President Donald Trump ordered Thursday that Attorney General William Barr be given authority to declassify information as part of his investigation into inflammatory claims that U.S. intelligence agencies “spied” on the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.
“President Donald J. Trump directed the intelligence community to quickly and fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation into surveillance activities during the 2016 Presidential election,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last Presidential election.”
Sanders noted that Trump had also granted “full and complete authority” to Barr to declassify any information necessary related to his investigation.
The move comes about a month after Barr appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee and testified that he believed “spying did occur” on Trump’s campaign during the 2016 race, though he claimed he was “not suggesting it wasn’t predicated,” or properly authorized.
Barr’s use of the term “spying” ― which isn’t typically used to describe court-authorized law enforcement monitoring ― boosted Republican claims that the FBI improperly surveilled the Trump campaign for political reasons.
Former agency officials were disturbed by Barr’s use of the term, with former FBI Director James Comey saying he never thought of “court-ordered electronic surveillance” as “spying.” Current FBI Director Christopher Wray also defended his agency after Barr made the claim, saying spying was “not the term that I would use.”
The FBI’s actions during the 2016 campaign ― most infamously, Comey’s high-profile press conference accusing then-candidate Hillary Clinton of being “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information ― undoubtedly hurt the Clinton campaign. But Trump and his supporters have been working on an alternative theory: that the FBI’s secretive, nonpublic investigation of Trump campaign associates with connections to Russia during the 2016 campaign somehow hurt his electoral prospects.
The bureau, in the summer of 2016, looked into Trump campaign associates George Papadopoulos and Carter Page over their potential ties to Russia. Papadopoulos came into focus because, after a night of heavy drinking in London, he reportedly bragged to an Australian diplomat that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Page had longstanding ties to Russia and had previously come under FBI scrutiny for his Kremlin connections. Officials believed he may have been collaborating with Russia.
Barr has continued to question the FBI’s investigations and the start of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the 2016 race. Earlier this month, the attorney general told Fox News that he was looking into whether “government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale” when it came to the Russia probe. He has also appointed a prosecutor to examine the origins of Mueller’s investigation.
Trump himself revived the spying claims earlier this month, tweeting out, without evidence, that his campaign was “conclusively spied on.”
“Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics,” the president wrote, adding that it was a “really bad situation” that amounted to treason.