AG William Barr Says He Thinks There Were 'Gross Abuses' at FBI: 'Inexplicable Behavior That is Intolerable'

Attorney General William Barr, a staunch defender of the president, criticized the Justice Department inspector general's findings that largely vindicated the agency's handling of its probe into Russian election interference in 2016 and potential links to the Trump presidential campaign.

"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 said in an interview with NBC News reporter Pete Williams. "I think there were gross abuses...and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI."

Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded in a 434-page report released Monday—the product of an internal investigation spanning nearly two years—that the FBI did not err when it opened an investigation into potential ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia. However, Horowitz found "serious performance failures" in how the agency sought surveillance warrants against Carter Page, an aide on the campaign.

"In one area I do disagree with the IG—that was whether there was sufficient predication to open a full-blown counterintelligence investigation, specifically using the techniques that they did to collect intelligence about the Trump campaign," Barr added.

Elsewhere in his interview, which was released Tuesday, Barr reiterated inflammatory claims about the FBI's observation of Page, and by doing so characterized the surveillance process in a politically useful way.

"The greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government used the apparatus of the state, principally the law enforcement agencies and the intelligence agencies, both to spy on political opponents but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the [2016] election," Barr said. "As far as I'm aware, this is the first time in history that this has been done to a presidential campaign."

In claiming that the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign, Barr is giving voice to a favored talking point of the president's. Nevertheless, Horowitz noted in his report that former FBI Director James Comey said he had "no information that would support an allegation that the FBI had been spying on the Trump campaign."

Regarding the surveillance warrant, while Horowitz did fault the FBI for 17 different procedural and evidentiary errors, he concluded there was no "documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI's decision to seek [surveillance] authority on Carter Page."

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

Attorney General William Barr Presents Award For Distinguished Service In Policing To Law Enforcement Officers
Attorney General William Barr attends an event to present the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in Policing at the Department of Justice on December 3. Drew Angerer/Getty