Attorney General William Barr echoed one of President Donald Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department on Wednesday, saying he too believes the department was “spying” on Trump’s campaign during the 2016 election cycle.
Barr, speaking to a Senate appropriations subcommittee during his second day of testimony on Capitol Hill, noted that he is reviewing whether this alleged surveillance was appropriate.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” said Barr, who was confirmed as head of the Justice Department in February. “I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was ... adequately predicated.”
“I’m not suggesting it wasn’t predicated,” he added. “I need to explore that.”
Trump has repeatedly attacked special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election as a partisan “witch hunt,” at times pointing to the approval of a surveillance warrant on his campaign aide Carter Page.
But there’s no evidence to suggest the Justice Department was actually “spying” on Trump’s campaign and that warrant was approved after Page left the operation.
Barr, whom Trump nominated as attorney general shortly after firing Jeff Sessions, acknowledged Wednesday that he had “no specific evidence” that he would cite to show the Justice Department surveilled the Trump campaign, but said he is “concerned” about it.
“As I said in my confirmation hearing, I am going to be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of the intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016,” Barr said. “And a lot of this has already been investigated.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general is already examining the actions taken by the Justice Department and the FBI as part of the Russia inquiry, including whether law enforcement officials abused their powers in surveilling Page. Barr told House lawmakers on Tuesday that the inspector general’s review is almost complete, with a possible end date in May or June.
Fox News and Bloomberg reported Tuesday that Barr had assembled a separate team to review earlier counterintelligence decisions made by the Justice Department and the FBI, including the origins of the FBI probe into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.
Barr, responding to those reports, said Wednesday that he has not yet assembled a team but has some people in mind to “pull all this information together” and report back to him “some areas that should be looked at.”
“I want to make sure there was no unauthorized surveillance,” he said.
Barr noted that he did not believe there’s an “endemic” problem at the FBI.
“I think there was probably a failure among a group of leaders at the upper echelon, and so I don’t like to hear attacks about the FBI,” he said.
Trump, who has issued blanket attacks on the FBI, commended the attorney general on Wednesday for planning to review the origins of the Mueller report. The president claimed the FBI investigators’ actions amounted to “treason,” a crime punishable by death in certain cases.
“This was an attempted coup, this was an attempted takedown of a president,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “What they did was treason. What they did was terrible. What they did was against our Constitution.”
Barr said in his testimony Wednesday that he expects to release a redacted version of the Mueller report “hopefully next week” to Congress and the public.
Despite Democratic lawmakers’ calls to see the full report, this version will have redactions related to grand jury material, intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations, and “peripheral third parties who were not charged,” Barr said.