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Former U.S. Assistant Attorney General For National Security On DOJ Watchdog Report

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The president often insists that parts of his own intelligence agencies are working against him. Now, the Justice Department's internal watchdog has issued its report looking at whether bias tainted the FBI's Russia investigation that began in the summer of 2016. The conclusion - the Russia investigation was not tainted by political bias. But the report says the application to eavesdrop on one Trump campaign aide was full of omissions and errors.

Our next guest, David Kris, led the Justice Department's National Security Division under President Obama, and he literally wrote the book on national security investigations. Welcome.

DAVID KRIS: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: The FBI's role is to follow facts where they lead. President Trump and his allies often say the FBI, instead, actively went looking for dirt on someone they didn't like, namely Trump. So when you read this report, which do you think is closer to the truth in this case?

KRIS: There's no question, according to the report, that the claims of attempted coup and related deep state conspiracies that have been advanced with such enthusiasm by President Trump and his supporters find absolutely no support here. The report finds no improper purpose, no political bias, no First Amendment concerns with the conduct of any of the investigations. So this was not something that the FBI cooked up or fabricated. It was something that was brought to them and which they felt they had an obligation to investigate.

SHAPIRO: OK. So big picture, this was not initiated or conducted as a result of political bias. But specifically with campaign aide Carter Page, this report lays out errors and omissions, so many missteps. And when you've got an investigation that leads to the commander in chief, how big a problem is it if every I is not dotted and every T is not crossed?

KRIS: When you have this kind of an investigation, you would like everything to be perfect. If you've ever worked on a complicated investigation, you know that not everything will be perfect.

SHAPIRO: Are you saying this is typical - that these errors and omissions are ordinary?

KRIS: No, not at all. These errors and omissions, I think, are very significant and disturbing. They're not political. They're not the deep state conspiracy that people have described in somewhat fantastical terms. But I would never want to doubt they are...

SHAPIRO: So what are they? Are they incompetence? Are they laziness? Like, what's the reason for this?

KRIS: You know, it's very difficult to be sure just from reading the executive summary of this 400-page report, as I have. But they are very sloppy. The FBI did not pursue certain investigative leads that they should've pursued. They didn't pass information across the street to the people at the Justice Department who interact with the FISA court. I don't know exactly what was going on and what motivated these things, but these mistakes were significant even if they weren't political.

SHAPIRO: The attorney general, Bill Barr, put out a statement today characterizing the report this way. He says the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions. Then he goes on to say the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory. Do you think that's a fair description of the report's findings?

KRIS: No, and I think it's a strange thing to say. I agree with Barr in one respect, and that is when the FBI investigates a political campaign, particularly a campaign for the presidency, it is of the absolutely most fraught and important nature. We do not want our law enforcement and security services willy-nilly investigating political campaigns, let alone presidential campaigns. So that is a matter of the first order when you get information from a friendly intelligence service that there is coordination.

And when you measure that in conjunction with some of the inexplicable behavior of the president himself, I believe the FBI really did have, as it says and has described in this report, really no choice but to look into this because the only thing that is more awful than the FBI investigating a political campaign is the FBI deciding that it shouldn't do so where the facts warrant that. I think here, the facts did warrant it.

SHAPIRO: David Kris - he ran the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice under President Obama, and he is now with Culper Partners consulting firm.

Thanks a lot.

KRIS: Thank you very much, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.