Attorney General Bill Barr told Fox News' Bret Baier in an exclusive interview aired Tuesday that Americans will be able to recognize "some" of the names under investigation as part of U.S. Attorney John Durham's ongoing probe into federal surveillance abuses -- and that he is "very troubled" by "what has been called to" his attention so far.
Barr asserted that despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Durham team "has been working very aggressively to move forward," and that there "will be public disclosure" of his findings. Part one of Baier's interview with Barr aired on Monday.
"I think before the election, I think we're concerned about the motive force behind the very aggressive investigation that was launched into the Trump campaign without, you know, with a very thin, slender reed as a basis for it," Barr told Baier. "It seemed that the bureau was sort of spring-loaded at the end of July to drive in there and investigate a campaign."
The Justice Department's (DOJ's) watchdog has identified critical errors in every FBI wiretap application that it audited as part of the fallout from the bureau's heavily flawed investigation into former Trump adviser Carter Page, who was surveilled during the campaign in part because of a largely discredited dossier funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Additionally, an ex-FBI lawyer in that case even falsified a CIA email submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court in order to make Page's communications with Russians appear nefarious, the DOJ inspector general found. The FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, was allegedly told by the CIA that Page had reported his Russian contacts and was essentially acting as an informant -- only for Clinesmith to allegedly omit that exculpatory information in a surveillance warrant application that framed Page's communications with Russians as a sign that he was a secret foreign agent.
Barr said he couldn't comment on whether criminal charges were coming, including concerning Clinesmith -- but that people shouldn't become impatient. The DOJ has concluded that the Page warrant was legally improper and lacked probable cause.
"We can't discuss future charges. But I have to say that I do find a little irritating," Barr said. "You know, the propensity in the American public on all sides of the political spectrum when they see something they think could be a criminal violation, I say, why hasn't this person been indicted again? And, you know, there's the old saying that that the wheels of justice grind slow and they do run slow because we have due process and we follow the process. But people should not draw from the fact that no action has been taken that taken yet, that that means that people or people are going to get away with wrongdoing."
The attorney general emphasized, however, that he wasn't concerned about criticisms of the Durham probe in an election year.
"For the first time in American history, police organizations and the national security organizations were used to spy on a campaign, and there was no basis for it," Barr said. "The media largely drove that -- and all kinds of sensational claims were being made about the president that could have affected the election. And then and then later on, in his administration, there were actions taken that really appear to be efforts to sabotage his campaign. And that has to be looked at. And if people want to say that I'm political because I am looking at those potential abuses of power, so be it. But that's the job of the attorney general."
Internal FBI documents unsealed in April indicate that Peter Strzok -- the now-disgraced anti-Trump former head of FBI counterintelligence -- ordered the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn to remain open even after it was slated to be closed due to a lack of so-called "derogatory" information.
The materials surfaced just a day after explosive FBI communications revealed that top bureau officials discussed their motivations for interviewing Flynn in the White House on Jan. 24, 2017 -- and openly questioned if their "goal" was "to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired."
Top Republicans, meanwhile, have accused FBI Director Christopher Wray of ignoring their May 4 letter seeking information and interviews with key FBI officials in the Flynn case - prompting the lawmakers to take matters into their own hands.
"Because Director Wray has declined to respond to our request, we are forced to write to you directly," Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Mike Johnson, R-La., wrote in an extraordinary letter last month to FBI agent Joe Pientka, who participated in the unusual January 24, 2017 White House interview that led to Flynn's prosecution for one count of making false statements to the FBI. The lawmakers requested Pientka sit for a transcribed interview with the Judiciary Committee.
Fox News previously determined that Pientka also was intimately involved in the Carter Page probe, which the DOJ has since acknowledged was riddled with fundamental errors and premised on a discredited dossier that the bureau was told could be part of a Russian disinformation campaign.
Pientka was removed from the FBI's website after Fox News contacted the FBI about his extensive role in Crossfire Hurricane FISA matters -- a change first noticed by Twitter user Techno Fog -- but sources said Pientka remained in a senior role at the agency's San Francisco field office. The FBI told Fox News shortly before Pientka's removal from the website that reporting on his identity could endanger his life, even though he serves in a prominent senior role at the bureau.
"They seem to have ignored all the exculpatory evidence that was building up and continued pell-mell to push it forward," Barr told Baier. "So that's one area of concern."
Barr also slammed Judge Emmet Sullivan for trying to become an "alternative prosecutor" in the Flynn case. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case on Friday, after Flynn's lawyer Sidney Powell said it was unconstitutional for Sullivan to keep the case alive even though both the prosecution and defense want it dismissed. The DOJ has accused Sullivan of usurping the executive branch's constitutional prosecutorial discretion.
Brandon Van Grack, a top Justice Department prosecutor and former member of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, withdrew from the Flynn case in May. His departure came just days after Fox News reported that the explosive, newly unsealed evidence documenting the FBI's efforts to target Flynn called into question whether Van Grack complied with a court order to produce favorable evidence to Flynn.
Just minutes after Van Grack exited, the DOJ announced it was seeking to drop the Flynn case entirely. That came on the recommendation of U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen, who served as an FBI agent for more than a decade and had been evaluating the Flynn case.
"The other area of concern is that after the election, even though they were closing down some of that, as we've seen in the Flynn case, and say there's nothing here, for some reason, they went right back at it, even at a time where the evidentiary support or claim support like the dossier was falling apart," Barr said. "And it's very hard to understand why they continued to push and even make public testimony that they had an investigation going when it was becoming painfully obvious or should have been obvious to anyone that there was nothing there."
Barr said that the DOJ was "looking at" names that some might recognize -- although not at the level of Joe Biden or Barack Obama.
The DOJ, Barr added, was also taking a look at requests by several Obama administration officials -- including Biden and Obama's chief of staff -- to obtain the identity of an individual who turned out to be Flynn through a process known as "unmasking."
The process ordinarily begins when a U.S. citizen's communications with a foreign adversary are intercepted by U.S. intelligence. Limited numbers of U.S. officials can then request the identity of the U.S. citizen, which is normally shielded for privacy reasons. Flynn was unmasked by a slew of Obama administration officials, and news of his calls with Russian officials immediately leaked to the news media, furthering Russia collusion narratives.
A transcript unearthed by Fox News indicates that The Washington Post’s newsroom was deeply divided over whether it was even worth reporting that Flynn was speaking to Kislyak in December 2016 -- before the Post published details in a column from an opinion writer who “was able to just throw this piece of red meat out there.”
"You know, unmasking is not by itself illegal, but the patterns of unmasking can tell us something about people's motivations at any given point of time," Barr said. "So we're trying to take a look at the whole waterfront on unmasking what was done, especially in 2016."
Obama was aware of the details of Flynn's intercepted December 2016 phone calls with Kislyak, apparently surprising then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, according to documents released as exhibits to the government's motion to dismiss the Flynn case.
Obama's unexpectedly intimate knowledge of the details of Flynn's calls, which the FBI acknowledged at the time were not criminal or even improper, raised eyebrows because of his own history with Flynn -- and because top FBI officials secretly discussed whether their goal was to "get [Flynn] fired" when they interviewed him in the White House on Jan. 24, 2017.
Obama personally had warned the Trump administration against hiring Flynn, and made clear he was "not a fan," according to multiple officials. Obama had fired Flynn as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014; Obama cited insubordination, while Flynn asserted he was pushed out for his aggressive stance on combating lslamic extremism.
"I mean, for example, let's say suppose for a period in the spring, there was a lot of heavy unmasking done on people involved with the Trump campaign," Barr added. "That would be very relevant as to what people were thinking at that time and what their motivations were."
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power sought to obtain Flynn's redacted identity on at least seven occasions, according to newly declassified list of names from the intelligence community -- even though Power testified under oath before the House Intelligence Committee that she had “no recollection” of ever making such a request even once.
The records raised new concerns over exactly who might have leaked details of the Flynn investigation to The Washington Post in January 2017.
That leak apparently was illegal, given national security laws and the classified nature of the Flynn probe. In early January 2017, President Obama loosened rules governing the sharing of intelligence information within the federal government -- which Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said was intended to "pave the way for a shadow government to leak classified information" more easily.
And, the breadth of unmasking requests relating to Flynn was striking enough to prompt questioning in congressional hearings. According to the documents, Power may have received Flynn’s identity after an unmasking request on Nov. 30, 2016; Dec. 2, 2016; Dec. 7, 2016; Dec. 14, 2016 (two unmasking requests); Dec. 23, 2016, and Jan. 11, 2017.
The list does not make clear whether Power, or other named officials, actually received the identity they sought to unmask.
“The number of unmasking requests by yourself began to go up dramatically in 2014,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told Power, as noted by The Federalist's Sean Davis.
According to transcripts of her testimony released last month after Republicans demanded them, Power claimed: “Any time a U.S. person or entity's name came to me disclosed or annotated, or where I requested it and it came back, I never discussed it with another member of the human race. ... I have no recollection of making a request related to General Flynn.”
Power added, “I have never leaked classified information. .. I have never leaked names that have come back to me in this highly compartmented process. I have, in fact, never leaked, even unclassified information.”
At the same time, Power acknowledged she had a “significant appetite for intelligence.”
As if to prospectively assuage any concerns of impropriety, former national security adviser Susan Rice sent an email to herself on Jan. 20, 2017, the day of Trump's inauguration, stating multiple times that Obama wanted everything done "by the book" concerning Flynn. Republicans called the strange email an obvious attempt by Rice to cover herself politically.
"I mean, it’s the most bizarre thing I’ve read," former House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy told Fox News. "It is, ‘Dear Diary, President Obama is perfect and Jim Comey says he’s done everything by the book.’ Well, I’d like to know what book he's following."