WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr declared Wednesday he thinks “spying did occur” on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, suggesting the origins of the Russia investigation may have been mishandled and aligning himself with the president at a time when Barr’s independence is under scrutiny.
Barr, appearing before a Senate panel, did not say what “spying” had taken place but seemed likely to be alluding to a surveillance warrant the FBI obtained on a Trump associate. He later said he wasn’t sure there had been improper surveillance but wanted to make sure proper procedures were followed. Still, his remarks give a boost to Trump and his supporters who insist his 2016 campaign was unfairly targeted by the FBI.
Barr was testifying for a second day at a congressional budget hearing that was dominated by questions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation. His comments risked inflaming Democratic concerns that Barr’s views are overly in sync with Trump’s and that he’s determined to protect the president as he readies the release of a version of Mueller’s report.
Barr said he expects to release a redacted copy of the report next week. Democrats have expressed concern that his version will conceal wrongdoing by the president and are frustrated by the four-page summary letter he released last month that they say paints Mueller’s findings in an overly favorable way for the president.
Democrats immediately seized on Barr’s testimony.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused him in an Associated Press interview of doing the president’s bidding and said his “spying” comments undermine his position as the nation’s top law enforcement official. She said, “He is not the attorney general of Donald Trump. He is the attorney general of the United States.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York tweeted that Barr’s comments “directly contradict” what the Justice Department previously has said, and intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California said Barr’s testimony surely pleases Trump but “also strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions.”
Republicans, meanwhile, praised Barr for looking into the matter. North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a confidant to Trump who has raised concerns about Justice Department conduct for the past two years, tweeted that Barr’s willingness to investigate it is “massive.”
Barr, who was nominated to his post by Trump four months ago, was asked about spying by Republican Sen. Jerry Moran. He said that though he did not have specific evidence of wrongdoing, “I do have questions about it.”
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said.