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AG Barr plans to investigate ‘improper surveillance’ during 2016 campaign

In his first appearance on Capitol Hill since taking office, and amid intense speculation over his review of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia report, Attorney General William Barr appears before a House Appropriations subcommittee, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Attorney General William Barr told a Senate panel Wednesday that “spying did occur” during the 2016 presidential campaign as he testified about the Mueller report and the origin of the Russia probe.

Barr’s disclosure came as he was being questioned by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., about his plans to investigate how the probe began into Russian meddling in the campaign.

“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr told the Senate appropriations subcommittee, noting that he grew up in a Vietnam War generation that included a lot of concern about the government spying on anti-war activists.

When he stated he didn’t think rules were necessarily violated during the campaign, Shaheen then said: “So you’re not suggesting, though, that spying occurred?”

“Well … I think spying did occur,” Barr responded. “Yes, I think spying did occur. The question is whether it was … adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated.”

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, later asked Barr whether he wanted to use different language than the word “spying.”

“I think the word ‘spying’ could cause everybody in the cable news ecosystem to freak out,” Schatz said.

Barr clarified his comments later in the hearing, referring to possible “improper surveillance.”

“I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred,” Barr said. “I’m saying that I’m concerned about it and looking into it, that’s all.”

Republicans and President Trump have pushed for an investigation into allegations of possible misconduct by the FBI and counterintelligence during the presidential campaign. Barr has said he will follow up.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, later criticized the suggestion of spying in a tweet.

During the Senate hearing, Democrats pressed Barr on several issues related to the release of the Mueller report. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., also followed up on the allegations of possible misconduct by federal officials during the Russia probe.

“Have you any evidence that there was anything improper in those investigations?” Reed asked.

“I have no specific evidence that I would cite right now. I do have questions about it,” Barr said.

Barr, as he did before a House panel on Tuesday, said he still plans to turn over a redacted version of the Mueller report to Congress within a week. But several Senate Democrats raised questions about how Barr had handled the report and the summary they received last month.

During an exchange with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Barr said he didn’t know whether Robert Mueller supported his conclusion that the report didn’t have enough evidence to determine whether President Trump obstructed justice.

“You made a decision and you said that the president’s not guilty of criminal obstruction of justice,” Van Hollen said. “I’m asking you, in your review of the report, did you agree with Mueller that there were difficult issues of law and fact?”

Barr responded that he would give his reaction after the report is released.

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