Attorney General William Barr Testifies on Government Targeting Trump Campaign: ‘Spying Did Occur’

By Melanie Arter

( – Attorney General William Barr told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday that spying did occur during the 2016 presidential election, but he needs to “explore” whether or not it was “predicated.”

“News just broke today that you have a special team looking into why the FBI opened an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections? I wonder if you can share with this committee who’s on that team, why you felt the need to form that kind of a team and what you intend to be the scope of their investigation,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked Barr.


“As I said in my confirmation hearing, I am going to be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016. A lot of this has already been investigated, and a substantial portion of it has been investigated and is being investigated by the Office of Inspector General at the department, but one of the things I want to do is pull together all the information from the various investigations that have gone on, including on the Hill and in the department and see if there are any remaining questions to be addressed,” Barr said.

Shaheen asked Barr why he felt “a need to do that.”


“For the same reason we’re worried about foreign influence in elections,” Barr said.

“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It’s a big deal! [In the] Generation I grew up in, which was the Vietnam War period, people were all concerned about spying on anti-war people and so forth by the government, and 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.

“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,” the attorney general added.

“So you’re not suggesting though that spying occurred?” Shaheen asked.

“I think there was – spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur, but the question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicated, and I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that. I think it’s my obligation. Congress is usually very concerned about intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies staying in their proper lane, and I want to make sure that happened,” Barr said.

The attorney general said there are “lots of rules about that” and he’s reviewing it although he has yet to set up a team to investigate it.

“I have in mind having some colleagues help me pull all this information together and let me know whether there’s some areas that should be looked at, and I also want to make clear this is not launching an investigation of the FBI,” Barr said.

He clarified that he doesn’t see the FBI as problematic, although there were “a group of leaders” in the organization who were responsible for the failure. He praised FBI Director Christopher Wray, adding that he will be “relying heavily” on Wray to help with Barr’s investigation into spying during the 2016 election.

“Frankly, I’m – to the extent there were any issues at the FBI, I do not view it as a problem that’s endemic to the FBI. I think there was probably a failure among a group of leaders there at the upper echelon, and so I don’t like to hear attacks about the FBI, because I think the FBI’s an outstanding organization, and I think Chris Wray is a great partner for me,” he said.

“I’m very pleased that he’s there as the director, and if it becomes necessary to look over some former official’s activities, I expect that I’ll be relying heavily on Chris and work closely with him in looking at that information, but that’s what I’m doing. I feel I have an obligation to make sure that government power is not abused. I think that’s one of the principle roles of the attorney general,” Barr added.

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