WASHINGTON – Attorney General William Barr acknowledged Monday that the Justice Department would evaluate material that Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, had gathered from Ukrainian sources claiming to have damaging information about former Vice President Joe Biden and his family — though Barr and other officials suggested Giuliani was being treated no differently than any tipster.
At a news conference on an unrelated case, Barr confirmed an assertion made Sunday by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that the Justice Department had "created a process that Rudy could give information and they would see if it's verified."
Barr said he had established an "intake process in the field" so that the Justice Department and intelligence agencies could scrutinize information they were given.
"That is true for all information that comes to the department relating to the Ukraine, including anything Mr. Giuliani might provide," Barr said. He did not provide any other specifics.
A Justice Department official said Giuliani had "recently" shared information with federal law enforcement officials through the process described by Barr. Two people familiar with the matter said the information is being routed to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh.
Biden is among the Democrats seeking to challenge Trump for the presidency. That Giuliani would have a direct pipeline to the Justice Department for providing information on a political rival of Trump raised fears among some legal analysts that federal law enforcement was being conscripted into doing campaign work for the president.
The matter is complicated, too, because Giuliani is under a Justice Department investigation. That case already has produced campaign finance charges against two of his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who helped in Giuliani's Ukraine-related pursuits.
Giuliani did not return a message seeking comment Monday.
Barr said Monday that the Justice Department had an "obligation to have an open door to anybody who wishes to provide us information that they think is relevant," though he said he told Graham, "We have to be very careful with respect to any information coming from the Ukraine. There are a lot of agendas in the Ukraine. There are a lot of cross currents, and we can't take anything we receive from the Ukraine at face value."
Barr said the intake process was established "so that any information coming in about Ukraine could be carefully scrutinized by the department and its intelligence community partners so that we could assess its provenance and its credibility."
FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said: "We're taking information as we would in any case. We will evaluate it appropriately."
Justice Department and FBI officials regularly receive all manner of tips about alleged crimes. But even after receiving such information, it is up to agents and prosecutors to decide whether what they have been told merits opening an investigation.
Trump and Giuliani have pressed the Ukrainians to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter, who worked on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father oversaw the Obama administration's Ukraine policy. In July, Trump personally appealed in a phone call with his presidential counterpart in Ukraine to work with Barr on the matter.
The call and the related pressure campaign ultimately led to Trump's impeachment.
Giuliani has long vexed Barr and the Justice Department. The attorney general has complained privately about Giuliani's Ukraine-related efforts and has counseled Trump in general terms that Giuliani has become a liability for the administration, according to people familiar with the conversations.
For his part, Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, seemed to back off his assertions in recent weeks that he would conduct a Biden-related investigation.