William Barr: Obama's Justice Officials Did Not Commit Treason 'As A Legal Matter'

In an interview with CBS, the attorney general talked about his investigation into whether Obama officials illegally surveilled the Trump campaign in 2016.

Attorney General William Barr said that he does not believe Obama-era Justice Department officials who oversaw the Russia investigation committed treason “as a legal matter.”

In an interview on “CBS This Morning,” Barr was asked if he believed senior officials in President Barack Obama’s administration committed treason while conducting the investigation, which President Donald Trump has repeatedly alleged. An excerpt of the interview aired Thursday evening, and the full interview will air Friday morning.

“Not as a legal matter, no,” Barr responded, adding that he did still have concerns about how those officials conducted the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

“You know, sometimes people can convince themselves that what they’re doing is in the higher interest, the better good. They don’t realize that what they’re doing is really antithetical to the democratic system we have,” said the attorney general, who himself made controversial decisions by releasing a summary misrepresenting the findings in special counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report, without releasing the report.

Barr earlier this month launched an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe after several calls by the president to “investigate the investigators.” Last week, Donald Trump granted the attorney general expansive power to declassify counterintelligence documents and ordered intelligence agencies to comply with Barr’s investigation.

The president contends that intelligence officials illegally conducted surveillance of his presidential campaign, repeatedly calling it “spying.” Barr told the Senate Appropriations Committee last month that he believed “spying did occur,” a word choice that’s been criticized because it’s not typically used to describe court-authorized monitoring by law enforcement.

“I guess it’s become a dirty word somehow; it hasn’t ever been for me,” he told CBS. “I think there’s nothing wrong with spying. The question is always whether it’s authorized by law and properly predicated, and if it is, then it’s an important tool the United States has to protect the country.”

Former FBI Director James Comey has said he never thought of “court-ordered electronic surveillance” as “spying.” Current FBI Director Christopher Wray said the word is “not the term that I would use.”