GOP Attorney General William Barr has testified before Congress following the release of the Mueller report summary. Lawmakers of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee didn’t just limit their focus to the special counsel’s investigation, however, allowing Barr to make allegations that “spying did occur” during President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
“I think spying did occur,” Barr told a Senate subcommittee in Washington. “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It’s a big deal. The generation I grew up in… people were all concerned about spying on anti-war people and so forth by the government, and there were a lot of rules put in place to make sure that there’s an adequate basis before our law enforcement agencies get involved in political surveillance. I’m not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it’s important to look at that. And I’m not talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly.”
“The question was whether it was adequately predicated,” he continued. “I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated. I need to explore that. I think it’s my obligation. Congress is usually very concerned about intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies staying in their proper lane. I want to make sure that happened. We have a lot of rules about that. I want to say that I’ve said I’m reviewing this. I haven’t set up a team yet, but I have in mind having some colleagues help me pull all this information together and letting me know whether there are some areas that should be looked at.”
The A.G. ends these comments by talking out of both sides of his mouth. He clarified to the committee “this is not launching an investigation of the FBI” and, by extension, those “intelligence agencies more broadly”, when to conduct a “review” of these agencies would be to conduct an investigation. It reminds me of a statement from the former F.B.I director James Comey said during his investigation of Hillary Clinton. “We’re not conducting a ‘security inquiry’,” the director said at the time. “I don’t know what that means. We’re conducting an investigation. That’s the bureau’s business. That’s what we do. It’s in our name.”
The Justice Department, as the name implies, investigates and enforces justice. It’s what they do. What remains unclear is the evidence to do this specifically. As highlighted by Slate, the A.G. was repeatedly asked by lawmakers across the divide on what basis he believes “illegal surveillance” occurred during the 2016 election under the Obama administration. “I believe there is a basis for my concern, but I’m not going to discuss the basis,” Barr told Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), the chairman of the subcommittee. Just a straightforward refusal to answer the question.
When Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) pressed on whether there was improper conduct into investigations of Trump campaign affiliates — which include Carter Page, Paul Manafort Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos — the A.G. once again refused to answer the question. “I have no specific evidence that I would cite right now,” Barr admitted. “I do have questions about it.” For context, Manafort, Flynn and Papadopoulos have all pleaded guilty to criminal charges, while Page has been featured in several Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants dating back several years.
According to the FISA warrants for Page — which remains redacted — the FBI has kept their eye on possible Russian efforts trying to “recruit American operatives” since 2013. During this time, Page was suspected of being among those recruited, making his selection as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump presidential campaign suspicious. He was also listed within the Steele dossier, an opposition research document from former British spy Christopher Steele and funded by the Clinton campaign, which was reportedly used as evidence to obtain the FISA warrant after being approved by the 11 FISC judges necessary. At least one of the warrants was signed off by Rod Rosenstein, the current deputy AG. If spying occurred, it didn’t rise to the level of Trump’s twitter ramblings about an “illegal investigation” or Barr’s waffled suggestions of wrongdoing.
“I am going to be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016,” Barr continued. “One of the things I want to do is pull together all of the information from the various investigations that have gone on including on the Hill and in the Department and see if there are any remaining questions to be addressed. There also can be abuses that may not arise to the level of a crime, but that people might think is bad and want to put in rules or prophylaxes against it. It doesn’t necessarily have to result in a criminal investigation or a finding of a crime.”
While we should take a moment to appreciate this fair, nuanced approach to a possible investigation — a rare occurrence among Trump officials—the DOJ’s decision to keep the public and their representatives in the dark as searches come for the administration’s political enemies only raises more ethical questions. It’s not outside the bounds of reason to say the Obama administration has committed atrocities.
There’s the NSA’s meta-data scandal (PRISM) leaked by Edward Snowden, there’s the arrest and torture of former military whistleblower Pvt. Chelsea Manning, and there’s also the administration’s secret wiretapping of foreign allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The idea of one government antagonising their electoral opposition, especially through surveillance, isn’t unreasonable. It just requires evidence to legitimise an investigation. Barr, however, is keeping the cards close to his chest as government prepare for another round robin of investigative politics.
Thanks for reading! This article was originally published for TrigTent.com, a bipartisan media platform for political and social commentary, truly diverse viewpoints and facts that don’t kowtow to political correctness.
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