Barr Says He Thinks ‘Spying Did Occur’ By Intel Agencies On Trump’s Campaign

US Attorney General William Barr testifies during a US House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the Department of Justice Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2020, on Capitol Hill in ... US Attorney General William Barr testifies during a US House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the Department of Justice Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 9, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images) MORE LESS

Attorney General William Barr said he thinks that “spying did occur” by intelligence agencies on the Trump campaign in 2016 during an appearance Wednesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Barr was elaborating on his intent to investigate the “genesis and conduct” of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign in 2016.

“There were a lot of rules put in place to make sure that there’s an adequate basis before our law enforcement agencies get involved in political surveillance,” he said, referring to his upbringing in the Vietnam era. “I’m not suggesting that those rules were violated but I think it’s important to look at that. And I’m not talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), ranking Democrat on the committee, pushed back. “You’re not suggesting, though, that spying occurred?”

Barr stuttered and paused for a few seconds. “I think spying did occur, yes,” he said. “I think spying did occur.”

“The question was whether it was predicated, adequately predicated,” he added. “I’m not suggesting that it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that. I think it’s my obligation.”

Barr’s comments followed a report that the attorney general was putting together a team to review the counterintelligence decisions made by the Justice Department and FBI while they were investigating Russian election meddling and the Trump campaign.

When questioned later on in the hearing by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Barr said that he is “not putting together a panel” to investigate the intelligence agencies’ activities.

Towards the end of the hearing, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) gave Barr a chance to rephrase his “spying” comment. Barr largely demurred, offering up “unauthorized surveillance” as a description of what he was investigating.

This word choice seems to shed some light on what intelligence activity Barr is referring to that he intends to investigate. FISA warrants would qualify as court-authorized surveillance, so the FISA warrant on Carter Page would not qualify — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court granted the FBI authorization for the warrant. Page had also already left the campaign by that point.

President Donald Trump and co. have frequently pointed to the Page FISA warrant as evidence of the “witch hunt” intended to fell his candidacy.

Barr added that he had “no specific evidence” to cite about any spying that occurred.

He asked to enter a point of further clarification into the hearing a few questions later.

“I want to make it clear, thinking back on all the different colloquies here that I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred,” Barr said. “I’m saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it. That’s all.”

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest Muckraker
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: