Attorney General William Barr made a number of unsubstantiated allegations against the FBI in a bizarre interview with NBC News' Pete Williams on Tuesday.
He claimed the FBI acted in "bad faith" when it investigated President Donald Trump's campaign's ties to Russia during the 2016 election.
He accused the bureau of improperly spying on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Barr also faulted the FBI for using confidential informants while investigating Trump's campaign.
The attorney general's comments were almost entirely at odds with an independent report released by the Justice Department's watchdog on Monday, which found the FBI had an "authorized purpose" to investigate Trump, and that none of the decisions were infected by political bias.
Attorney General William Barr told NBC News he thinks the FBI acted on "bad faith" when it investigated President Donald Trump's campaign's links to the Russian government during and after the 2016 election.
"I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press," Barr told NBC's Pete Williams. "I think there were gross abuses…and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI."
It's unclear what Barr was referring to when he made that statement.
An independent report released Monday by Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department's inspector general, found that the FBI had an "authorized purpose" when it launched the Russia investigation in July 2016.
It also found that there were irregularities in the bureau's application for a warrant to surveil the former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, but there is no "documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI's decision to seek FISA authority on Carter Page."
In other words, while scrutiny of the FBI's surveillance apparatus as a whole is warranted, the bureau's decision to monitor Page, who was suspected of being an unwitting Russian agent, was not infected by political bias, as Trump, Barr, and their allies have claimed for years.
Barr continued asserting that the Trump campaign was spied on and noted that the FBI used confidential informants who recorded conversations with campaign officials, according to NBC News.
"From a civil liberties standpoint, the greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government use 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 an election," Barr told NBC News.
Horowitz's report found that the bureau's use of confidential informants was in compliance with longstanding rules and protocol. But Barr vehemently disagreed with Horowitz's findings, saying the inspector general wasn't thorough in his investigation.
"All he said was, people gave me an explanation and I didn't find anything to contradict it," Barr told NBC News. "He hasn't decided the issue of improper motive. I think we have to wait until the full investigation is done."
Barr also released a statement on Monday that said Horowitz's report "makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a US presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken." (This is not what Horowitz's report concluded.)
Barr said the Russia probe was the first time 'counterintelligence techniques' were used against a presidential campaign.
The attorney general is currently doing a parallel investigation with US attorney John Durham,which also focuses on the roots of the Russia investigation. In that capacity, the two men have traveled to multiple countries and spoken with foreign intelligence officials to try to uncover evidence of wrongdoing.
There's no indication yet that they've found anything, and current and former Justice Department officials have expressed confusion at Barr's direct involvement in an inquiry that would typically be conducted by lower-level investigators.
Barr also told NBC News this was the first time that "counterintelligence techniques" were used against a presidential campaign.
Barr appears to be correct on this, but did not mention that the circumstances around the Russia investigation were also unique.
Never before had a foreign power mounted an elaborate and multi-faceted campaign to interfere in a US election to propel a specific candidate to the Oval Office.
Candidate Trump's campaign, moreover, enthusiastically welcomed that interference, though it didn't actively conspire with the Russian government in doing so, according to the former special counsel Robert Mueller's findings in the investigation.
Barr's interview comes as Trump faces allegations that he used the power of his office to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election. Specifically, Trump tried to strong-arm Ukraine into launching politically motivated investigations that would hurt former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democrats while withholding vital military aid and a White House meeting.
This fact has been confirmed by Trump himself, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, White House records, a whistleblower complaint, and a slew of witness testimony given under oath.
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