“Wow, that’s going to require a whole lot of conversations inside the Department of Justice.”
Former FBI Director James Comey said Thursday that he has “no idea” why Attorney General William Barr thinks he spied on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Speaking at the Hewlett Foundation’s Verify Conference in San Francisco, Comey continued: “With respect to Barr’s comments, I really don’t know what he’s talking about when he’s talking about spying on the campaign, so I can’t really react substantively.”
“When I hear that kind of language used, it’s concerning because the FBI and Department of Justice conduct court ordered electronic surveillance, I have never thought of that as spying,” he said. “If the attorney general has come to the belief that that should be called spying, wow, that’s going to require a whole lot of conversations inside the Department of Justice.”
Anyway, Comey said, he was not aware of any court-ordered electronic surveillance of the Trump campaign.
By Comey’s reckoning, Barr’s career had “earned him a presumption that he will be one of the rare Trump Cabinet members who will stand up for truth and facts. But he said that Barr’s comments on Wednesday makes that “harder.”
At a Senate subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Barr said that government “spying” on the Trump campaign “did occur” and raised questions about whether the intelligence agencies had gotten appropriate authorization for such intelligence gathering.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It’s a big deal,” Barr said, noting that longstanding rules bar spy agencies from targeting domestic political figures.
Barr said that a redacted version of the report would be released “hopefully next week.”
Until Trump fired him in May 2017, Comey was leading an FBI probe of Russian election interference and any possible Trump campaign involvement. The agency obtained a secret surveillance warrant on a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, after he left the campaign, and the agency reportedly used at least one confidential informer to collect information on campaign associates.
Eight days after Comey’s exit, Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate the same matters.
Nearly two years later, on March 24, Barr released a summary of Mueller’s report, which he said found no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians and stopped short of recommending the president be prosecuted for obstruction of justice regarding the investigations of him. The attorney general said no charges would be brought.
Democrats have suggested Barr is trying to hide damaging information about Trump, and have pledged to continue a number of congressional investigations of the president.
Current and former law enforcement officials have insisted that they did nothing wrong in investigating the Trump campaign, saying they needed to determine whether members were conspiring with Russians to interfere in the election.
But Trump and his allies have repeatedly accused Comey and some of his top aides of politically motivated misconduct in investigating him. Shortly before Wednesday’s hearing, the president called the Russia probe “an illegal witch hunt” and “treason.”
Trump on Thursday agreed with Barr’s comments about spying.
“I think what he said was absolutely true, there was absolutely spying into my campaign,” he said. “I’ll go a step further. In my opinion, it was illegal spying, unprecedented spying and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again.”
Before Wednesday’s hearing, the president called the Russia probe “an illegal witch hunt” and “treason.”
“It was started illegally. Everything about it was crooked, every single thing about it was crooked,” he said. “This was an attempted coupe. This was an attempted takedown of a president, and we beat them. We beat them.”