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Attorney General Bill Barr is forcefully defending the Justice Department’s probe into the origins of the Russia investigation, saying he has “more questions today than when I first started.”
In a series of interviews about the investigation that has been demanded by President Donald Trump and his allies, Barr said the inquiry is necessary to make sure top law enforcement officials weren’t trying to "put their thumb on the scale" when it came to the 2016 election.
"People have to find out what the government was doing during that period. If we’re worried about foreign influence, for the very same reason we should be worried about whether government officials abuse their power and put their thumb on the scale," Barr said in an interview with Fox News that aired Friday. He cautioned that “I’m not saying that happened” but argued “it’s something we have to look at."
Defenders the president have asserted that the Russia investigation, which concluded in March without charges of conspiracy to collude or obstruction of justice for the president, was tainted from the beginning by political bias within the FBI. They have also accused the Obama administration of “spying” on Trump’s campaign.
Investigators involved in the probe have defended its origins, declaring it was conducted by the books.
Those officials, and even current DOJ officials like FBI Director Chris Wray, have objected to Barr’s use of the term “spying” to refer to the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign, which included court-authorized wiretaps of U.S. citizens. But Barr reiterated that characterization in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
“Government power was used to spy on American citizens,” he said in justifying his review. “I can’t imagine any world where we wouldn’t take a look and make sure that was done properly.”
To Fox, the attorney general rebuffed the idea that the Russia investigation origins were settled fact, arguing that despite Mueller’s report describing many of those details, a more focused review was needed.
“No one has really looked at it,” he said. “I think there is a misconception out there that we know a lot about what happened. The fact of the matter is Bob Mueller did not look at the government’s activities.”
Earlier this week, it was revealed that Barr had tapped U.S. Attorney John Durham, who has a track record of investigating corruption, to look into the origins of the Russia probe. That investigation will be in addition to the probe already being conducted by the Justice Department’s inspector general, which Barr told Fox was still ongoing, and one by U.S. Attorney John Huber.
The attorney general expounded on his choice of Durham to the Journal. “I was looking for someone who is tenacious, who is used to looking at sensitive material involving government activities, who has a reputation for being fair and evenhanded,” he said.
But Barr told both outlets that the investigation had so far given him more concern rather than less.
“I thought when I came in from the outside that all the questions that I had and many other people had that would be readily answered once I got in,” he told Fox News’s Bill Hemmer. “But I haven’t found that to be the case.”
Asked if he knew when the investigation into Trump began, Barr argued that he didn’t want to speculate on that. "I’ve been trying to get answers to the questions, and I’ve found that a lot of the answers have been inadequate and some of the explanations I’ve gotten don’t hang together, in a sense I have more questions today than when I first started," he said. When asked what he meant, Barr responded he was referring to “some of the explanations of what occurred.”
He also said the makeup of the group handling the early stages of the Russia investigation gave him pause.
“The thing that is interesting about this is that this was handled in a very senior level of these departments. It wasn’t handled in the ordinary way that investigations or counter intelligence activities are conducted,” he said. “It was sort of an ad hoc small group. Most of these people are no longer with the FBI or the CIA or the other agencies involved.”
Trump indicated his support for Barr’s investigation Friday, again slamming the Russia investigation as “treason.”
“My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on. Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics,” he tweeted. “A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!”
The president also touted a new Fox News poll that found 58 percent of respondents believed it was either “extremely,” “very” or “somewhat” likely agencies like the FBI broke the law to investigate Trump, compared to 31 percent who said it was “not at all” likely.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine