Speaking to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, Attorney General Barr said he would investigate the origins of the Mueller probe and that he believes “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign in 2016.
ATTORNEY GENERAL BILL 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. And 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 the Inspector General, but one of the things I want to do is pull everything together from the various investigations that have gone on, including on the Hill and in the [Justice] Department, and see if there are any remaining questions to be addressed.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN: And can you share with us why you feel a need to do that?
BARR: Well, you know, for the same reason we’re worried about foreign influence in elections, we want to make sure that during elections — I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It’s a big deal.
The generation I grew up in, which is 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. 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.
SHAHEEN: So you’re not suggesting, though, that spying occurred?
BARR: Well, I guess — I think spying did occur, yes. I think spying did occur.
SHAHEEN: Well —
BARR: The question was whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated. 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. I want to make sure that happened. We have a lot of rules about that.
I want to say that I’ve said I’m reviewing this. I haven’t set up a team yet, but I have in mind having some colleagues help me pull all this information together and letting me know whether there are some areas that should be looked at. I also want to make clear. I also want to make clear, this is not launching an investigation of the FBI. Frankly, 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 about the FBI because I think the FBI is an outstanding organization and I think Chris Wray is a great partner for me. I’m very pleased he’s there as the director. If it becomes necessary to look over some former officials’ activities, I expect 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 principal roles of the attorney general.