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Trump says there was 'illegal spying' on his campaign after Barr backs off explosive claim

Dylan Stableford
·Senior Writer
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President Trump said Thursday that he agrees with Attorney General William Barr’s explosive, since-clarified assertion that he believes the FBI was “spying” on Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

“I think what he said was absolutely true — there was absolutely spying into my campaign,” Trump told reporters inside the Oval Office before a bilateral meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. “I’ll go a step further: It was illegal spying, unprecedented spying. And something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again. And I think his answer was a very accurate one.”

On Wednesday, Barr touched off a firestorm during a hearing on Capitol Hill, saying he believes “spying did occur” in the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia while defending his review of the probe.

By the end of the hearing, though, he backed off his explosive claim.

“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said during testimony before the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee.

“Spying” is a pejorative term not normally used to describe domestic counterintelligence investigations.

“I think spying did occur,” he said. “The question was whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting it wasn’t predicated. I need to explore that.”

But later, when given the chance to rephrase his inflammatory assertion, Barr said he believes there was “unauthorized surveillance.”

President Trump and Attorney General William Barr. (Photos: Timothy D. Easley/AP,  Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump and Attorney General William Barr. (Photos: Timothy D. Easley/AP, Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump's comments supporting Barr came the same day top House and Senate Democrats sharply criticized the attorney general for his testimony.

"Your testimony raises questions about your independence, appears to perpetuate a partisan narrative designed to undermine the work of the special counsel, and serves to legitimize President Trump’s dangerous attacks on the Department of Justice and the FBI," said the letter, signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Mark Warner and Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Dianne Feinstein and Adam Schiff.

Appearing before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday, Barr said he was in the process of reviewing the origins of the Russia probe — something Trump and his supporters have repeatedly demanded.

“I am 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 said.

In September 2016, Yahoo News first reported that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was under federal investigation because of a trip he had taken to Moscow two months earlier.

The story, by Yahoo News chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff, was later cited in an FBI application for a surveillance warrant against Page. Isikoff’s reporting on Christopher Steele, the former British spy who prepared the controversial dossier about Trump, was also a major part of the so-called FISA application to wiretap Page.

Trump and his allies have pointed to the dossier as evidence of surveillance abuses by the FBI and Department of Justice. Last May, Trump went so far as to claim that the DOJ “put a spy” in the Trump campaign.

But there is no evidence to support that assertion. CNN reported that someone who had “been a source for the FBI and CIA for years” had assisted the probe, but, contradicting the president, an informant “was not planted inside the campaign to provide information to investigators.”

Last month, Barr released a letter summarizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, saying Mueller found no evidence to charge Trump with a crime.

Barr said he expects to release a redacted version of Mueller’s still-confidential report “hopefully within a week.”

At the White House, Trump told reporters he isn’t concerned that the report may hurt him politically.

“No, I’m not concerned about anything because, frankly, there was no collusion and there was no obstruction,” Trump said. “And we never did anything wrong. The people that did something wrong were the other side, the dirty cops and a lot of problems that were caused. It’s a disgrace what happened. And, again, it should never happen to a president again.”

Trump added: “You’re just lucky I happen to be the president. Because a lot of other presidents would have reacted much differently than I reacted. You’re very lucky I was the president during this scam.”

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