Attorney General William Barr stood by his use of the word “spying” in relation to the surveillance activities directed against Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 when questioned about it before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Last month, while testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Barr said, “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.”
Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire followed up during the April 10 hearing, seeking to confirm the attorney general really believed the FBI spied on the Trump team.
“I think spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicated,” Barr answered.
On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island pressed Barr on his use of the word “spying,” asking if he had ever referred to the FBI’s authorized surveillance in that way publicly before.
“I’m not going to abjure the use of the word ‘spying,'” Barr replied. “My first job was in CIA, and I don’t think the word spying has any pejorative connotation at all. To me, the question is always whether or not it’s authorized and adequately predicated spying.
“I think ‘spying’ is a good English word that in fact doesn’t have synonyms because it is the broadest word incorporating really all forms of covert intelligence collections. So I’m not going to back off the word ‘spying.'”
The Justice Department head went on to note his office looked back at news media usage of the word prior to his April 10 testimony and the “faux outrage” it generated and found spying commonly referred in media stories in relation to authorized actions by the government.
Whitehouse countered the word is not commonly used by DOJ.
“It’s commonly used by me,” Barr said.
The attorney general reaffirmed Wednesday his commitment to reviewing the circumstances to the launch of the counterintelligence investigation against the Trump campaign in July 2016, dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane.”
The FBI obtained multiple Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The warrants reportedly were secured at least in part through the submission of a dossier compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele to the FISA court.
The Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign funded the dossier through the opposition research firm Fusion GPS.
The FBI also reportedly employed at least one informant — Stefan Halper — to make contact with Page, campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and campaign consultant Sam Clovis during the 2016 race.
During his testimony Wednesday, Barr suggested to GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah that surveillance of the Trump campaign might predate “Crossfire Hurricane” and go beyond the FISA warrant against Page and Halper’s work.
“Many people seem to assume that the only intelligence collection that occurred was a single confidential informant and a FISA warrant,” Barr said. “I’d like to find out whether that is in fact true. It strikes me as a fairly anemic effort if that was the counterintelligence effort designed to stop the threat as it’s being represented.”
Lee asked if there were multiple Trump campaign officials under surveillance during the 2016 race.
“Those are the things I need to look at,” Barr answered.
Mollie Hemingway, senior editor of The Federalist, tweeted regarding this exchange, “Media who dutifully regurgitate the claim that the investigation began not a millisecond prior to the end of July 2016 have never even tried to explain why overseas intelligence assets were used against Trump affiliates *prior* to those date.”
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