(CNN)The Justice Department’s leak investigation that targeted lawmakers was more than a year old when Attorney General William Barr took office in 2019. Barr had vowed early on to help answer lingering questions from conservatives about the fairness of the Justice Department’s handling of politically sensitive investigations.
Barr pushed for briefings from national security prosecutors and urged them to move quickly to complete investigations, according to people briefed on the matter. In some cases, he sought to bring outside prosecutors to help reinvigorate investigations he thought weren’t moving quickly enough.
The probe looking into whether lawmakers briefed on classified information leaked information to reporters was among several that were launched early on during the era of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was overseeing matters related to Russia, since Attorney General Jeff Sessions was recused.
Its existence was closely held given the sensitivity, though former President Donald Trump and some of his Republican allies regularly pushed the Justice Department to investigate Rep. Adam Schiff of California and other Democrats they blamed for fueling news coverage about the former President’s ties to Russia.
Like most leak investigations, it was a difficult case to make and some officials thought it likely to end without charges, one person briefed on the matter said.
As part of his effort to crack down on leakers, Barr brought in a well-regarded New Jersey prosecutor, Osmar Benvenuto, in early 2020 to help oversee leak investigations, which raised some eyebrows among Washington-based prosecutors because the line prosecutor had not had extensive counterintelligence or leak investigation experience. Like Trump, Barr had suspicions about leaks and believed the department’s credibility was at stake if it couldn’t show it fully investigated them, people briefed on the matter said.
He also found a set of aggressive career prosecutors leading this and other leak cases who were willing to take extraordinary steps to try to complete the probes.
Barr does not recall the specifics of a leaks probe of the lawmakers, according to a person familiar with the matter. And Barr denied knowledge of the moves in an interview with Politico on Friday.
The person said cases that the attorney general weighed in on had been recommended by career officials in the criminal division and elsewhere in the department. The former attorney general did not brief Trump on any of the leak probes, though the President would bring up leaks and the need to investigate with the attorney general, the person said.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.