Congressional Democrats are furiously pushing back against Attorney General William Barr’s casual assertion that Donald Trump’s campaign was spied on in 2016, keenly aware that the narrative has profound negative political implications for their party.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday when asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) why he was investigating the FBI’s counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign.
Incredulous, Shaheen asked Barr a follow-up question: “You’re not suggesting though that spying occurred?” she pressed.
“I think spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur,” Barr replied matter-of-factly.
Democrats are now accusing the attorney general of carrying water for President Trump.
Following his testimony, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Barr was “going off the rails.”
“He is the attorney general of the United States, not the attorney general of Donald Trump,” she said.
“These comments directly contradict what DOJ previously told us,” tweeted House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler. “I’ve asked DOJ to brief us immediately.”
These comments directly contradict what DOJ previously told us. I’ve asked DOJ to brief us immediately. In the meantime, the AG still owes us the full Mueller report. #ReleaseTheReport https://t.co/DFOP5igcnO
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) April 10, 2019
“The top law enforcement officer of the country should not casually suggest that those under his purview engaged in ‘spying’ on a political campaign,” said House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif). “This type of partisan talking point may please Donald Trump, who rails against a ‘deep state coup,’ but it also strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions,” he added.
Top Senate Democrats are demanding that Barr walk back his assertion that the Trump campaign was spied on by the FBI.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Barr of “perpetuating conspiracy theories,” the Hill reported.
“AG Barr must retract his statement immediately or produce specific evidence to back it up,” Schumer said in a tweet.
AG Barr admitted he had no evidence to support his claim that spying on the Trump campaign “did occur.”
AG Barr must retract his statement immediately or produce specific evidence to back it up.
Perpetuating conspiracy theories is beneath the office of the Attorney General.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) April 10, 2019
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that Barr was “carelessly acting as a mouthpiece for President Trump’s conspiracy theories.”
“Attorney General Barr must retract his unfounded, irresponsible claim that American law enforcement ‘spied’ on the Trump Campaign. The only spies interfering in the 2016 campaign were Russian ones,” Blumenthal said.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN: “I’m amazed that the AG would make that kind of statement. I think it’s in many ways disrespectful to the men and women who work in the DOJ, and it shows, I think, either a lack of understanding or willful ignorance on what goes into a counterintelligence investigation.”
Warner added: “He almost seems to be endorsing one of these theories that has been debunked time and time again by the various, even House Republican-led, investigations trying to show some kind of resentment.”
Although Warner didn’t elaborate on which Republican “theories” had been “debunked,” the Mueller report has debunked the Democrats’ pet conspiracy theory about Trump colluding or conspiring with Russia to steal the 2016 election. That’s in addition to many other RussiaGate fairy tales that have been debunked over the past two years.
In a tweet Wednesday, Warner suggested that the idea that the FBI spied on the Trump campaign was a “long debunked” conspiracy theory.
Mr. Barr knows how counter-intel investigations work. He knows there was ample evidence of Russian attempts to infiltrate the Trump campaign and that the FBI took lawful action to stop it. Giving a wink and a nod to this long-debunked “spying” conspiracy theory is irresponsible.
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) April 10, 2019
Warner seems to be using the word “debunked” rather loosely.
In May of 2018, the New York Times finally got around to reporting on the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation, admitting that the Bureau had used “human informants” to spy on the Trump campaign. The absurd spin at the time was that covert overseas assets like Cambridge University professor Stephan Halper and Australian diplomat Alexander Downer were not spies — they were “informants.”
In the story, the Times also reported that FBI officials admitted to surveilling Trump campaign affiliates, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and George Papadopoulos.
The F.B.I. obtained phone records and other documents using national security letters—a secret type of subpoena—officials said. And at least one government informant met several times with Mr. Page and Mr. Papadopoulos, current and former officials said.
— Matt Wolking (Text TRUMP to 88022) (@MattWolking) April 10, 2019
Nearly a year later, Democrats like Warner are still trying to gaslight the American people, calling the Obama administration’s political espionage during an election year a “conspiracy theory.”
Warner has an interesting history investigating Russia collusion as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Throughout the spring of 2017, Warner communicated through phone calls and text messages with Washington lobbyist and lawyer Adam Waldman in an effort to gain access to former British spy Christopher Steele, the author of the Democrat-funded salacious and unverified anti-Trump dossier, which was the basis of the FBI investigation into then-candidate Donald Trump. Waldman represents both Steele and Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
Warner texted back and forth with Waldman, who runs The Endeavor Group — which has ties to (surprise!) Hillary Clinton — while he and his Republican colleague, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, were leading the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into President Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.
In one text to the lobbyist, the senator expressed a desire to “not have a paper trail” of his messages. He suggested in another text that he did not want Burr or any other senator included in the discussions.
On CNN, former President Obama’s DNI James Clapper called Barr’s verbiage “stunning and scary” (but had nothing to say about the FBI conducting a counterintelligence investigation based on unverified, Democrat-funded opposition research):
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: It is "stunning and scary" that Attorney General William Barr would raise the spying allegation https://t.co/RP2dVu3cmU pic.twitter.com/mQwnUVArF3
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 11, 2019
On MSNBC’s “Hardball” host Chris Matthews claimed the president was “fearing the imminent release of the Mueller report that’s expected to portray his campaign as a dupe of Russia — not to mention deliver alarming new evidence of obstruction” and thus “determined to somehow change the subject.”
Matthews had former CIA director John Brennan — a central figure in the biggest spy scandal in American history — on his show to talk about Barr’s dastardly use of the word “spying” to describe the patriotic work of the FBI in 2016.
“Well, I was very disappointed in what Attorney General Barr said today about spying when he was referring to the investigation that was predicated certainly, and that the FBI was trying to understand exactly what the Russians were doing,” Brennan said. He added, “U.S. intelligence agencies spy on foreign adversaries so we can understand the threat to our national security” and complained that the word spying “connotes extralegal activity taking place” when the FBI, the CIA, and others were just trying to understand what the Russians were up to. Brennan didn’t explain why the intelligence community didn’t warn the Trump Campaign that Russians were supposedly trying to infiltrate his campaign, and Matthews didn’t ask.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has been reviewing the FBI and Justice Department’s actions during the Russia investigation and the investigation is expected to be completed in May or June.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham has repeatedly vowed to investigate the matter as well, although no hearings have yet been scheduled.
This post has been updated to include Sen. Schumer and Sen. Blumenthal’s comments.