Former AG William Barr visits California, defends probe into Trump-Russia investigation

Paul Kitagaki Jr./

Former U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday defended the investigation he launched into the origins of the FBI’s probe of Trump Administration ties to Russia during the 2016 presidential election, an inquiry that is drawing new questions about its legality.

“You review something to get the facts,” Barr said at a news conference in Sacramento. “We wanted to hold people accountable if something came up that indicated criminality.”

Barr made his comments as two House Democrats called for an investigation into the four-year inquiry — a probe that was itself a re-investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In a letter obtained by the New York Times, the lawmakers asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to look into whether Barr and the special counsel he appointed, John H. Durham, violated any laws, or legal ethics.

Barr was featured as a keynote speaker at California News Publishers Association’s 2023 CapCon conference. He then sat down with Sacramento Bee reporters for an interview.

Shortly after Mueller released his 2019 report, Barr announced, at Trump’s urging, his own inquiry into the FBI’s handling of the Trump-Russia probe. He appointed Durham, then a U.S. Attorney for Connecticut he later named special counsel, to carry it out. Durham is reportedly working on his final report.

Mueller’s investigation concluded there was not sufficient evidence for criminal charges against Trump or of a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign. It did, however, find that the former president’s 2016 campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

Mueller’s team secured indictments or guilty pleas on a range of charges from 34 individuals, including six former Trump advisers, among them former campaign chair Paul Manafort.

Trump and Barr, however, repeatedly described the report as failing to find any collusion between Trump and Russia.

But Durham’s investigation is expected to culminate soon without any evidence that the Mueller probe was the politically motivated “hoax” or “witch hunt” that Trump and Barr alleged.

A New York Times story published last month reported that the Durham review was fueled by conspiracy theories and roiled by internal disputes over prosecutorial ethics. While a special counsel is supposed to be independent, the paper said that Barr met frequently with Durham, even traveling with him overseas.

The article also disclosed that Italian officials in 2019 tipped off Barr and Durham about suspected financial crimes tied to Trump. Barr said he assigned Durham to investigate the matter because it was “not completely separate” from the Russia query. Barr did not detail how the tip related to the Russia probe. The Times article provided a contrasting narrative, saying that it was unrelated.

In an interview with the Bee, Barr called the Times article inaccurate due to “the exclusion of things that they don’t want to say.”

“They ignored some fundamental facts as to why some information Durham was seeking was very important information,” he said.

In his keynote address, Barr said the media’s coverage of the “big lie” that was the Russia-gate scandal caused “serious harm to the body politic.”

Barr was quick to deflect questions about his office’s investigation, and instead poked holes in the Mueller investigation and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s “effort to dirty up Trump” before the election.

Asked if looking back he would conduct any aspect of the investigation differently, or whether he takes any personal responsibility for the rise of misinformation in the national political conversation, Barr replied: “No.”

“When I said something, I believed it to be true,” he said. “And when I saw something happening that I thought was harmful and based on lies, I would speak up.”