Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday he believes “spying did occur” on President Trump’s 2016 campaign.
During testimony before a Senate panel, Barr said it was his duty to ensure the government did not abuse its surveillance powers and that he had set up a team to investigate whether this happened with the Trump campaign.
“I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was predicated — adequately predicated,” Barr testified. “I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that. I think it’s my obligation. Congress is usually very concerned about intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies staying in their proper lane.”
Barr was grilled by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department, on reports he was assemblying a team to review why the FBI opened a counterintelligence inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It’s a big deal,” Barr said, an apparent reference to GOP allegations that the FBI misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor former Trump 2016 campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, asked Barr if he wanted to rephrase the “spying” comment, but Barr declined to back away from his assertion. “Unauthorized surveillance … is that more appropriate in your eyes?” Barr said.
Barr also alluded to a promise he made during his confirmation hearing to examine “the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign.” But he said the panel was yet to be formally created, that it wasn’t a probe into the FBI, and that he didn’t consider there to be an endemic problem with the agency.
“And a lot has already been investigated and is being investigated by the Office of Inspector General at the department,” he said. “But one of the things I want to do is pull together all the information from the various investigations that have gone on, including on the Hill and in the department, and see if there are any remaining questions to be addressed.”
Barr’s testimony comes as House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is poised to send to the DOJ criminal referrals targeting eight people tied to the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.