The forthcoming report from the Office of Inspector General on potential Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuse will finally unleash Attorney General William Barr, and when it does, watch out.
For the last month, conservative pundits have predicted the ever-imminent dropping of Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on his investigation into the circumstances surrounding FISA surveillance of former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. Horowitz’s report will likely provide new and damaging details surrounding the FBI’s use of the FISA court to spy on Page. More importantly, the conclusion of Horowitz’s probe frees Barr to conduct a broader and more exacting investigation into all aspects of the Russia collusion hoax.
Barr revealed this during his interview last week with “CBS This Morning’s” Jan Crawford. In his hour-long interview, Barr made several points clear. First, Barr confirmed that Horowitz’s investigation focused on a discrete aspect of the Russia collusion investigation—the electronic surveillance of Page. (Barr had previously stated that he anticipated receiving Horowitz’s conclusions concerning the propriety of the FISA process targeting Page in May or June, which makes the fevered predictions that Barr already had the IG report less impressive.)
Second, Barr explained that the norm for the Department of Justice was for investigations to be put “on hold while the Office of Inspector General conduct[s] its review.” Barr had suggested the same in his testimony last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
During that hearing on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Barr praised FBI Director Christopher Wray and the FBI line agents, stressing that the potential overreach involved “a few people in the upper echelons of the Bureau and the Department [of Justice].” Those people are gone now, Barr noted, before adding that he was now working closely with Wray “trying to reconstruct exactly what went down.” But “one thing that people should know,” the attorney general stressed, was “that the bureau itself has been handicapped looking back because of the OIG investigation.”
At the time of his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, it was unclear what Barr meant by saying the FBI had been “handicapped” by the OIG’s investigation. But his comments to Crawford last week brought some clarity to his testimony: The DOJ does not proceed with investigations while the OIG is investigating the same matter.
That leads to the next significant revelation from Barr’s “CBS This Morning” interview: Utah U.S. Attorney John Huber, whom former attorney general Jeff Sessions had charged with assisting Horowitz in investigating potential FISA abuse, has done nothing to help unravel Spygate in the year-plus since his assignment to the FISA abuse investigation.
Rather, as Barr explained to Crawford, “Huber had originally been asked to take a look at the FISA applications and the electronic surveillance but then he stood back and put that on hold while the Office of Inspector General was conducting its review.” This stand-back approach “would’ve been normal for the department,” Barr added.
Barr’s explanation to Crawford about Huber’s role finally answers the question that has stymieing conservatives for more than a year: What has Huber been doing? Nothing! Huber “was essentially on standby in case Mr. Horowitz referred a matter to him to be handled criminally. So he has not been active on this front in recent months,” Barr acknowledged.
The current attorney general’s comments also reveal another reality: Sessions snookered conservatives, who had been clamoring for a second special counsel to investigate FISA abuse, by naming Huber, while knowing the Utah-based U.S. attorney’s hands would be tied under normal DOJ procedures.
Rather than bemoan Sessions’ timid approach to Spygate, conservatives (and those truly concerned about the rule of law and government abuse of power) should focus instead on the future. Here, Barr’s comments to Crawford demonstrate the reigning attorney general, unlike his predecessor, is bypassing the IG and putting the full force of the DOJ behind the investigation into the Russia collusion hoax.
Barr could have just expanded Horowitz’s investigation, Crawford noted in her interview with the attorney general. Yes, he could have. Like Sessions, Barr could have left the broader investigation into the origins of the targeting of the Trump campaign in the hands of the OIG. But he didn’t.
He explained: “Well the inspector general at the department, Mike Horowitz, who you know is a superb government official, he has limited powers. He doesn’t have the power to compel testimony, he doesn’t have the power really to investigate beyond the current cast of characters at the Department of Justice. His ability to get information from former officials or from other agencies outside the department is very limited.”
Further, while Sessions purported to sidestep that concern by appointing Huber to assist in the investigation as necessary, as we know now, the mere existence of the IG investigation “handicapped” the DOJ. By refusing to expand Horowitz’s probe, Barr has ensured that is no longer the case.
So, while the upcoming release of Horowitz’s report on the FISA targeting of Carter Page is significant in its own right, the closing of the final IG investigation into the Russia collusion investigation promises to open the flood gates for previously undisclosed information and indictments. And President Trump’s decision to authorize Barr to declassify documents, and Barr’s selection of U.S. Attorney John Durham to lead the investigation, suggests it will only be a matter of time before the deluge.
Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame.
The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.