Democrats request probe of Barr's remarks on firing of intelligence community IG

Democrats request probe of Barr's remarks on firing of intelligence community IG
© Reuters/Pool

Democratic Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election US intelligence says Russia seeking to 'denigrate' Biden GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe MORE (Va.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Democrats want Biden to debate Trump despite risks MORE (Calif.) are calling on Justice Department watchdogs to investigate Attorney General William BarrBill BarrGOP lawmaker calls for Justice Dept. to probe international court Barr pulls over to thank pro-police rally in Virginia Trump: Yates either lying or grossly incompetent MORE's comments about the firing of intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.

Warner and Feinstein — the top Democrats on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, respectively — sent a letter Friday to Jeffrey Ragsdale, acting director of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Professional Responsibility, and DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz arguing that Barr has "misstated key facts."

"This is a disservice to ICIG Atkinson. It also raises broader questions about whether Attorney General Barr is following Department policies and rules of professional conduct that demand candor and impartiality from lawyers, particularly those who serve the public trust," the senators wrote.

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"We request that you investigate whether Attorney General Barr’s statements in matters involving the interests of the President violate applicable Justice Department policies and rules of professional conduct," they added.

Trump shocked Washington earlier this month when he announced he was firing Atkinson, who handled the whistleblower complaint at the center of the House impeachment inquiry. The complaint dealt with Trump's actions on U.S. aid to Ukraine and a request that Kyiv help "look into" Democrats.

The two Democratic senators point to a Fox News interview with Barr earlier this month, when he said Trump "was correct" and "did the right thing" by firing Atkinson.

Barr added during the interview that Atkinson should have sent the whistleblower report to the executive branch before reporting it to Congress.

“He was told this in a letter to the Department of Justice, and he is obliged to follow the interpretation of the Department of Justice, and he ignored it,” Barr said.

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How to handle the whistleblower complaint was a point of contention between Atkinson, DOJ and then-acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireCongressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts Wells Fargo told employees to delete TikTok from work phones Hillicon Valley: Pompeo floats TikTok ban | Civil rights groups slam Facebook after call | Election security funding included in proposal MORE.

Atkinson notified Congress of the existence of the whistleblower complaint, though he declined to discuss details of the complaint during a closed-door briefing last year with House lawmakers.

Atkinson also forwarded the complaint to Maguire, who initially refused to hand it over to Congress, stating that the allegations fell outside the intelligence community's whistleblower statute. The office of the DNI subsequently transmitted a classified version to the congressional Intelligence committees in September.

Feinstein and Warner note in their letter that Atkinson "did not transmit the complaint or reveal its contents to Congress" but notified Congress of a disagreement between himself and Maguire about whether the complaint should be handed over to Congress.

"It was ultimately DNI Maguire, not ICIG Atkinson, who transmitted the complaint to Congress," the senators wrote.

Barr — who was confirmed last year largely along party lines — has emerged as a top defender of Trump and holds broad views on executive power. His actions since assuming the top DOJ spot have rankled Democrats, including his comments on the FBI's 2016 investigation into Russia's election interference and the Trump campaign.

The two senators pointed to an opinion last month from D.C. District Court Judge Reggie Walton that upbraided Barr for comments he made about former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE's report before it was released to the public.

"Judge Walton’s finding that Attorney General Barr may have intentionally distorted facts to further the President’s interests warrants your attention," Feinstein and Warner wrote.

Walton, appointed to the bench by former President George W. Bush, wrote in the opinion that "the Court cannot reconcile" some statements made by Barr with the report's findings.

“The inconsistencies between Attorney General Barr’s statements ... and portions of the redacted version of the Mueller Report that conflict with those statements cause the Court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeWine tests negative for coronavirus a second time Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Beirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally MORE," the judge wrote.