their case collapsed after the election and they never told the court and they kept on getting renewals on these applications. They those documents falsified. In order to get these renewals. There was all kinds of withholding of information from the court, and the question really is: what was the agenda after the election that kept them pressing ahead after their case collapsed? This is the president of the united states. You of course went to three countries with him. Why did you have to do that and some people have said well. This is clearly bill bars incharge of the investigation. Well, the presentation of that in the media has been silly. The person running the investigation is john durham, but this is a very unusual circumstance where we are going to foreign governments and ask him to assist and cooperate, including you know, some of their sensitive materials and and personnel and a us attorney doesn't show up on the Doorstep in in some of these countries like london and say hey, i want to talk to your intelligence, people and so forth. All the regularities were were followed. I went through the empire.

My purpose was to introduce durham to the appropriate people and set up a channel that he could work with these countriesat. The request of the country i went through the ambassador's of each country and the government's wanted to initially talk to me to find out what is this about? What are the ground rules? Is this gon na be a criminal case? Are you going to you know? Do a public report: they wanted to understand the ground rules before they met with durham and i met with him and then i set up appropriate channels. This was perfectly appropriate speaking of whether something is appropriate or not. Was it appropriate for john durham to issue his statement yesterday, given that he's a us attorney with the grand jury and his investigation isn't done yet all right, hello, yeah ithink, it was definitely appropriate because i think it was. It was necessary to avoid public confusion. I think it was sort of being reported by the press that the issue of predication was sort of done and over, even though it was a very limited look at that issue by the ig, given the narrowness of his in you know of the evidence available to Him - and i think it was important for people to understand that the that you know durham's work was not being preempted and that durham was doing something different and he explains what he's doing different and that there are areas of disagreement i think was perfectly appropriate. So the public understood the relationshipbetween, the two exercises, so you've outlined a number and - and you sort of so does the inspector general of problems with the way the fbi handled this investigation. Are you confident that chris rea can fix them, and i asked that in light of the president's tweet today where he says i don't know what report current director ray was reading, but it sure wasn't the one given to me with that kind of attitude. He'Ll never be able to fix the fbi. Well, you know practically speaking, i think chris has been working hard to address the problems of the past. We'Ve worked well together. The people who were involved in the past are no longer there he'sbrought in a new team that, i think, is a good team.

I have confidence in that team and i think he has set forth a number of specific proposals as to how to address those problems, and i think what the president was getting at, and i feel the same way is that we can't ignore the abuses of the Past and-and-and-and appear to be justifying them or minimizing them. We have to focus on getting it right going forward, so you have confidence in chris rea. Yes, before i go into a couple of other questions, let me just sort of button this up. I think a lot of people will hear what you're saying here and thinkwell that's just bill barr defending trump. Your concern about the fbi's investigation is what civil libertarian, i think our nation was turned on its head for three years. I think, based on a completely bogus narrative, that was largely flamm, fanned and hyped by an irresponsible press, and i think that there were gross abuses of fisa, an inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the fbi and the attorney general's primary responsibility is to protect against the Abuse of the law, enforcement and intelligence apparatus and make sure that it doesn't play an improper role in our political life. That'S my responsibility and i'm gon na carry it out a couple of other questions. Were you ever asked by thewhite house to talk to anybody in ukraine about an investigation of joe biden? No, are you concerned that ukraine has a missing server from the hillary clinton emails? Fortunately, i haven't gotten into the ukraine thing, yet i don't know i'm not even sure about the nature of these allegations. What about the allegation that it was the ukrainians who meddled in the election? Not the russians? Are you satisfied? That'S not the case. All right. I had confident the russians attempted to interfere in the election. I don't know about the ukraine's for ukrainians.

I haven't even looked into it frankly. What was your involvement in the department's decision not to investigate the president's phone call to ukrainewell? We put out a statement that explained the process, which was the criminal division made, that decision and and in the process consulted with the senior-most career employees were the experts on campaign finance laws and that process was supervised by the deputy, but i'm not going to go Beyond well before he said about that problem. Well, were you satisfied that everything that was done? Oh absolutely, absolutely, let me ask about a couple of other questions. Was the shooting attack in pensacola last friday a terrorist act at this stage? It certainly it appears to be and and that's what we're investigating and the people investigating it are our anti-terrorist investigators and agents. I would say thatwe appreciate the the fact that the kingdom has been cooperative so far and we hope and expect that that will continue. Are they allowing, for example, fbi agents to go into saudi arabia and question people about this? Your hands back? I don't want to get. I don't want to get into the details of the investigation. I ask only because, in the khobar towers, for example, investigation in some of the past investigations, where the fbi has wanted to do things in saudi arabia, it hasn't gone very smoothly. As far as i'm aware, right now, we are satisfied with the cooperation we're getting. I haven't heard anything otherwise. You gave a speech last week here in thebuilding award presentation to some police officers and you - and you said something that got a lot of attention. You talked about how people applauded when military veterans they see him in the airport.

People come back from combat, they get ticker tape parades not so for police, and you said this is a quote: if communities don't give that support and respect to the police, they might find themselves without the police protection they need. What did you mean by that yeah? That was a somewhat condensed version of a speech i had given to the fraternal order of police and it's in new orleans and we're gon na we're in a crisis right now. It'S not something that hasbeen adequately covered by the media, but we're in a full-employment economy and one of the toughest jobs we have in the country is policing and it's getting tougher and tougher. These are the points i was making, and i said this in that within that recent or abbreviated version, and so it's very hard to recruit people these days and this full employment economy for these tough jobs. That'S why virtually every police force in the country is way under strength. They have vacancies and, as the jobs get tougher, you know we're seeing a very high suicide rate now among police, and i'm saying that we have to focus on this and start valuing the people who serveus as police officers and show them support and respect just the Way we do our military forces, or else we're not going to be able to attract people into this profession and we're not gon na end up with police forces. That was my point, but you're not saying that people shouldn't criticize the police if they think there's misconduct. No, how long do you think just to go back to durham for a moment? How long do you think his investigations gon na take? Do you have any sense of how he's how long he's gon na take and what would we see when he's finished? You know that these things take time and i know there's a lot of impatiencepeople want results immediately, but those are people who don't understand our process. We have to be careful about the way we collect evidence and we have to make sure that we have enough evidence to justify our actions and that we're not going to cut corners in that respect. You know i there are some people who think this thing is going to drop in a few weeks. That'S not the case. I see this perhaps reaching an important watershed, perhaps in the in the late spring or early summer, and in how well i mean obviously he's got a grand jury.

If he brings charges we'd find out about that, but otherwise will he have a report willeven tell you how that work. I haven't discussed that with him. Yet you have any goal. Would you like to see him have a report or make some sort of public presentation all right? I'M gon na largely leave that to him, but i'm also interested in discussing that with him as he gets further along mr. attorney-general. Thank you. Thank you very much. Hey nbc news viewers, thanks for checking out our youtube channel subscribe by clicking on that button down here and click on any of the videos over here to watch. The latest interviews show highlights and digital exclusives thanks for watching.

Watch Next