If Robert Mueller was tasked with investigating possible campaign collusion with Russia in the 2016 election, why didn’t he probe the so-called Steele dossier financed by Democrats that appears to have been part of a Russia disinformation campaign?
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, posed the question to Attorney General William Barr in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday focused on the special counsel’s report, which concluded the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia.
Grassley noted that the Steele dossier, commissioned by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, was “central to the now debunked collusion narrative.”
“Now, here’s the irony,” the senator said. “The Mueller report spent millions investigating and found no collusion between Trump campaign and Russia. But the Democrats paid for a document created by a foreign national with reported foreign government sources. Not Trump, but the Democrats.
“That’s the definition of collusion,” he emphasized. “Despite the central status of the Steele dossier to the collusion narrative, the Mueller report failed to analyze whether the Steele dossier was filled with disinformation to mislead us intelligence agencies and the FBI.”
Noting that Mueller spent more than two years and more than $30 million investigating Russian interference in the election, he zeroed in on his question.
“In order for a full accounting of Russian interference attempts, shouldn’t the special counsel have considered on whether the Steele dossier was part of a Russian disinformation and interference campaign?” Grassley asked.
Barr replied that he hasn’t yet had anyone in the Justice Department “go through the full scope of his investigation to determine whether [Mueller] did address or look into those issues.”
“So I really couldn’t say what he actually looked into,” the attorney general said.
Barr clarified that if he had examined the information, he could have answered the senator’s question. And he confirmed he will look into it.
Republicans, including ranking House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Devin Nunes of California, have been calling for full disclosure of the memo issued by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in August 2017 outlining the scope of the special counsel investigation.
A heavily redacted version has been released to the public.
Grassley also asked Barr whether or not Mueller should have looked into the origins of the FBI’s investigation of alleged Trump-campaign collusion with Russia.
“The origins of that narrative?” Barr asked.
“Yes,” said Grassley.
“I don’t know if he viewed his charter that broadly, and I don’t know whether he did or not,” Barr replied.
“That’s something that I am reviewing and, again, will look at whatever the special counsel has developed on that.”
Grassley asked specifically whether or not Barr had tasked staff to look into whether or not the Obama administration’s spying on the Trump campaign was “properly predicated.”
“Yes, I do have people in the department helping me review activities over the summer of 2016,” he said.
Asked whether Congress will be briefed, Barr said: “It’s a little early for me to commit completely, but I envision some kind of reporting at the end of this.”
‘What were the directions given?’
Along with full disclosure of the “scope” memo, Nunes wants to see documents related to the Obama administration’s probes of the Trump campaign, including FISA warrants obtained to spy on campaign aide Carter Page.
Hours after the Mueller report was released, Nunes pointed to a “hidden” passage in the report in which the special counsel indicates the debunked Steele dossier was part of the scope memo.
“When you look at what happened today, remember we talked a lot about the scope memo,” Nunes said in an interview with Sean Hannity. “What were the directions given to the special counsel? Well, we now know hidden on page 11, very thinly, still veiled, but we now know they used the Steele dossier, the Clinton dirt, the Clinton-paid-for dirt as part of the memo for the special counsel that directed the special counsel what to do.”
‘Can’t fathom’ why Obama didn’t warn Trump camp
In the hearing Wednesday, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, noted that Obama CIA Director John Brennan raised concerns about Russian involvement in the election as early as July 2016
The senator pointed out that instead of acting to disrupt and deter Russian activities that affected the election, “the Obama Department of Justice and the FBI decided to focus on the Trump campaign.”
Cornyn noted that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had said it was routine in counterintelligence to give a “defensive briefing” in which a target of any foreign intelligence activity would be warned.
Was Trump given a defensive briefing about Russian efforts? Cornyn asked.
“My understanding is that didn’t happen,” Barr replied.
The Texas lawmaker asked the attorney general whether he would regard that as an “extraordinary or notable failure.”
“I cannot fathom why it didn’t happen,” Barr replied.
Barr confirmed to Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, that the Justice Department and Inspector General Michael Horowitz are looking into the Obama administration’s use of the dossier as evidence in a top secret FISA court to obtain a warrant to spy on the Trump administration.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., accused Republicans of trying to shift the subject from the Trump campaign to issues such as “Hillary’s emails,” which he insisted was “totally unresponsive to what the people wanted to know.”