Bill Barr is implementing reforms to protect future political campaigns from being improperly spied on.
The attorney general announced at a press conference Monday that top Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI officials would have to sign off on any operations to surveil a political campaign in the future, The Hill reported. The move comes after rampant surveillance abuses were discovered in the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.
“One of the things that we have agreed on is that the opening of a counterintelligence investigation of a presidential campaign would be something that the director of the FBI would have to sign off on and the attorney general would have to sign off on,” Barr said, according to The Hill.
Barr makes his move
Barr excoriated the FBI and DOJ in the wake of last year’s inspector general (IG) report on abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The report, from IG Michael Horowitz, revealed that the FBI repeatedly lied and suppressed exculpatory evidence to justify spying on Carter Page, a Trump campaign staffer.
The IG concluded that the overall investigation was justified, despite finding significant errors, but Barr said at the time that it was launched on “flimsy” pretenses and raised the possibility of “bad faith.”
“The inspector general’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” Barr said in December, according to the Washington Examiner. “It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory.”
The attorney general announced Monday that he and FBI Director Christopher Wray agreed to reform oversight of the FISA process. Under the prior protocol, DOJ lawyers would approve FISA applications, rather than the FBI chief and attorney general, according to Reuters.
The FISA court issued a rare, stunning rebuke of the spying operation on Page after the IG report was released last year, NBC News noted. For his part, Barr has continued to call FISA a “critical tool” for U.S. intelligence, according to ABC, despite his criticism of the Trump–Russia probe.
Barr troubled by spying
Barr has made clear that he sees the FBI’s spying on the Trump campaign as a troubling and unprecedented intrusion into a political campaign by law enforcement. His department is overseeing a separate criminal investigation of the origins of the Trump–Russia probe being led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, which Barr has said may take several months to complete, The Hill reported.
The attorney general has questioned the official rationale for the probe, which the FBI claims began after George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign member, mentioned “Russian dirt” that a shadowy European associate alluded to in conversation. But in an interview last year, Barr said that the Papadopoulos tip was of very little “probative value,” since it was well known at the time that Russians were trying to interfere in the election.
“To lead to the conclusion that it showed knowledge of a later hack into the DNC [Democratic National Committee] was a pretty aggressive conclusion,” Barr said, according to Fox News. “I just think that by the time the president entered office — around that time — it was becoming clear that there was no basis to these allegations — not just the [Steele] dossier falling apart, but the information that they were relying [on] as to Page and to Papadopoulos.”
The FISA court picked former Justice Department official David Kris to help with the new reforms, but Trump said Kris had “zero credibility,” according to Reuters. Page, meanwhile, said that Kris was a token hire who would not actually change the system.
Only time will tell if their predictions prove true.