Even so, critics of the Russia probe return to a similar set of facts that have already been reviewed, including hundreds of pages of documents that provide a deeper explanation of the origins of the investigation.
In all of it, there is scant evidence to support President Donald Trump’s allegations that hostile and partisan forces inside the Obama-era Justice Department abused their powers to stymie his campaign.
And yet, in heeding Trump’s public demand to “investigate the investigators,” Barr has hinted that he has already uncovered improprieties, without offering any details. He’s also stated outright that he believes Trump’s campaign was spied on.
These allegations form the core of Trump’s conspiracy theories about the Russia probe. But many of them have already been debunked. While Trump has promoted his claims to the press, several of those he has accused of wrongdoing have rejected his theories under penalty of perjury.
Origins of the Russia investigation
According to these investigations, Papadopoulos bragged to an Australian diplomat in May 2016 that the Russians had “dirt” on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and could help the Trump campaign. The Australian government informed the FBI two months later, after WikiLeaks started publishing internal emails that were hacked from the Democratic National Committee.
The Mueller report explicitly states that this information prompted the FBI on July 31, 2016, to open its investigation into whether the campaign was coordinating with Russia.
Both James Comey, who was FBI director at the time, and James Baker, who was the FBI’s top lawyer, testified to Congress that the Russia probe was triggered by the Papadopoulos tip.
Even Rod Rosenstein, the former deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller as special counsel, has said the Russia investigation was “justified, and closing it was not an option.”
Still, Barr could examine whether there was enough to trigger a full-blown FBI investigation. He also plans to “illuminate open questions” about “foreign intelligence services” that were involved in the Russia probe.
Potential abuse of surveillance tools
Barr is also poised to pick up where Rep. Devin Nunes left off when it comes to probing alleged abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which gives federal law enforcement powers to wiretap US citizens and monitor their communications with court approval.
But much of Nunes’ work has already been reviewed — and rejected. This is what makes Barr’s “spying” comments so controversial, since they indicate that he believes the FISA warrants may have been granted without sufficient evidence.
After the Nunes memo debacle, House Republicans launched their own inquiry, grilling top FBI and Justice Department officials behind closed doors about the FISA warrants. Those depositions failed to uncover evidence of a grand conspiracy against the President, and provided testimony to the merits of the investigation being opened. But the investigations have ensured coverage of Trump’s claims continues.
Three top FBI lawyers involved in the FISA applications for Carter Page told lawmakers that proper procedures were followed. Baker, the FBI’s former general counsel, said he personally checked to make sure that it would “adhere to the law and stand up over time.” His deputy Trisha Anderson testified that they did not mislead the FISA court. FBI lawyer Sally Moyer said the team didn’t even see it as a “close call.”
“We would have gotten there on probable cause even without the Steele reporting,” Moyer said.
Depths of the alleged conspiracy
At least five other key players testified under oath that there was no “deep state” conspiracy.
Barr’s review could examine even more of their activities for bias. He might scrutinize their infamous “insurance policy” text, which Trump cites as proof of the conspiracy against him.
The private message in August 2016 was about early efforts to investigate Trump’s campaign aides. Their message said, in part: “there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”
Page offered the same explanation when she was grilled behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. Her testimony lasted two days and Republicans later released 370 pages of transcripts
“This is an extraordinarily conservative organization,” Page said of the FBI. “So, the notion that there’s a deep state conspiracy about anything is laughable.”
So far, Bill Barr isn’t laughing.