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Bill Barr blasts FBI for "inexplicable behavior" and claims Russia probe based on "bogus narrative"

Justice Dept. watchdog releases report
Justice Dept. watchdog finds FBI mistakes, but no political bias in Trump probe 06:21

Attorney General Bill Barr chided the FBI for "gross abuses" of counterintelligence tools and "inexplicable behavior" and called the bureau's investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign "completely baseless."

Barr's condemnation of the FBI follows the release of a long-awaited report from the Justice Department's inspector general into the origins of the bureau's Russia probe. The review by Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that while the FBI made several procedural errors and there were "serious performance failures," there was overall no political bias by the agency. 

While the inspector general determined the FBI was justified in opening its investigation, called "Crossfire Hurricane," Barr told NBC News in his first interview since the report's release that the probe upended the country for several years and was based on a "bogus narrative."

"I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by an irresponsible press," he said. "I think that there were gross abuses of FISA and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI."

In a separate appearance later Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council, Barr called the investigation conducted by the FBI a "travesty."

Barr criticized the FBI in the NBC News interview for using "intrusive techniques" when it conducted surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump campaign aide who used to live and work in Russia and who visited Russia in a personal capacity during the 2016 presidential campaign.

He also reiterated his belief that the FBI "clearly spied" on the Trump campaign.

"That's what electronic surveillance is," he said. "Wiring people up to go in and talk to people, make recordings of their conversation, is spying, I think going through people's emails, which they did as a result of the FISA warrant."

Barr also took aim at the Obama administration, arguing that officials should have spoken directly with the Trump campaign, rather than with Russian government officials, to warn of Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.

"They go and confront the Russians, who clearly are the bad guys, and they won't go and talk to the campaigns and say, 'What is this about,'" he said. In 2016, both CIA Director John Brennan and President Obama warned Russia to cease its meddling.

Barr suggested the actions of the FBI during the Obama administration posed a threat to civil liberties.

"From a civil liberties standpoint, the greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government used the apparatus of the state, principally the law enforcement agencies and the intelligence agencies, both to spy on political opponents but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of the election," he said.

Horowitz's 434-page report is not the last word on the origins of the FBI's investigation. John Durham, the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut, is also conducting his own probe, which is expected to be more wide-ranging. Because it's a criminal investigation, Durham has the authority to compel witness testimony and documents, and impanel a grand jury.

Because of Durham's broad authority, Barr said he will wait for the conclusion of that investigation in order to determine whether there was "improper motive" by the FBI. He said it was "premature" to reach a judgment on whether the FBI had political motivations to investigate the Trump campaign.

Barr's comments have already drawn criticism. Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the attorney general of "acting in incredibly bad faith."

"With this revisionist campaign to undermine a thorough, two-year IG investigation, the Attorney General is once again substituting partisan rhetoric for politically inconvenient facts," he tweeted.

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