The nation’s top law enforcement officer said the 2020 election will have no bearing on the Justice Department’s review of the Russia investigation.
Attorney General William Barr, in an interview on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show on Tuesday, also said U.S. Attorney John Durham’s inquiry into the origins of the Crossfire Hurricane operation and into the conduct of associated law enforcement officers and intelligence officials is proceeding full speed ahead amid the coronavirus pandemic but stressed indictments are not imminent.
Hewitt said there are DOJ guidelines related to announcing either indictments or the end of an investigation close to an election because of the impact it might have on who wins, noting these rules factored into then-FBI Director James Comey’s statement in July 2016 declaring that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information on her private email server but that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring an indictment against her. Hewitt pressed Barr on what Durham’s deadline was and whether any political considerations were being made.
Barr said Election Day was not going to be a factor for when Durham releases his likely report or for when he may press charges.
“As far as I’m aware, none of the key people that, whose actions are being reviewed at this point by Durham, are running for president,” Barr said.
“I think, in its core, the idea is, you don’t go after candidates,” he added. “You don’t indict candidates or perhaps someone that’s sufficiently close to a candidate, that it’s essentially the same, you know, within a certain number of days before an election. But, you know, as I say, I don’t think any of the people whose actions are under review by Durham fall into that category.”
There has been some debate about whether Durham should avoid making any significant moves or announcements close to the presidential election, which is shaping up to be a contest between President Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Andrew McCarthy, a former chief assistant U.S. attorney in New York and senior fellow at the National Review Institute, recently said, “The closer it gets to Election Day, the more any charges he brought would be framed by the media as kind of a Trump campaign stunt.” The former federal prosecutor also warned the investigation will go “down the memory hole” if Trump does not win reelection in November.
With the review about a year in, Hewitt asked Barr if he was “shocked” by anything Durham had briefed him on so far, to which Barr said he “wouldn’t use the word shocked,” though he said he was “very troubled” by some of what he learned.
“I think the reason that we have this investigation is because there are a lot of things that are unexplained,” Barr said. “And I think we’re getting deeply into the situation, and we’ll be able to sort out exactly what happened.”
Barr did not weigh in on recently declassified footnotes from DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December report on the FBI’s Russia investigation that showed the bureau had been aware of warnings that Russian disinformation may have compromised British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier, which was used to obtain warrants to surveil Carter Page, a onetime adviser to the Trump campaign.
Hewitt asked when Durham might make some sort of announcement about whether indictments were coming or not, and Barr replied that would happen “as soon as we feel we have something that we are confident in to tell the people about.” The radio show host then asked if such an announcement would be “imminent.”
“No, it’s not imminent,” Barr said. “But I’m not sure what imminent means. I’m not sure what imminent means. But it’s not imminent.”
Barr discussed revelations related to a recent FISA audit by Horowitz in which flaws were found in 29 out of 29 sample surveillance applications that were reviewed, as well as “material errors or omissions” being unearthed in two FISA applications as recently as 2019.
“I think that the failure to follow the guidelines and the requirements in preparing FISA applications, you know, is very disturbing, especially coming as recently as it has,” Barr said. “And, you know, we shouldn’t proceed with FISA unless we have safeguards and ensure that the law is being scrupulously followed by the FBI.”
Horowitz’s lengthy December report criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the FISA warrants against Page in 2016 and 2017 and for the bureau’s reliance on Steele’s unverified dossier. Steele put his research together at the behest of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which was funded by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the Perkins Coie law firm.
Durham drove to Washington, D.C., in March to ensure the investigation stayed on track during the coronavirus outbreak. Connecticut’s top federal prosecutor is reportedly looking into highly sensitive issues, including whether former CIA Director John Brennan took politicized actions to pressure the rest of the intelligence community to match his conclusions about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s motivations during the 2016 presidential election.
The 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment concluded with “high confidence” that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016” and that Russia worked to “undermine public faith” in U.S. democracy, “denigrate” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and “harm her electability and potential presidency,” and “developed a clear preference” for Trump. The NSA diverged on one aspect, expressing only “moderate confidence” that Putin actively tried to help Trump win and Clinton lose.
A Senate Intelligence Committee report, released Tuesday, found the 2017 spy assessment “presents a coherent and well-constructed intelligence basis for the case of unprecedented Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” The Senate investigators did not find evidence of undue political pressure by Brennan or anyone else.