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William Barr forms team to review FBI’s actions in Trump probe

William Barr forms team to review FBI’s actions in Trump probe
Atty. Gen. William Barr appears before a House Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

Atty. Gen. William Barr has assembled a team to review controversial counterintelligence decisions made by Justice Department and FBI officials, including actions taken during the probe of the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter.

This indicates that Barr is looking into allegations that Republican lawmakers have been pursuing for more than a year — that the investigation into President Trump and possible collusion with Russia was tainted at the start by anti-Trump bias in the FBI and Justice Department.

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“I am reviewing the conduct of the investigation and trying to get my arms around all the aspects of the counterintelligence investigation that was conducted during the summer of 2016,” Barr told a House panel on Tuesday.

Barr’s inquiry is separate from a long-running investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters. The FBI declined to comment. Barr said he expected the inspector general’s work to be completed by May or June.

The issue came up as Barr testified before a Democratic-controlled House Appropriations subcommittee. Most of the questioning concerned demands for Barr to give lawmakers special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s full report and the evidence behind it. But the issue is sure to get more attention when Barr appears Wednesday before the panel’s GOP-led Senate counterpart.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who’s a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has already pledged to pursue the issue in the Judiciary Committee he leads.

“Once we put the Mueller report to bed, once Barr comes to the committee and takes questions about his findings and his actions, and we get to see the Mueller report, consistent with law, then we are going to turn to finding out how this got off the rails,” he said in a March 28 interview with Fox News.

He said Tuesday that he plans to defer his questions about the Russia investigation until Barr appears before his Judiciary panel on May 1.

Sessions probed

Some Justice Department officials have argued that a review of the FBI is necessary based on a pattern of actions, including a criminal investigation that agents opened into Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions in 2017 for misleading lawmakers about his contacts with Russians when he was a senator advising Trump’s campaign. The case against Sessions was eventually closed without charges.

“That’s great news he’s looking into how this whole thing started back in 2016,” Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said Tuesday of Barr’s interest in the issue. “That’s something that has been really important to us. It’s what we’ve been calling for.”

Before they lost control of the House in November’s election, Jordan and Republican allies including Rep. Devin Nunes of California conducted a two-year campaign to show players in the FBI and Justice Department were out to get Trump.

They interviewed more than 40 witnesses, demanded hundreds of thousands of Justice Department and FBI documents, and held a bombastic hearing in attempts to bring attention to their suspicions.

‘Salacious’ dossier

Republican Rep. Robert B. Aderholt of Alabama asked Barr during Tuesday’s hearing if the Justice Department is investigating “how it came to be that your agency used a salacious and unverified dossier as a predicate for a FISA order on a U.S. citizen?”

Aderholt was referring to the so-called Steele dossier, which had been put together as opposition research against Trump, including with funding from Democrats.

Congressional Republicans — and the president — have alleged that officials improperly relied on that dossier to obtain a secret warrant to spy on former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. They say that was the start of the probe that Trump calls a “witch hunt” and that Mueller took over after Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey.

In congressional testimony last year, though, Comey rejected the underlying thesis — that the Russia investigation was prompted by the dossier. “It was not,” Comey told House lawmakers.

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Rather, he said, the probe began with information about a conversation that a Trump campaign foreign policy advisor — known to be George Papadopoulos — “had with an individual in London about stolen emails that the Russians had that would be harmful to Hillary Clinton.”

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