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AG Barr Makes It Harder for Federal Authorities to Investigate Presidential Campaigns


U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would have to meet more rigorous standards before opening any future counterintelligence investigations into presidential campaigns.

The more stringent protocols will require campaign probes to be approved by the top leaders at the Bureau and the Department of Justice (DOJ), currently FBI Director Christopher Wray and Barr himself.

“One of the things we agreed on is that the opening of a counterintelligence investigation of a presidential campaign would be something that the director of the FBI would have to sign off on and the Attorney General would have to sign off on,” Barr said at a press conference on Monday.

Barr’s announcement came just over a month after the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its report on the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Inspector General Michael Horowitz did say that he was “concerned […] that Department and FBI policies do not require that a senior Department official be notified prior to the opening of a particularly sensitive case such as this one.”

The report revealed that the bureau committed a multitude of “fundamental errors” and basic procedural errors in FISA applications presented to the court, but ultimately determined that the investigation was founded on sufficient evidence and not politically motivated.

Barr didn’t agree that the FBI was justified in taking the steps that it did, and said so publicly.

“The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that 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,” Barr said in a statement minutes after the report was published. “It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory.”

FBI Director Wray on Friday said the FBI planned to raise the threshold needed for the bureau to electronically surveil American citizens in certain cases.

Additionally, the FISA Court last week appointed former Obama Justice Department official David Kris to advise on proposed FISA procedural changes. Conservatives are not happy about the pick, and President Donald Trump immediately responded to it by saying Kris has “zero credibility” to take on the role.

While the new Barr-approved measures were welcomed by the president’s supporters, not everyone in Washington was as assenting.

“This is what you get when you allow a slow motion Saturday Night Massacre,” former director of the U.S. Office of Ethics (OGE) Walter Shaub wrote Tuesday morning. “The replacement Attorney General is a loyalist who guards the president against the risk of being held accountable to the people. It’s what he was hired to do.”

Shaub worked as director of the OGE during Barack Obama’s presidency and resigned from his post in July 2017, as NPR noted at the time, due to “clashes with the White House over issues such as President Trump’s refusal to divest his businesses and the administration’s delay in disclosing ethics waivers for appointees.” He went on to join Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government ethics watchdog, as a senior advisor.

[image via BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.