Now that the shouting over Russiagate has concluded — mostly — Lindsey Graham wants to know how it started in the first place. So does William Barr, the attorney general testified today in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, telling the panel that work on that investigation has already begun. “Did Russia provide Christopher Steele … garbage” in order to provoke the FBI into interfering with the election, Graham wonders, and says the FISA warrant will be a perfect starting place to get an answer:
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham ahead of Barr testimony: "When the Mueller report is put to bed and it soon will be, this committee is going to look long and hard on how this all started. We're going to look at the FISA warrant process." https://t.co/U0hFpvmTbO pic.twitter.com/8WSUsHpJXt
— ABC News (@ABC) May 1, 2019
Way ahead of you, Barr said later in the hearing in response to another question from Chuck Grassley. The issue with the dossier goes to the heart of whether the FISA warrant on Carter Page was “properly predicated,” a point which Barr himself is reviewing, along with his staff. Grassley suggested that it might amount to “collusion” by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which funded the dossier effort:
In response to Sen. Grassley's question on whether "spying by the FBI and other agencies on the Trump campaign was properly predicated," William Barr says people in his department are helping him "review activities over the summer of 2016." https://t.co/aGN6qngT4t pic.twitter.com/5O44lVsYLH
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 1, 2019
Attorney General William P. Barr said Wednesday that he will probe whether the Clinton campaign’s payments to a company using a former British spy who collected information from Russian sources amounted to collusion.
Testifying to senators, Mr. Barr expanded on the scope of the “review” he says he’s conducting into “the activities over the summer of 2016,” which included vehemently anti-Trump FBI employees making key decisions on Hillary Clinton and President Trump. …
Mr. Grassley said it was ironic that Mr. Trump has now been cleared of conspiracy with Russia to subvert the 2016 election, but the Clinton campaign who hired a foreign national — Mr. Steele — who relied on information that may have been planted by Russia has not faced the same scrutiny.
“That’s the definition of collusion,” Mr. Grassley said.
Graham also reminded everyone of the inherent bias in the investigation at that point by reading aloud a text from Peter Strzok, one of the FBI agents on the Page case. He then offered an apology “to the kids out there,” all four of which probably giggled too much to hear it:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 1, 2019
Don’t expect too much to result from this, at least not from its brief discussion in today’s hearings, especially not a finding of Russia-collusion and the Clinton campaign. The law firm used by Team Hillary to hire Fusion GPS and Fusion GPS itself are buffers to any such allegation, as they were designed to be. Whatever else one wants to say about the Clintons, they’re smarter about potential traps like that than Team Trump was in 2015-16.
That’s not to say that nothing will happen. The issue of the FISA warrant and the use of the Steele dossier is already being investigated by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who has had less-than-pleasant things to say about the FBI under James Comey already. Given the circumstances, Horowitz’ probe will have more credibility at this point, although Barr certainly has the authority to conduct a parallel probe — as does Graham and the Senate Judiciary Committee. In fact, they both have a responsibility to review these events, and both have pledged before to do so.
Horowitz has been at it for over a year now. If he’s getting close, we should start seeing action from US Attorney John Huber, assuming there’s any action to be had. Barr will likely be conducting his review from a perspective of changing policies to prevent bad outcomes based on misinformation or disinformation, one of which seems to be the case with the Steele dossier. Graham will likely approach it from the perspective of changing FISA to tighten its provisions even further on domestic counter-intelligence. Neither of those directions will deliver a base-pleasing splash, but the Horowitz report might.