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Old 04-15-2019, 01:31 PM
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Lightbulb U.S. attorney general's 'spying' remarks anger Democrats

wall street journal

Barr brings accountability to Justice Department and intelligence agencies over Russia probe conduct

By Kimberley A. Strassel

The most inadvertently honest reaction to Attorney General William Barr’s congressional testimony this week came from former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Mr. Barr had bluntly called out the Federal Bureau of Investigation for “spying” on the Trump campaign in 2016. Mr. Clapper said that was both “stunning and scary.” Indeed.

No doubt a lot of former Obama administration and Hillary Clinton campaign officials, opposition guns for hire, and media members are stunned and scared that the Justice Department finally has a leader willing to address the FBI’s behavior in 2016. They worked very hard to make sure such an accounting never happened. Only in that context can we understand the frantic new Democratic-media campaign to tar the attorney general.

Mr. Barr told the Senate Wednesday that one question he wants answered is why nobody at the FBI briefed the Trump campaign about concerns that low-level aides might have had inappropriate contacts with Russians. That’s “normally” what happens, Mr. Barr said, and the Trump campaign had two obvious people to brief—Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, both former federal prosecutors.

It wasn’t only the Trump campaign that the FBI kept in the dark. The bureau routinely briefs Congress on sensitive counterintelligence operations. Yet former Director James Comey admits he deliberately hid his work from both the House and the Senate. And the FBI kept information from yet another overseer, the judicial branch, failing to tell the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee had paid for the dossier it presented as a basis for a surveillance warrant against Carter Page, a U.S. citizen.

Why the secrecy? Mr. Comey testified that the Trump probe was simply too sensitive for members of congressional intelligence committees to know about—an unbelievable statement given the heavy publicity he gave the investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s improper handling of classified information. Here’s a more plausible explanation: Mr. Comey and his crew have also testified that they were all convinced Mrs. Clinton would win the election. That would have meant that no politician other than the incoming Democratic president would have known the FBI had spied on the Trump team. Nor would the public. A Clinton presidency would have ensured no accountability.

Mr. Trump’s victory destroyed that scenario, and it became clear that the new Republican president would soon know that the former Democratic administration had surveilled his campaign on the basis of information from his rival.

April 10, 2019 / 2:57 PM / 4 days ago

U.S. attorney general's 'spying' remarks anger Democrats
Sarah N. Lynch, Doina Chiacu

6 Min Read

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Attorney General William Barr said on Wednesday he would look into whether U.S. agencies illegally spied on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, sparking criticism from Democrats who accused him of promoting a conspiracy theory.

Barr, who was appointed by Trump, is already facing criticism by congressional Democrats for how he has handled the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and his comments about surveillance brought more derision from Democratic senators.

His testimony echoed longstanding allegations by Trump and Republican allies that seeks to cast doubt on the early days of the federal investigation in an apparent attempt to discredit Mueller, law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump dialed up his rhetoric on the launch of the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, describing it as “an attempted coup” and treason.

Barr told senators at a hearing on Wednesday that he felt the need to further probe how U.S. intelligence agencies conducted themselves in the Russia investigation because “spying on a political campaign is a big deal.”

“So you’re not suggesting, though, that spying occurred?” asked Senator Jeanne Shaheen, the ranking Democrat on the Senate appropriations subcommittee.

“I think spying did occur,” said Barr, the top U.S. law enforcement officer. “But the question is whether it was adequately predicated, and I am not suggesting that it wasn’t adequately predicated.”

Barr acknowledged under sharp questioning by lawmakers that there was no evidence of wrongdoing, and later declined to elaborate on why he has concerns.
Related Coverage

Top U.S. Senate Democrat says Barr should retract spying statement
Pelosi: Attorney General Barr 'off the rails' on Mueller report

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a tweet that Barr should retract his comments. “Perpetuating conspiracy theories is beneath the office of the Attorney General,” Schumer wrote.

“It sounds as though he thinks that the FBI is conducting some kind of a rogue investigation without the appropriate warrants. I think that’s astounding coming from the attorney general,” Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat who serves on the Senate Judiciary committee, said in an interview with Reuters.

Trump on Wednesday launched an especially blistering assault on the actions of FBI officials who began the investigation into the 2016 election before Mueller was appointed in May 2017.

“It was started illegally,” Trump told reporters at the White House, without citing any evidence. “Everything about it was crooked. Every single thing about it. There were dirty cops,” he said. “What they did was treason.”

Trump allies in Congress backed Barr over his comments. Republican Representative Jim Jordan tweeted: “Pursuing the truth! Holding people accountable! Exactly what Americans want from their Attorney General.”


Trump on Tuesday praised Barr for his appearance in Congress, saying he was pleased the attorney general was interested in “going back to the origins of exactly where this all started.

“So hopefully that will happen,” Trump said. “There is a hunger for that to happen in this country like I’ve never seen before.”

The attorney general is overseeing the release to Congress of the report by Mueller about his 22-month probe into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia during the White House race and if Trump obstructed official inquiries into the matter.

Barr on Tuesday said a redacted version of the report would be released within a week. It is expected to shed light on some of the more contentious episodes of Trump’s election bid and presidency, including his firing of FBI Director James Comey in 2017 and his campaign’s contacts with Russians.

Democrats are pushing Barr to release the full 400-page report Mueller submitted to him on March 22, with many of them questioning whether Barr sugarcoated its findings in a letter to Congress.

In the March 24 letter, Barr said Mueller’s investigation did not establish that members of Trump’s election campaign conspired with Russia. He also said Mueller presented evidence “on both sides” about whether Trump obstructed justice, but he did not draw a conclusion one way or the other.

At the Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Democratic Senator Brian Schatz pressed Barr on his use of the term “spying,” which he called “unnecessarily inflammatory.”

Barr modified his language, saying, “I want to make sure there was no unauthorized surveillance.”

He was also asked if he had any evidence of wrongdoing in the course of the federal probe of whether the Trump campaign worked with Moscow to sway the election.

“I have no specific evidence that I would cite right now, I do have some questions about it,” Barr replied.

Barr told the committee that he would review all the intelligence activities directed at Trump’s 2016 campaign, and added that his review was not specifically directed at the FBI.

Barr noted much of this has been done already, both in Congress and by the Justice Department inspector general, but that he will pull it all together to see if there may be “remaining questions to be addressed.”

Inspector General Michael Horowitz is investigating whether the FBI and Justice Department followed proper procedures when they applied for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to conduct surveillance on former Trump adviser Carter Page and his ties to Russia. Barr said on Tuesday that investigation was due to wrap up in May or June.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Writing by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Alistair Bell and Leslie Adler
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