William Barr Ratchets Up the “Witch Hunt” over an Investigation He Judges to be “Anemic” Given the Threat

Bill Barr hit the right wing news circuit today to make vague claims designed to feed the hoax about inappropriate spying on the Trump campaign. With both the WSJ and Fox, he obfuscated about what led him to ask John Durham to conduct what amounts to at least the third review of the origins of the Russia investigation.

“Government power was used to spy on American citizens,” Mr. Barr told The Wall Street Journal, in his first interview since taking office in February. “I can’t imagine any world where we wouldn’t take a look and make sure that was done properly.”

He added: “Just like we need to ensure that foreign actors don’t influence the outcome of our elections, we need to ensure that the government doesn’t use its powers to put a thumb on the scale.”


In his Wednesday interview, he declined to elaborate or offer any details on what prompted his concerns about the genesis of the Russia probe.


Mr. Barr wouldn’t specify what pre-election activities he found troubling, nor would he say what information he has reviewed thus far or what it has shown. He said he was surprised that officials have been so far unable to answer many of his questions.

“I have more questions now than when I came in,” he said, but declined to detail them.

Given his inability to point to a reason to start this (aside from Trump’s direct orders), it’s worth looking back at something Barr said in his May 1 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Mike Lee attempted to get the Attorney General to substantiate his claim — made on April 10 — that the Trump campaign had been inappropriately spied on. In response, Barr explained his spying comment by suggesting that if the “only intelligence collection that occurred” were the FISA warrant on Carter Page and the use of Stefan Halper to question George Papadopoulos, it would amount to an “anemic” effort given the counterintelligence threat posed.

One of the things I want to look — there are people — many people seem to assume that the only intelligence collection that occurred was a single confidential informant and a FISA warrant. I’d like to find out whether that is, in fact, true. It strikes me as a fairly anemic effort if that was the counterintelligence effort designed to stop the threat as it’s being represented.

Over the course of this exchange, Barr admits he doesn’t know or remember what the Mueller Report says about Carter Page, and Lee displays that he’s unfamiliar with several points about Page in the Mueller Report:

  • The report shows that Page had had two earlier ties to Russian intelligence before joining the Trump campaign, not just the one in 2013
  • After Page’s conversations with Viktor Podobnyy were quoted in the latter’s criminal complaint, Page went to a Russian official at the UN General Assembly and told him he “didn’t do anything” with the FBI
  • Page defended sharing intelligence with people he knew were Russian spies by explaining, “the more immaterial non-public information I give them, the better for this country”
  • Dmitry Peskov was Page’s trip to Moscow in July 2016 and Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich spoke about working with Page in the future
  • Mueller ultimately concluded that “Page’s activities in Russia — as described in his emails with the Campaign — were not fully explained”
  • According to Konstantin Kilimnik, on December 8, 2016 “Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DT on a range of issues of mutual interest, including Ukraine”
  • The declinations discussion appears to say Page could have been charged as a foreign agent, but was not

Even with all the details about Page Lee appears to be unfamiliar with, there are more that he cannot know, because they’re protected as grand jury materials.

Which is to say neither of these men knew enough about the investigation on May 1 to be able to explain why Barr needed to do an investigation except that Barr thought not enough spying occurred so he was sure there must be more. Had Barr read the IG Report laying out some of these issues, he would know that the investigation was anemic, in part because on August 15, Peter Strzok lost an argument about how aggressively they should pursue the investigation.

In a text message exchange on August 15, 2016, Strzok told Page, “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40….” The “Andy” referred to in the text message appears to be FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. McCabe was not a party to this text message, and we did not find evidence that he received it.

In an interview with the OIG, McCabe was shown the text message and he told us that he did not know what Strzok was referring to in the message and recalled no such conversation. Page likewise told us she did not know what that text message meant, but that the team had discussions about whether the FBI would have the authority to continue the Russia investigation if Trump was elected. Page testified that she did not find a reference in her notes to a meeting in McCabe’s office at that time.

Strzok provided a lengthy explanation for this text message. In substance, Strzok told us that he did not remember the specific conversation, but that it likely was part of a discussion about how to handle a variety of allegations of “collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the government of Russia.” As part of this discussion, the team debated how aggressive to be and whether to use overt investigative methods. Given that Clinton was the “prohibitive favorite” to win,

Strzok said that they discussed whether it made sense to compromise sensitive sources and methods to “bring things to some sort of precipitative conclusion and understanding.” Strzok said the reference in his text message to an “insurance policy” reflected his conclusion that the FBI should investigate the allegations thoroughly right away, as if Trump were going to win. Strzok stated that Clinton’s position in the polls did not ultimately impact the investigative decisions that were made in the Russia matter.

So the investigation was anemic, and it was anemic because the guy Lee blames for unfairly targeting Trump wasn’t permitted to investigate as aggressively as he believed it should be investigated.

In the exchange, Barr also says he doesn’t want to get into the “FISA issue,” on account of the IG investigation into it — which would seem to leave just the Halper-Papadopoulos exchange to investigate.

DOJ’s IG has probably given the initial results of its investigation into FISA to FBI. I say that because of Chris Wray’s objection to the use of the word “spying” to describe predicated surveillance, Trump’s attack on Wray because of it, and the unsealing of the names of additional people at the FBI involved in interviewing Mike Flynn — Mike Steinbach, Bill Priestap, James Baker — as well as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Matt Axelrod in two of the documents tied to his sentencing released last night. That would suggest there’s nothing substantive there (which is not surprising, given how much more damning the information about Page is than we previously knew).

Which would mean the biggest reason Barr is starting this witch hunt is that the investigation was so anemic to begin with.

37 replies
    • Mainmata says:

      I’m not a constitutional expert but I thought executive privilege was for confidential discussions that haven’t been previously disclosed. But Mueller’s report renders that claim moot, seems to me. I’m sure Congress will want more details from Mueller about why, aside from his work scope, he chose not to indict various people including Trump, Jr. or Carter Page, for example, beyond what is in the report already in addition to the high “beyond a reasonable doubt” level of proof required. Also was his investigation terminated prematurely by “Low Barr”?

    • Yohei72 says:

      Yeah, I have the same question as Mainmata. It seems like the Trump administration is basically interpreting executive privilege as “the chief executive doesn’t have to tell you anything he doesn’t want to.” Does he have a constitutional leg to stand on with this claim?

  1. Willis Warren says:

    I wonder how much of their strategy is to “investigate” the parts of the case that are most damning. The FISA stuff was always stupid, but when we read that Carter Page BRAGGED to the KGB that he didn’t give up any info… well, goddamned. No one is talking enough about that.

    • Vicks says:

      I think it is a reasonable to ask why, if the deep state wanted to spy on the Trump campaign, they chose Carter Page?
      Jason Miller said Page was not even part of the campaign.
      I’m no spy master but if I had powerful people in the FBI and justice department that wanted to help me “take down” DJT I would look for someone at a minimum I felt would be useful.
      I am also curious to find out what was picked up as a result of those FISA’s (on Page) and if whatever it was, had anything to do with the multiple displays of bizarre and shameless behavior from a couple of lawmakers that seemed willing to do anything to discredit anyone or anything connected.
      Another thing that seems to get in the way of the Trump team’s alternate conspiracy strategy and logic is the one thing most people agreed upon; with few exceptions NO ONE thought Trump had a chance of winning.

      • bmaz says:

        Not to mention that Page was first under FISA surveillance in 2014, long before Trump was even a candidate.

    • Americana says:

      Yes, it’s kind of fascinating to see Carter Page veer between saying things like “I didn’t give up anything to the FBI” to “I wasn’t talking to any Russians in intelligence.” Both things cannot be true. Page is a bit like Trump in terms of suiting the narrative to whatever audience he’s addressing. There may also be some coaching going on between Page and Russian handlers as well because in some of his TV interviews, he’s got the very same dismissive silliness of Vladimir Putin’ denials of known facts. It’s like practiced disinformation.

  2. Bay State Librul says:

    Can I be honest here. Barr is a fucking asshole!
    Impeach him!
    Also, he is a lying sack of shit!

  3. Sandwichman says:

    Also provides a good excuse to avoid answering questions from Congress: “Can’t discuss because that is related to a matter under investigation.”

  4. John says:

    Another in a long line of Trump suing to avoid responsibility, a long time MO, but this time he has perverted the Justice dept. to his ends.

  5. Mitch Neher says:

    Speculation: Since the FBI agents conducting the Crossfire Hurricane counter-intelligence investigation did not receive any of Steele’s memos until sometime in September of 2016, Barr might be hoping that Durham can somehow connect the forwarding of memos from the Steele dossier to an FBI agent in the New York Office, shortly after the middle of July, 2016, to the NSD’s decision to use Stephan Halper and Azra Turk to interview Page, Papadopoulos and Clovis in August and early September of 2016–before the FBI’s HQ in DC ever received any of Steele’s memos.

    Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that that’s what happened. I’m only saying that that might be what Barr expects Durham to investigate.

  6. Tom says:

    Barr is presenting himself as a defender of Americans’ civil liberties and right not to be subjected to unjustified government “spying”. Just wondering if this idea will be used as a rationale for easing up on surveillance of white supremacist and anti-government militia groups, or anyone else likely to be a Trump supporter.

  7. Herringbone says:

    Seems to me that a good way to get Barr in front of House Judiciary would be to bring in Comey and a few others to establish just how off-base Barr’s accusations are. Get enough high-profile G-men to say Barr’s concerns are nonsense and the product of a compromised Department of Justice, and he’s going to have to talk to somebody besides Fox and the WSJ.

  8. Laurent says:

    Excellent discussion. To avoid confusion, however, it may be useful to indicate whether the Page referred to is Lisa or Carter.

  9. OldTulsaDude says:

    Is Barr genuinely ideologically driven or is he so arrogant that he views this as nothing more than a game to which his superior intellect can be used to win?

  10. sherry says:

    Wondering why Joe Di Genova and Hannity are shouting loudly that they know what the IG report says and that it is devastating to the DOJ and FBI? When did the IG start leaking?

    • P J Evans says:

      They’re lying, probably. (I’m sure there are people in the IG’s office who will do whatever they think will please Barr and Tr*mp.)

    • OldTulsaDude says:

      The Nunes memo was also supposed to be devastating. They keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means.

    • viget says:

      It’s inconceivable.

      Both IG leaking and that these clowns know what they’re talking about.

      • Americana says:

        I think these rumbles about the IG are merely efforts to keep up the pushback from the release of the letter by DOJ alumni who support Mueller and the Mueller report against AG Barr. After all, it’s pretty astonishing that over 850+ DOJ alumni, state attorneys et al, have signed a letter effectively rebuking the Attorney General for the very same reasons Mueller wrote his letter of rebuke. It’s also too soon I believe it’s far too soon for the IG to have finished his investigative work. What’s Barr gonna do? He doesn’t have anyone who’s really able to back him in a big way other than Trump (a given) and Judge Jeanine Pirro (a given) and both of them are suspect.

  11. mospeck says:

    Mitch Neher says May 18, 2019 at 12:24 pm: Can I borrow the car, or do I have to put gas in it?
    Is there gas in the car?
    Yes, there’s gas in the car.
    And the people down the hall know who you are

    apologize to the Dan for this weak attempt at humor..
    laughing is hard these days.
    Punaise makes me laugh :)
    But Barr is right in that the (true) spooks (at CIA) know a lot more about this “anemic” investigation. Barr knows how FBI predication works, how it depends on inputs from other agencies. Hence he’s trying to use the rules to involve Haspel, and wants to know more on all about what she’s got. Russian intel also wants to know what she’s got. His strategy appears to be quite good.
    Why are the time constants in the US legal system so slow? For ex, concerning Flynn (vol I 194-195, vol II 29-42 and esp. 120-122) how is it that Trump’s lawyer Dowd ‘s ‘I understand your situation’ voicemail to Flynn’s atty. not right now out in the public domain? Fed judge thinks it needs to be, together with, and juxtaposed against, the spook’s Flynn-Kislyak recordings. Dowd seems like he is involved in a criminal conspiracy and super vulnerable legally-at least to me

  12. Wayoutwest says:

    Now that Mueller’s witch-hunt has ended with a whimper and he was forced to admit the Trump/Putin collusion delusion was a crafted hoax a real criminal investigation has turned the table on those who crafted the hoax. Trying to project the witch-hunt aspersion onto the Spygate investigation, where real crimes with real evidence backed by real documents already have been exposed, might be described by Bill Barr as jejune, at best.

    Barr must be cautious about saying too much before this Byzantine corruption has been completely investigated and documented because his every word will be distorted and spun by the guilty parties and their minions. It’s best to keep them confused about what he already knows and can prove so they will turn on each other as has already happened with kingpin Brennan and willing lackey Comey.

    Barr’s comment about the FBI’s cointel op being anemic wasn’t to minimize it but to infer he had information about the corrupt actions being much more widespread and including other domestic as well as foreign intelligence agencies and actors.

    Real investigative journalists have been ferreting out the evidence of this coordinated corruption for two years and their reports are unimpeachable but Barr and his teams will do their own investigations and won’t need to use planted media reports as evidence, as was seen in the Mueller dossier.

      • bmaz says:

        Pay no attention to Wayoutwest. He/she is a very long time disruptive and disingenuous troll who has not been here in six months or so, and we thought we had eliminated.

        • P J Evans says:

          I remember they’ve been here before, but that one was just so obviously a troll comment….

          • Mitch Neher says:

            Those guys are legion on the Turley blawg–“Res Ipsa Loquitur.”

            I think they start out pretending to be crazy and then . . . one day they plumb forget that they were just pretending to be crazy.

    • Americana says:

      Funny, you wouldn’t provide any links to those “investigative journalists” you claim have been working on this “Russian hoax for two years”? It’s tough to be a troll and not be able to really let loose when you don’t have those alternative facts you so wish were in hand, isn’t it? Attorney General Barr is going to find himself very shortly in the position of being one of the guys who’s unable to extricate himself from the position in which he’s inveigled himself, if you get my drift.

    • WiserWords2 says:

      It’s interesting you didn’t mention anything about the fact that Trump was NOT exonerated of obstruction, but chose to rant about Trump being cleared of something that was not investigated because it’s NOT a crime.

      There’s a reason Barr claims he hasn’t read Mueller’s full report. He needs to feign ignorance in order to parrot Hannity talking points and sound convincing.

  13. Wayoutwest says:

    Will anyone here hazard a guess as to who among the many police state rats will be the first to flip and rat on their Spygaate coconspirators? This is going to be a slow and excruciating process for the true believers but they can’t escape the true reality about what is coming.

    • Rayne says:

      I fail to see what either of your last two comments have added to dialog here, consisting of little more than ill-informed and poorly-crafted takes. Add something constructive or move on.

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