Atty. Gen. William Barr told a Senate committee Wednesday that he is reviewing whether the Justice Department and the FBI acted inappropriately in their investigation of Russian election interference in 2016, saying he thought “spying did occur” on President Trump’s campaign.
In echoing the provocative charge leveled by Trump to denounce the court-approved surveillance of a former member of his campaign, Barr thrust himself directly into the partisan battle waged by the White House and Republican lawmakers who allege that abuses by FBI officials prejudiced the Russia investigation from the start.
Testifying to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the nation’s top lawman expressed concerns about whether top FBI officials at the time followed rules governing secret surveillance and whether those guidelines need to be reexamined.
Asked by a senator why the review was necessary, Barr said: “For the same reason we’re worried about foreign influence in elections.”
He added: “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.”
Barr said he wanted to know whether law enforcement had gathered adequate evidence to begin surveillance. Although he said he hadn’t made up his mind, he suggested that “there was probably a failure among a group of leaders” at the FBI’s “upper echelon.”
Barr told the Senate committee that he is close to releasing a redacted version of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s nearly 400-page report into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign and whether Trump obstructed justice in seeking to derail the probe.
The attorney general said the public version could be released next week, and said he was willing to work with lawmakers afterward to make some of the redacted information available to Congress.
A total of 34 people were charged as a result of Mueller’s investigation, including Trump’s former campaign chairman, his former national security advisor and his former personal lawyer. None were accused of working with the Russians, whom Mueller separately charged with hacking Democratic Party emails and spreading disinformation on social media in an effort to help Trump win.