Attorney General William Barr told a Senate panel Wednesday that he believes American “intelligence agencies” did spy on the Trump campaign but said he has not yet determined whether there was a proper justification for that surveillance.
“I think spying did occur,” Barr said during a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee. “But the question is whether it was adequately predicated and I am not suggesting that it wasn’t adequately predicated. . . . I am not suggesting those rules were violated, but I think it is important to look at that. And I am not talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly.”
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal — it’s a big deal,” he added.
Barr was addressing a question from Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) about the origins of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign. Intelligence officials involved in the probe relied in part on the Steele dossier — an unsubstantiated opposition-research file compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele — to obtain a FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page, but did not tell the FISA court that the dossier was commissioned by a company contracted by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
Barr told lawmakers Wednesday that he will form a team to investigate whether those FBI and Department of Justice officials misled the FISA court to further a partisan attack on Trump’s campaign.
“I’m not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it’s important to look at that,” Barr said.
“I am going to be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of the intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016,” he added.
The attorney general made clear, however, that his investigation will be focused on the counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign and will not encompass the entire FBI.
“This is not launching an investigation of the FBI,” he added. “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, so I don’t like to hear attacks of the FBI.”