A group of attorneys from the conservative group Checks & Balances have slammed Attorney General William Barr after he responded critically to the findings of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report on the FBI investigation into President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.
Although the 476-page report highlighted "misconduct" by lower-level FBI officials and "clear abuse of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] process" to obtain a warrant to surveil a Trump campaign official, it largely discredited allegations that the FBI's leaders acted improperly to launch the probe. The findings concluded that the FBI had adequate reason to open the investigation because of valid concerns about Russian interference in the election.
Despite the independent inspector's findings, Barr voiced criticism of the FBI and its probe. "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," he said Monday.
In statements emailed to Newsweek, attorneys from Checks & Balances strongly criticized the attorney general's response to the report, while some also took aim at Trump. On its website, the organization describes its members as "a group of attorneys who would traditionally be considered conservative or libertarian." (Newsweek reached out to the Justice Department for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.)
"Bill Barr has grossly mischaracterized and subverted the findings of the IG investigation report addressing the FBI investigation into Russian interference in our 2016 election," said Donald Ayer, a former deputy attorney general, former deputy solicitor general and former U.S. attorney, in his statement.
"The report's headline findings are that the investigation was properly initiated based on a sound factual basis, and that the allegations of 'witch hunt' and bias on the part of those overseeing it are without foundation," Ayer added. Trump and his supporters have routinely described the investigations into his 2016 campaign as a "witch hunt."
The attorney referred to Trump as Barr's "client," arguing that the president and the attorney general disregarded the independent inspector general's findings because the "outcome he reaches is not the one desired" by the president.
"The attorney general has returned to his playbook of distortion and obfuscation in a transparent effort to undermine the IG's meticulous, fact-based conclusions," former associate deputy attorney general Jonathan Rose, who also served as a special assistant to President Richard Nixon, said.
Carrie Cordero, a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for national security, pointed out that the report demonstrated that there was no "evidence of political bias or systematic abuse of surveillance authorities on the part of the FBI." The president and some of his supporters have continued to push such claims, despite the inspector general's findings.
"There was no evidence, testimonial or documentary, that political bias improperly motivated the FBI's decision to continue a counterintelligence investigation focused on Russian attempts to subvert the American political process and, most importantly, that there was sufficient probable cause from the outset to undertake that investigation," asserted Stuart Gerson, a former assistant and acting attorney general.
Responding to the report on Monday, Trump said: "It's a disgrace what's happened with respect to the things that were done to our country. It should never again happen to another president." On Tuesday, Trump also attacked FBI Director Christopher Wray, whom he appointed, after the bureau head gave his assessment of the report's findings, which was at odds with that of the president and the attorney general.
"I don't know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn't the one given to me. With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!" Trump tweeted.
Cordero strongly criticized the president's attack on Wray, saying it betrayed the president's "own bias." She argued that Trump favors "personal loyalty and blind partisanship instead of dedication to mission and country."
"We should not accept as normal or acceptable a political leader who routinely seeks to damage the credibility of the leadership and institutions dedicated to keeping Americans safe," she said.