During an exchange with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Attorney General William Barr revealed he had asked US Attorney John Bash of Texas to look into systemic unmasking abuse during the Obama era.
The news surprised even Jordan, a close ally of President Donald Trump and the ranking GOP member of the committee.
Jordan had been asking about the progress of another DOJ criminal investigation, special prosecutor John Durham’s soon-to-wrap probe into the FBI misconduct that resulted in the “Crossfire Hurricane” sting operation.
Barr declined to answer detailed questions about the probe, although it came up several times in the course of the hearing, which also touched repeatedly on recent race riots and the decision to drop charges against Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, as well as intervening in the sentencing of Trump adviser Roger Stone.
Trump eventually commuted Stone’s sentence entirely. Flynn is still facing legal challenges after an activist judge took the unprecedented step of refusing to accept the DOJ’s withdrawal of the case.
While much of the unmasking scandal centers around top Obama administration officials’ abuse of power to implicate him in a perjury trap over his Russian contacts during the presidential transition, Barr said at the hearing that the abuses had been occurring for a considerably longer time than earlier believed.
Flynn’s sensitive security report was accessed at least 40 times by 38 different people between the November 2016 election and the January 2017 inauguration.
Among them were Vice President Joe Biden and several top intelligence officials.
Prior to the declassification of the information, Biden denied having had any direct knowledge of the FBI probe into Flynn.
But declassified notes from the FBI showed that he had likely suggested the agency’s use of the antiquated Logan Act as a way to ensnare Flynn.