William Barr believes spying "did occur" on Trump campaign
Attorney General William Barr left senators confused about whether he believed that unauthorized spying on President Trump's campaign had occurred, as he was pressed on the impending release of special counsel Robert Mueller's final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Barr, in his second day of congressional testimony, said Wednesday, "I think spying did occur, yes," on the Trump campaign, an opinion shared by the president. Sen. Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, noted that the use of a loaded term like "spying" would "cause everyone in the cable news ecosystem to freak out."
Under questioning from Democrats and Republicans, however, Barr seemed to back off that assertion.
"I'm not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it's important to look at that. And I'm not just talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly," Barr said.
"I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I'm saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it, that's all," Barr also said.
He told the Senate panel, "I just want to satisfy myself that there were no abuse of law enforcement or intelligence powers."
His testimony, Nancy Cordes reports, left Democrats to assume that Barr is carrying the president's water on this issue, even though he pointedly declined to echo the president's claim that the investigation has been a "witch hunt."
Here's how Barr described the review of the origins of the Russia investigation he plans to undertake:
"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 (inspector general). But one of the things that I want to do is pull together all of the information 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 [need] to be addressed."
He explained that he's starting this review because "I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal."
Other news from Barr:
- Wouldn't say if the Mueller report has been shared with the White House.
- He has not overruled Mueller's team on any of the redaction decisions so far, and does not intend to.
- Redactions, he said, are meant to protect innocent people in private life, not officeholders like the president.
- As far as he knows, no one pressured Mueller to wrap up his investigation early.
- Wouldn't discuss decision not to charge president with obstruction of justice. "I will lay it out after the report is out," he said.
- Initially assumed that Mueller would provide him with a report that could be turned around and shared with the public more quickly, but "that's not how the report came to us." Every page had a warning that it contained 6E (grand jury) material."
Barr, who appeared before a House panel Tuesday, told lawmakers Wednesday he hopes to release a redacted version of the report "next week."
Grace Segers, Kathryn Watson, Paula Reid, Emily Tillett and Nancy Cordes contributed to this report.
Updates from the hearing as they occurred are below:
Democrats push back on Barr's allegation of "spying"
Some Democrats criticized Barr's assertion that there was "spying" on the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
"Mr. Barr knows how counter-intel investigations work. He knows there was ample evidence of Russian attempts to infiltrate the Trump campaign and that the FBI took lawful action to stop it. Giving a wink and a nod to this long-debunked "spying" conspiracy theory is irresponsible," Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Mark Warner wrote on Twitter.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said that Barr's words were motivated by political bias.
"This type of partisan talking point may please Donald Trump, who rails against a 'deep state coup,' but it also strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions," Schiff said in a statement. The Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee have called on Schiff to resign, considering him too partisan to lead the committee.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler again called for the release of the full report by Mueller.
"These comments directly contradict what DOJ previously told us. I've asked DOJ to brief us immediately. In the meantime, the AG still owes us the full Mueller report," Nadler wrote on Twitter.
Barr declines to say whether Trump has seen the report
Barr said that he did not release summaries provided by Mueller's team of investigators on the report because they had not been vetted for confidential information.
"I immediately recognized that there was going to be some significant lag time between our receipt of the report and when we could actually get it out," Barr said about his receipt of the report. "None of it was releasable as I received it."
Barr also declined to say whether Mr. Trump had seen the report, although the president has said that he has not.
"The report's going to be out next week and I'm just not going to get into the details," Barr said.
Barr says report will be released "hopefully next week"
Barr told senators he thinks a redacted version of the Mueller report will be released "hopefully next week."
Barr had told a different congressional committee Tuesday the report will be released "within a week."
Barr says he hasn't discussed any redactions with the White House
Barr told Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee's Democratic vice chairman, that he hasn't discussed any particular redactions he will make to the Mueller report with the White House.
Barr testified Tuesday that the redaction process is going along well, and redactions will be color-coded based on the reason behind the redaction. Barr claimed he wants to provide as much justification for the redactions as possible.
Barr: "I think there was spying" on Trump campaign
Barr explained why he believed it was necessary to investigate the origins of the Russia probe. He said that federal agencies' interest in the 2016 Trump campaign raised important questions. President Trump has repeatedly complained that the origins of the investigation were illegitimate.
"Spying on a political campaign is a big deal," Barr said.
"I think spying did occur," Barr said. "Yes, I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicated, and I'm not suggesting it wasn't adequately predicated. But I'd need to explore that."
Barr also said that he did not think there was an issue with the FBI as a whole.
"I think there was probably a failure among the group of leaders," Barr said, adding that he thinks the FBI "is an outstanding organization." He continued, however: "I feel I have an obligation to make sure government power is not abused."
Barr discusses redactions to Mueller report
Barr reiterated that it is his intention to provide a redacted version of the Mueller report to the public, instead of his own extended summary of the report. The redactions would apply to grand jury material, sensitive intelligence information, material which would affect ongoing investigations and information that implicates the privacy or reputational interests of peripheral third parties.
Barr, who has explained the redaction process before, also said that the redactions will be made by the Justice Department in concert with Mueller's team of investigators. He said that he would meet with congressional committees to discuss some of the classified information that is redacted for the public.
Trump urges Barr to look into how "illegal" Russia investigation began
During Barr's appearance on the hill, President Trump reiterated his belief that Barr should investigate how the "illegal" and "phony" investigation into Russian collusion began. At the White House Wednesday morning, he told reporters that "there is a hunger" for a probe into the origins of the investigation.
Barr has team investigating origins of Russia probe
Attorney General William Barr has assembled a team to investigate how the Russia investigation began, a U.S. official told CBS News. Barr said in a Congressional hearing Tuesday that he is "reviewing the conduct of the investigation and trying to get my arms around all the aspects of the counterintelligence investigation that was conducted during the summer of 2016."
Barr's investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, first reported by Bloomberg, is separate from the long-running Office of Inspector General investigation into the Justice Department's handling of the Russia investigation.
There have been concerns within the Justice Department that it is too easy to open an investigation. This stems from the probe into former Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he did not disclose a meeting with the Russian ambassador in 2017. That case was closed, and no charges were filed.
Reporting by Paula Reid
Here's what the public learned from Barr during his House testimony Tuesday
Here's what the public learned from Barr during his House testimony Tuesday:
- Barr says he met with Mueller on March 5, so the "thinking" of the special counsel wasn't a mystery to him when he received the report to summarize it.
- The report will include redactions that are color-coded, to indicate the reason the information was redacted.
- Barr declined to say whether he has briefed the White House on the report or allowed the White House to see any of the report.
- Barr isn't committing to releasing an unredacted version of the report to Congress.
- Barr says Mueller declined to review Barr's summary of the report before releasing the summary to the public.