Home / Articles / Lowering the ‘Barr’: The Attorney General’s Disappointing and Disrespectful Dissing of the U.S. Intelligence Community
Last week, while testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, William Barr, the Attorney General of the United States, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, and the executive official who sits at the apex of the national security pyramid in terms of approving applications for foreign intelligence electronic surveillance in the United States, said he would scrutinize the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, including whether “‘spying’ conducted by American intelligence agencies on the campaign’s associates had been properly carried out.”
Saying that “spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr promised to look into “the genesis and the conduct” of the FBI inquiry. “I think spying did occur,” Mr. Barr said. “The question is whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting that it wasn’t adequately predicated. But I need to explore that.” Not surprisingly, Barr’s biggest advocate in encouraging such “exploration” appears to be his boss, the President of the United States who, within hours, one-upped Barr by insisting that “[t]here was absolutely spying into my campaign … I’ll go a step further, It was my opinion it was illegal spying unprecedented spying, and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again.”
Yes, government spying on a political campaign is a “big deal;” so, one might think that someone as experienced as Barr with the fractious scene and nuanced speech of Washington politics might have chosen his words a bit more carefully. After all, the Attorney General’s continued opacity on the content of the Mueller Report and how much of that report anyone other than his inner circle at the Department of Justice might see tends to undermine, at least for now, his every statement on any of the events regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. While Barr sought to mitigate the broader implications of his contention of “spying” by saying that he was not saying “improper surveillance occurred,” there was certainly no indication that his decision to lob this verbal accusation was intended to convey a belief that any and all surveillance employed was proper.
Given Barr’s apparent indifference towards casting aspersions at the FBI and, by implication given the record-to-date of this administration’s treatment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, that Community as a whole, it seems especially prudent to provide an abbreviated recounting of what is known about the FBI counterintelligence investigation that focused, at least in part, on contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians. More or less chronologically, these are the most salient revelations that have been reported:
June 16, 2015: Donald Trump announces his candidacy for president.
July 2015: Hackers supported by the Russian government penetrate the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) computer network.
Summer and Fall 2015: Thousands of social media accounts created by Russian surrogates initiate a propaganda and disinformation campaign reflecting a decided preference for the Trump candidacy.
March 19, 2016: Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta, falls victim to an email phishing scam.
March 2016: George Papadopoulos joins the Trump campaign as an adviser. While traveling in mid-March, Papadopoulos meets a London-based professor whom Papadopoulos understands to have “substantial connections to Russian government officials.”
March 21, 2016: Trump identifies Papadopoulos and Carter Page as members of his foreign policy team, in an interview with the Washington Post.
March 29, 2016: Trump names Paul Manafort to manage the Republican National Convention.
March 31, 2016: Papadopoulos tells Trump, Jeff Sessions, and other campaign members that he can use his Russian connections to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin.
April 2016: Papadopoulos’ professor source tells the Trump adviser about a meeting with high-ranking Russian government officials in Moscow who have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
May 2016: Donald Trump, Jr. meets with Alexander Torshin at a National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Louisville. Torshin is a former senator and deputy head of Russia’s central bank. Also in May, Trump was told by campaign aide George Papadopoulos that he had connections with people who could facilitate a meeting between the candidate and Putin, according to a court filing. As noted, Papadopoulos had met with a London-based professor two weeks earlier who claimed to have connections to Russian officials, according to court documents.
Mid 2016: The Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency establishes a dual strategy of supporting Donald Trump’s candidacy and disparaging Hillary Clinton’s.
June 3, 2016: Trump, Jr. receives an email from Rob Goldstone, a business associate. Goldstone tells the younger Trump that Moscow supports his father’s candidacy and that he has a connection to a Russian government official with incriminating evidence against Hillary Clinton. Goldstone tells Trump, Jr.: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” The younger Trump replied that same day: “If it’s what you say, I love it.”
June 8, 2018: Russian intelligence officers launch DC Leaks, a website that promulgates stolen emails.
June 9, 2016: Trump, Jr., Manafort, and Kushner meet with a Russian national and several others at Trump Tower. The meeting follows Goldstone’s promise to Trump, Jr. that a “Russian government attorney” would deliver damaging information about Clinton. Recollections and descriptions of the purpose and details of the meeting shift over time.
June-July 2016: WikiLeaks and DCLeaks release thousands of documents about Clinton and internal DNC deliberations.
July 2016: Trump campaign adviser Carter Page travels to Moscow, where he meets with Russia’s deputy prime minister and a high-ranking Russian oil official. Page emails campaign staffers that the deputy prime minister had “expressed strong support for Mr. Trump” and that he had gleaned “incredible insights and outreach” in Russia. Ultimately, at least four applications are filed by the government under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) seeking authority to electronically surveil Page.
July 2016: Trump campaign associate J.D. Gordon successfully lobbies for the GOP platform to be changed to benefit Russia. Language is inserted vowing not to provide lethal aid to Ukrainians in their fight against Russian-backed separatists.
July 18, 2016: Sessions talks with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s U.S. ambassador, after Sessions’ speech at the Republican National Convention.
In the weeks after he became the Republican nominee on July 19, 2016, Donald Trump was warned that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would probably try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign, according to multiple government officials familiar with the matter. The warning came in the form of a high-level counterintelligence briefing by senior FBI officials, the officials said. A similar briefing was given to Hillary Clinton, they added. They said the briefings, which are commonly provided to presidential nominees, were designed to educate the candidates and their top aides about potential threats from foreign spies. The briefings were led by counterintelligence specialists from the FBI, the sources said. They were timed to occur around the period when the candidates began receiving classified intelligence, the officials said, which put them at greater risk for being targeted by foreign spies. Trump’s first intelligence briefing as Republican nominee was Aug. 17, 2016, according to media sources.
Trump was “briefed and warned” at the session about potential espionage threats from Russia, two former law enforcement officials familiar with the sessions told NBC News. A source close to the White House has said their position is that Trump was unaware of the contacts between his campaign and Russians. However, according to public reports, by the time of the warning in late July or August 2016, at least seven Trump campaign officials had been in contact with Russians or people linked to Russia. There is no public evidence that the campaign reported any of that to the FBI.
July 22, 2016: WikiLeaks begins releasing DNC emails ahead of the Democratic National Convention. The first tranche—nearly 20,000 emails—reveals an embarrassing glimpse at internal DNC deliberations.
July 25, 2016: The FBI publicly confirms its investigation into the DNC hack.
July 2016: The FBI opens a counterintelligence investigation into links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
July 2016: Paul Manafort sent an email offering a private briefing on the Trump campaign to his former business partner, a Russian oligarch with ties to Putin.
July 27, 2016: During a press conference, Trump says of Clinton’s emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you can find the 33,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
July 27, 2016: Russians for the first time begin to target Clinton’s emails.
September 2016: Sessions meets again with Kislyak.
Oct. 7, 2016: The U.S. Intelligence Community releases a statement saying the releases of emails on DC Leaks and WikiLeaks “are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.” Repeatedly while on the campaign trail in 2016, Trump trumpeted WikiLeaks. “I love reading those WikiLeaks,” Trump said in November 2016, a common refrain at his rallies.
Oct. 21, 2016: The FBI and Justice Department obtain a FISA warrant to monitor Carter Page based on the conclusion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that there was probable cause to believe that Page was acting as a Russian agent. The Page FISA surveillance authority is ultimately renewed 3 more times by different FISC judges each time.
Nov. 8, 2016: Trump is elected president.
A full appreciation for the import of this factual recounting is best achieved by assessing it in conjunction with the findings of the U.S. Intelligence Community as reflected in the Intelligence Community Assessmentof Russian election interference issued by the Director of National Intelligence in January 2017. Again, without repeating the ICA’s content at length, its key judgments were:
That Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election represented its most recent expression of its longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order, but that those activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort as compared to previous operations.
The assessment that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election” coupled with the further assessment that “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
Measured against this imposing background of facts and intelligence analysis, and assuming that his extemporaneous remarks purportedly embodied some level of prior reflection, it is difficult to understand, and disturbing to consider, what source(s) of information the Attorney General thought warranted such an incendiary judgment about the conduct of this particular counterintelligence investigation.
The Carter Page FISA applications seem to be the most obvious target of Barr’s impromptu references to “spying” and “surveillance.” This is highly unfortunate for, aside from a certain coterie of conservative lawyers and Fox News zealots, those applications have been dissected by many legal scholars and have been widely accepted as properly approved by the FISC. Nonetheless, Barr’s ill-considered comments are certain to reopen debate on the most controversial element of those Carter Page FISA applications: the infamous “Steele Dossier.” The cabal of conspiracy theorists, energized by their beloved Fox News pundits, will now surely insist that their demonization of that Dossier has found new support from the country’s top law enforcement officer. In doing so, they will undoubtedly continue to misdirect their attention, and the attention of all those willing to be misled, to the raunchiest elements of that Dossier rather than focusing on the particular parts of the Dossier that address the activities of Carter Page—the only parts relevant to the FISC’s evaluation of whether there were sufficient facts upon which to find probable cause to approve the surveillance of Page.
As almost anyone with a passing interest in the counterintelligence investigation into Russian election interference now knows, Christopher Steele was a former MI-6 agent working as a private investigator whose services, at the time the Dossier was compiled, had been retained by Fusion GPS to seek out information for the Clinton campaign that could be used to discredit the Trump campaign, an initiative begun in the 2016 primary season by Republicans opposed to a Trump candidacy. Steele’s efforts are recorded in a series of 17 memoranda (collectively, the “Dossier”), each titled as a “Company Intelligence Report” and serialized as “2016/xxx.”
Steele appears as “Source #1” in the Page FISA applications, and the FBI told the FISC that Steele had been “approached by an identified U.S. person [Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS] who indicated to [Steele] that a U.S.-based law firm [Perkins Coie] had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s [Trump’s] ties to Russia.” The FBI also told the FISC that it “speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign” adding that “[n]otwithstanding Source #1’s reason for conducting the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia, based on Source #1’s previous reporting history with the FBI, whereby Source #1 provided reliable information to the FBI, the FBI believes Source #1’s reporting hereon to be credible.”
Of the 17 memoranda in the Steele dossier, Carter Page is mentioned in only eight, and one of those was drafted in December 2016—months after the Page surveillance was first approved by the FISC. Summarized here are the Steele Dossier’s references to Carter Page in the six dossier memoranda prepared prior to the initial October 2016 FISA application.
2016/094 reports that Page met with both Igor Sechin and Igor Divyekin while in Moscow in July 2016. 094 reports that Page discussed “Ukrainian-related western sanctions against Russia” with Sechin, and that Divyekin raised the prospect of providing the Trump campaign with a dossier of “kompromat” that the Kremlin possessed on Hillary Clinton.
Page was assuredly in Moscow in July 2016, and the trip had been approved by the Trump campaign. While he denied meeting with Sechin, in his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Page admitted meeting with one of Sechin’s subordinates, Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Rosneft, the huge Russian energy conglomerate over which Sechin reigns. Page also denied meeting with Divyekin, but, in that same November 2017 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, admitted he had met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich. In a July 2016 email to Trump campaign staffers, Page described that meeting with Dvorkovich as a “private conversation” and, in another July 2016 email to Trump campaign officials, also commented on the “incredible insights and outreach received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.”
2016/095 reports that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort used “foreign policy advisor Carter Page” as an “intermediary” with the Russians.
As is well known, Manafort was, at one time, manager of the Trump campaign, and Page was a “foreign policy advisor” to the campaign. Whether or not Manafort specifically used Page as an “intermediary,” Page did meet with Russian officials and discuss matters of interest to the Trump campaign.
2016/101 reports that “Kremlin engaging with several high profile U.S. players including STEIN, PAGE, and (former DIA Director Michael Flynn), and funding their recent visits to Moscow.”
Stein, Page, and Flynn all traveled to Moscow within a period of several months extending from late-2015 into 2016. Whether the Kremlin financed all, or any, of those trips has not been established.
2016/102 cites an “ethnic Russian associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP” as ascribing to Page, among others, the idea that leaking the DNC emails via WikiLeaks would “swing supporters of Bernie SANDERS away from Hillary CLINTON and across to TRUMP.”
The WikiLeaks release of the hacked DNC emails is well-documented. Whether Page had any role in the strategy behind the WikiLeaks action has not been publicly confirmed.
2016/134 reiterates reports that Page met with Igor Sechin during his July 2016 visit to Moscow, and furnishes greater details of the discussions during that meeting.
As noted earlier, Page denies meeting with Sechin, but, during his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, admitted meeting with a Sechin subordinate, Andrey Baranov.
2016/135 reports that there has been damage to the Trump campaign stemming from the public disclosure that Trump advisors Paul Manafort and Carter Page had met with senior Russian officials. No further substantive information is provided regarding Page.
2016/136 provides another reference to “Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page’s secret meetings in Moscow with senior regime figures in July 2016.”
Page’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee confirmed meetings with Andrey Baranov and Arkady Dvorkovich, and, as noted in the discussion of Steele report 2016/094, his contemporaneous emails to the Trump campaign in July 2016 alluded to “incredible insights and outreach received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration [in Moscow].”
Admittedly, there is much more in the Steele dossier than what is discussed here about Carter Page—and, concededly, some of it is quite salacious and all of the prurient content is unverified—at least publicly unverified since what is beneath the redacted parts of the Page FISA applications remains unknown. But, examining what the Dossier says about the activities of Carter Page reveals truthful details about a July 2016 trip to Moscow where Page did, in fact, meet with senior Russian officials purportedly on the very topics about which Page spoke of in his public comments made in Moscow. Page can deny meeting the individuals specifically identified in the Dossier, but he has admitted to meetings with other Russian officials while in Moscow in July 2016 and has documented those meetings in communications sent to members of the Trump campaign.
Frequently overlooked, or ignored, in the discussion of the Carter Page FISA applications, is what the FBI knew about Carter Page aside from the Steele Dossier. Again, considerably more could be, and probably is, lurking beneath the multitude of redactions, but, by the time of the initial Carter Page FISA application in October 2016, the FBI knew: (1) that Page lived in Russia for 3 years (from 2004-2007) where he served as an adviser on “key transactions” involving PAO Gazprom and RAO UES; (2) that Page had been recruited by Russian intelligence agents in 2013 who commented on his willingness to “take on everything” and his “enthusiasm” in assisting the Russians while noting his eagerness to earn “lots of money” from his Russian contacts; (3) that, in August 2013, Page had identified himself as “an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin;” (4) that shortly after joining the Trump campaign as an advisor, Page had been identified in the national press as an “out-and-out Putinite” with “a direct financial interest in ending American sanctions against [the Kremlin’s state-run gas company] Gazprom;” (5) that Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016, while serving as a member of the Trump campaign, and delivered a speech harshly critical of U.S. “Russian policy” and the Obama administration’s position on Russian activities in the Ukraine; and (6) that while in Moscow for his speech, Page met with Russian officials and, shortly thereafter, the Trump campaign successfully lobbied against any Republican support for providing lethal aid to the Ukrainians. Further, two emails written by Page while in Moscow in July 2016, and sent to other Trump campaign officials, recount that Page had a “private conversation” with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and commented on the “incredible insights and outreach received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.” All of this was known to the FBI, without any mention of anything contained in the Steele Dossier—the origins of which the FBI disclosed to the FISC in a footnote that extends for over a page in each FISA application.
As acknowledged earlier, vast amounts of the hundreds of pages comprising the Carter Page FISA applications remain redacted and publicly unavailable. If Barr has seen more of those applications than is available to the public, or otherwise has insights into their content generally unknown to the public, he gave no such indication in his comments. If he was referring to other information known to him that supports the conclusion that there were investigative or surveillance “improprieties,” he did not elaborate. To the contrary, his subsequent comments to the Senate subcommittee allowed that he was “not saying that that improper surveillance occurred” but that “I want to make sure there was no unauthorized surveillance.”
Given what is known about the Carter Page applications, it is difficult to imagine language less considerate of the morale of the FBI or more likely to play into the ongoing conspiracy theories surrounding the 2016 election generated by both the president himself and his Fox News enthusiasts. Part of the Attorney General’s portfolio is to promote public confidence in the rule of law and the efficacy of the nation’s law enforcement institutions. Barr’s performance achieved the exact opposite. If Barr had internally pursued inquiries designed to satisfy himself as to doubts or concerns that he harbored about any feature of the FBI investigation, he was both entitled and, as Attorney General, arguably duty-bound, to do so. However, his accusatory public comments, replete with the loaded use of the descriptive term “spying” which conjures all manner of negative connotations, was an exercise in both poor judgment and questionable leadership. Regardless of his belated attempts to walk back some, and qualify other, of his comments, he has created a mess entirely of his own making, and assured that his handling of the Mueller Report will be scrutinized by many with ever greater suspicion.
The Attorney General’s comments seem to assure that any determination that there were improprieties in this FBI counterintelligence investigation will be broadly disseminated; one can only trust that, should his promised “inquiry” conclude that the “spying” was, in Barr’s words, “adequately predicated,” then that determination will be equally well-publicized. The Attorney General now owes the Intelligence Community no less.
 Nicholas Fandos and Adam Goldman, “Barr Asserts Intelligence Agencies Spied on the Trump Campaign,” New York Times, April 10, 2019.
 Michael Balsamo, “Trump: U.S. illegally spied on campaign,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 12, 2019.
 I have recounted a good deal of this chronology in earlier articles published at fpri.org. See, e.g., The Carter Page FISA Applications: Much Risk to FISA, Little New Insight, But a Rebuff to the Nunes Narrative, FPRI E-Notes, July 23, 2018; Fact and Denial: Trump’s Inexplicable Refutation of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Conclusion of Russian Election Interference, FPRI E-Notes, July 18, 2018.
 Ken Dilanian, Julia Ainsley and Carol Lee, “FBI Warned Trump in 2016 Russians Would Try to Infiltrate His Campaign,” NBCNews, December 18, 2017, https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=2ahUKEwjAubO6vMvhAhXGVN8KHYgwBWkQFjAAegQIAhAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nbcnews.com%2Fnews%2Fus-news%2Ffbi-warned-trump-2016-russians-would-try-infiltrate-his-campaign-n830596&usg=AOvVaw3h9qg8n3LPlW929-ci3Taz.
 Manu Raju, “GOP at a loss over Trump’s past praise for WikiLeaks,” CNNPolitics, April 12, 2019, https://www.google.com/urla=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=15&ved=2ahUKEwi1kbiuvsvhAhUCmuAKHYi4BpUQFjAOegQIAxAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnn.com%2F2019%2F04%2F11%2Fpolitics%2Frepublican-reaction-trump-wikileaks%2Findex.html&usg=AOvVaw161-W8Ph1Gl2PTg7bex5zz.
 Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections (UNCLAS) (the “ICA”), January 6, 2017 at 1. Available at https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf.
 I discuss the Intelligence Community Assessment and other reporting on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election in greater detail in Fact and Denial: Trump’s Inexplicable Refutation of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Conclusion of Russian Election Interference, FPRI E-Notes, July 18, 2018. https://www.fpri.org/article/2018/07/fact-and-denial-trumps-inexplicable-refutation-of-the-u-s-intelligence-communitys-conclusion-of-russian-election-interference/
 ICA at ii. The ICA reports that “[w]e have high confidence in these judgments.” Id.
 Certainly, The New York Times drew that immediate conclusion, commenting that: “Republicans in Congress have questioned the legality of that warrant because it used unverified Democrat-funded opposition research compiled into a dossier by Christopher Steele.” Nicholas Fandos and Adam Goldman, “Barr Asserts Intelligence Agencies Spied on the Trump Campaign,” New York Times, April 10, 2019.
 See, e.g., Culper Rule of Law Series: Judge John Bates (available on Lawfare Podcasts) https://www.lawfareblog.com/lawfare-podcast-culper-partners-rule-law-series-judge-john-bates. Judge Bates, a former chief judge of the FISC speaking of the Carter Page FISA applications, states, inter alia, “I will note and note with some force that I have seen nothing that indicates that the court was misled, that the Department of Justice or the intelligence community made misrepresentations to the court. . . . And not only have I seen nothing that would indicate that, I have heard nothing that persuasively makes that case.”
The Carter Page FISA Applications: Much Risk to FISA, Little New Insight, But a Rebuff to the Nunes Narrative, FPRI E-Notes, July 23, 2018, https://www.fpri.org/article/2018/07/the-carter-page-fisa-applications-much-risk-to-fisa-little-new-insight-but-a-rebuff-to-the-nunes-narrative/.
 Most of this discussion of the Steele Dossier is drawn from my earlier analysis of that Dossier, and the Carter Page FiSA applications, in OutFoxed: The Vulpine Network Keeps Swinging and Missing at the Carter Page FISA Applications, FPRI E-Notes, August 16, 2018. Nothing that has occurred or been revealed since I wrote OutFoxed in August 2018 suggests that any part of this analysis of the Dossier’s reporting on Carter Page is erroneous. Indeed, a December 2018 review of the Steele Dossier contrasting its content to what had been revealed in indictments arising from the Mueller investigation produced the conclusion that: “As a raw intelligence document, the Steele dossier, we believe, holds up well so far.” Sarah Grant and Chuck Rosenberg, “The Steele Dossier: A Retrospective,” Lawfare, December 14, 2018.
 Artin Afkhami, “A Timeline of Carter Page’s Contacts with Russia,” Slate, November 7, 2017.
 Testimony of Carter Page, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, November 2, 2017.
 Stein and Flynn sat at Putin’s table in Moscow in December 2015 at the dinner celebrating the 10th anniversary for Russian television station “RT.” “RT,” as it turns out, was identified in the ICA as a principal conduit of Russian disinformation disseminated as part of Russia’s interference efforts with the 2016 election.
 Notably, Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI counterintelligence chief who is now an NBC News contributor, has commented that, considering what the FBI knew about Page’s activities, it would have been “malpractice” for the Bureau not to investigate.
 Nicholas Fandos and Adam Goldman, “Barr Asserts Intelligence Agencies Spied on the Trump Campaign,” New York Times, April 10, 2019.