Attorney General William Barr accused special counsel Robert Mueller of failing to investigate evidence that British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s salacious and unverified dossier may have been compromised by a Russian disinformation campaign.
In an interview Thursday with Catherine Herridge of CBS News, which followed the Justice Department’s move to drop its Mueller spinoff prosecution of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, Barr was asked to comment on how recently declassified footnotes from DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the FBI's Russia inquiry “suggest that the Steele dossier was likely the product of Russian disinformation” and that “there were multiple warnings to the FBI at that time, yet they continued to use that.”
For an explanation, Barr pointed to Mueller.
“I think that's one of the most troubling aspects of this whole thing, and, in fact, I said it in testimony on the Hill. I can't remember if it was my confirmation, that I said I was very concerned about the possibility that that dossier and Steele's activities were used as a vector for the Russians to inject disinformation into the political campaign,” Barr said. “I think that is something that Robert Mueller was responsible for looking at under his charter, which is the potential of Russian influence. But I think it was ignored and that there was mounting indications that this could very well have been happening, and no one really stopped to look at it.”
Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in May 2017 after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and the leaking of portions of Comey's memos to the press in an effort he said was designed to prompt the appointment of a special counsel.
Rosenstein’s first scope memo for Mueller authorized him to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” Rosenstein said Mueller was being picked “to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”
There is little indication that Mueller investigated possible Russian disinformation in Steele’s dossier.
But U.S. spy agencies assessed that Russian intelligence services were aware of Steele’s investigation into then-candidate Trump during the summer of 2016, and at least one of his subsources supported Hillary Clinton, recently declassified notes showed. These footnotes, which appeared in the DOJ watchdog's report, provided further evidence that Moscow was aware of Steele and may have been attempting to compromise his dossier with Russian disinformation.
“An early June 2017 [U.S. intelligence community] report indicated that two persons affiliated with [Russian intelligence services] were aware of Steele's election investigation in early July 2016,” one footnote said.