Attorney General William Barr claimed in an NBC News interview on Tuesday that former President Barack Obama posed the “greatest danger” to democracy in the 2016 election — not Russia.
Appearing a day after FBI Director Christopher Wray defended his department on ABC News, Barr railed against his own department’s inspector general report, which concluded that the FBI did not “spy” on the Trump campaign and was justified in launching an investigation into its ties to Russia.
NBC News reporter Pete Williams pressed Barr on why he characterized the opening of the Russia investigation as “flimsy” — despite Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s finding the FBI had an “authorized purpose” to initiate the probe. Williams said one could argue the FBI had an imperative to investigate the Trump campaign over evidence of ties to Russian interference, given “there could be a threat to our political process.”
Barr responded by suggesting that Obama’s FBI investigating the Trump campaign posed a greater threat to democracy in the United States than Russian interference in a fair and free election.
“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 to spy on political opponents. But as to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election,” Barr alleged. “As far as I’m aware, this is the first time in history that this has been done to a presidential campaign.”
Barr also claimed that the FBI may have opened the investigation in “bad faith” and insisted that Trump’s campaign was “clearly spied upon” in spite of Horowitz’s nearly two-year investigation which found no such evidence.
"The greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government used the apparatus of the state … both to spy on political opponents, but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election."
Attorney General Barr reacts to the IG report: pic.twitter.com/KVcppvrruN
— BlazeTV (@BlazeTV) December 10, 2019
He also downplayed the Trump campaign’s hundreds of contacts with Russian officials, insisting that “presidential campaigns are frequently in contact with foreign persons.”
Barr’s comments were criticized by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“Barr is acting in incredibly bad faith,” tweeted Warner. “With this revisionist campaign to undermine a thorough, two-year IG investigation, the Attorney General is once again substituting partisan rhetoric for politically inconvenient facts.”
“We cannot overstate the damage Bill Barr is doing to the rule of law,” added Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., who sits on the House Judiciary Committee.
“Barr’s accusation that the career men and women at the FBI were acting in bad faith a day after a comprehensive investigation failed to find that is a new low,” former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. “Just sheer partisan hackery.”