President Trump on Thursday defended Attorney General Bill Barr’s testimony that “spying did occur” against his 2016 campaign, saying the statement was “absolutely true” and reiterating he believes the surveillance was “illegal.”
The president, prior to an Oval Office meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, was asked whether he was “pleased” with Barr’s testimony before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday.
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“Yes, I am,” Trump said. “I think what he said was absolutely true. There was absolutely spying into my campaign.”
“I’ll go a step further,” he continued, “and say it was illegal spying. Unprecedented spying.”
He added: “It’s hard to believe it could have happened, but it did. There was spying on my campaign and his answer was a very accurate one.”
Barr faced a massive backlash from Democrats for his testimony, with critics accusing him of feeding conspiracy theories.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told the Associated Press that she doesn’t “trust Barr,” but she trusts Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., accused Barr of “peddling conspiracy theories.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Barr “should not casually suggest that those under his purview engaged in ‘spying’ on a political campaign.”
“This type of partisan talking point may please Donald Trump, who rails against a ‘deep state coup,’” Schiff said. “But it also strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions. The hardworking men and women at the DOJ and FBI deserve better.”
But Barr did not criticize the Justice Department, or the FBI, as a whole when stating that there was “spying” involved in the investigation into the Trump campaign, instead noting that he was looking at the “upper echelons” of leadership at the bureau at the time.
“I think spying did occur. The question is whether it was adequately predicated,” Barr testified on Wednesday, adding that he believed it is his “obligation” to review whether there was misconduct in the original investigation. “Congress is usually very concerned with intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies staying in their proper lane.”
He added that “spying on a political campaign is a big deal.”
Barr also testified this week that he is “reviewing the conduct of the investigation and trying to get my arms around all of the aspects of the counterintelligence investigation that was conducted in the summer of 2016.”
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Despite the backlash, Barr appeared to be referring to intelligence collection that has already been widely reported and confirmed.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page are currently the subject of an ongoing Justice Department inspector general investigation probing whether there was misconduct in the issuance of those warrants. That review is also reportedly probing the role of an FBI informant in the early stages of the Russia investigation.