FBI Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday that he has no evidence of agents from his organization illegally surveilling Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, after Attorney General William Barr told a Senate panel last month he was reviewing the matter.
Wray’s hearing in front of the Senate appropriations subcommittee was scheduled to discuss the president’s 2020 budget requests, but some senators seized the opportunity to question Wray about special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and Barr’s decision to “look into” the origins of the probe.
Barr told the committee last month that he believed the FBI had been “spying” on Trump’s 2016 campaign, echoing a claim the president regularly makes without evidence. The Trump-appointed attorney general acknowledged at the time that he had “no specific evidence” that the Justice Department had illegally surveilled the campaign, but he said he was “concerned” about it.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said Tuesday during the committee hearing that she was “very concerned” by Barr’s use of “spying,” which she called a “very loaded word.”
“It conjures a criminal connotation,” Shaheen said. “And I want to ask you ... when FBI agents conduct investigations against alleged mobsters, suspected terrorists, other criminals, do you believe they’re engaging in spying when they’re following FBI investigative policies and procedures?”
Wray responded, “Well, that’s not the term I would use. ... Look, there are lots of people who have different colloquial phrases. I believe that the FBI’s engaged in investigative activity and part of investigative activity includes surveillance activity of different shapes and sizes. And to me, the key question is making sure that it’s done by the book.”
Trump has repeatedly attacked Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election, calling it a partisan “witch hunt” and at times pointing to the approval of a surveillance warrant on his campaign aide Carter Page.
But that warrant was approved after Page left the operation, and there’s no evidence to suggest the Justice Department was illegally surveilling Trump’s campaign.
Shaheen continued to press Wray about the FBI protocol, asking whether agents secure warrants for relevant evidence as part of the investigative process.
“Certainly securing warrants is a very important step that we take every day in the FBI in lots and lots of investigations,” Wray said.
When asked if FBI agents obtained warrants for information as part of their counter-surveillance investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Wray said yes.
“I want to be a little bit careful about what I can discuss here, but I think it’s been publicly disclosed that there were a number of relevant warrants that were secured in the course of that investigation,” he said.
Shaheen continued, “Do you believe, Director Wray, that the FBI and its agents spied into the 2016 presidential campaign operation?”
“Well, again, I want to be careful how I answer that question here, because there is an ongoing Inspector General investigation,” Wray responded. “I have my own thoughts based on the limited information I’ve seen so far, but I don’t think it would be right or appropriate for me to share those at this stage.”
Wray said he didn’t “personally” have any evidence to suggest the FBI illegally surveilled any campaigns or individuals associated with campaigns.
Democrats, skeptical of Barr’s position that the Mueller report cleared Trump of obstruction of justice, have called on Mueller to testify before Congress about his investigation.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) on Tuesday asked Wray if Mueller should testify before Congress, but the FBI leader refused to weigh in.
“[That’s] really a decision between the special counsel, the department and the Congress,” Wray said.