It has long been said that President Trump’s appointees often seemed to have been publicly auditioning for their jobs — especially by going on Fox News and saying things that appeal to Trump.

But nobody’s paper trail is more obvious than that of Attorney General William P. Barr.

The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian broke a big story Monday night, reporting that Barr has expressed disagreement with a key finding in an upcoming Justice Department inspector general’s report on the Russia investigation. The IG report, according to previous Post reporting, will find that while an FBI lawyer may have altered a document, the probe was legitimate.

Barr disagrees that Inspector General Michael Horowitz has the evidence to back up the latter finding.

As Barrett and Demirjian note, it’s not unusual for administration officials to disagree with an independent inspector general such as Horowitz, but it is unusual for them to believe an IG report isn’t harsh enough. Barr is essentially angling for a tougher verdict about the Justice Department he leads, which is remarkable.

But in context, that’s not surprising. Barr’s controversial handling of the report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is well-documented, and his repeated allusions to the idea that the FBI “spied” on Trump campaign officials in 2016 are conspicuous. That’s the kind of language Trump uses but law enforcement believes to be loaded with negative connotations.

Perhaps more significant, though, is what Barr said before he became attorney general. In 2017, while the Russia investigation was still in its early stages, the idea that it was a “witch hunt” or was illegitimate in some way was more of a fringe conspiracy theory. Then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) wouldn’t truly bring that idea into the Republican mainstream until early 2018, when he released a memo alleging surveillance abuses by the FBI of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

But even as of November 2017, Barr as a private citizen was suggesting that the investigation might be less than legitimate. In an email to the New York Times’s Peter Baker — the full context of which Baker revealed early this year — Barr suggested there was more basis to investigating a debunked conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton and Uranium One than there was to investigate alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia.

Barr also added that there was more basis for “investigating various ‘national security’ activities carried out during the election.” That was apparently a reference to surveillance and investigation of the Trump campaign, and Barr’s seemingly sarcastic use of quotation marks seems to say quite a bit.

Here’s the full quote:

“There is nothing inherently wrong about a President calling for an investigation. Although an investigation shouldn’t be launched just because a President wants it, the ultimate question is whether the matter warrants investigation, and I have long believed that the predicate for investigating the uranium deal, as well as the [Clinton] foundation, is far stronger than any basis for investigating so-called ‘collusion.’ Likewise the basis for investigating various ‘national security’ activities carried out during the election, as Sen. Grassley has been attempting to do. To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the Department is abdicating its responsibility.”

In his January confirmation hearing to become attorney general, Barr tried to clean up those comments.

“I have no knowledge of Uranium One,” he said. “I didn’t particularly think that was necessarily something that should be pursued aggressively. I was trying to make the point that there was a lot out there.” He added: “The point I was trying to make there was that whatever the standard is for launching an investigation, it should be dealt with evenhandedly.”

The concern among Democrats at the time was that Barr would come in and launch politicized investigations into the Clintons. The bigger takeaway, though — and the one that is rearing its head today — is that he was opining pretty strongly in favor of the idea that there was something untoward about the surveillance and investigation of Trump campaign officials. Even if we accept at face value Barr’s claim that he didn’t know much about Uranium One, he was still saying it was more substantiated than the Russia investigation and surveillance of the Trump campaign.

Pretty much everything since then has confirmed that this is an issue of significant personal interest to him. He didn’t just clear Trump of obstruction of justice when Mueller hadn’t; Barr also continued to espouse the “spying” talking point. And he more recently appears to have been personally involved in another investigation of the Russia probe’s origins — this one involving U.S. attorney John Durham, whom Barr appointed to conduct a parallel investigation to that of Horowitz. Barr has even traveled overseas to secure cooperation with the probe.

As Barrett and Demirjian report, it’s not clear how Barr might register his disagreement with Horowitz’s finding that the Russia investigation was warranted. He could write a letter expressing that sentiment, or he could state it publicly. The Durham report looms perhaps larger than Horowitz’s, because it’s the one over which Barr could exert power, rather than swoop in at the end and express disagreement. And based upon everything we know, that’s hardly out of the question.