Testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray refuted claims from both President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr that officials spied on the president’s campaign in 2016.
Wray offered his refutation in response to a question from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who referred specifically to Barr’s testimony before the same subcommittee last month, in which the attorney general said that he believed “spying did occur.”
“I was very concerned by his use of the word spying, which I think is a loaded word,” Shaheen said Tuesday. “When FBI agents conduct investigations against alleged mobsters, suspected terrorists, other criminals, do you believe they’re engaging in spying when they’re following FBI investigative policies and procedures?”
“That’s not the term I would use, so I would say that’s a no to that question,” Wray responded.
Pressed on whether there was any “illegal surveillance” of the Trump campaign, Wray added, “I don’t think I personally have any evidence of that sort.”
Sen. Shaheen: Would you call FBI surveillance "spying"?
FBI Director Wray: “Well, that’s not the term I would use … Lots of people have different colloquial phrases." pic.twitter.com/AQkqK6M9my
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 7, 2019
Wray’s comments contradict Barr’s April 10 testimony, in which the attorney general told lawmakers he would investigate the origins of the recently-concluded investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump has long claimed that this investigation was nothing more than a partisan witch hunt led by Democrats, despite the numerous indictments obtained and outside investigations referred by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“Spying on a campaign is a big deal,” Barr said at the time. “I think spying did occur. The question is whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that. I think it’s my obligation.”
He added, “I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I am concerned about it. There is a basis for my concern.”
It wasn’t clear to what Barr was referring at the time. The New York Times reported previously that the FBI received surveillance warrants in 2016 to investigate several individuals associated with the campaign who had concerning or inappropriate ties to Russia. More recently, the Times reported that one of those individuals, former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, was approached by two FBI informants and asked about the campaign’s ties to Russia, as a broader effort by the agency to investigate Russian interference efforts in the 2016 election. However, no FBI informant ever infiltrated the Trump campaign, as the president has also suggested on several occasions.
Trump has since pointed to the latter report as proof his “Spygate” conspiracy is real.
“This is bigger than WATERGATE, but the reverse!” he tweeted.
Trump has long claimed that the Obama administration spied on his campaign to undermine his bid for the presidency. In March 2017, months after his inauguration, Trump claimed without proof that his predecessor had wiretapped his offices in Trump Tower, calling it “McCarthyism.” Again, in May that year, he told NBC News there was a “very big thing going on … which is spying.”
Trump has repeated some form of this claim numerous times over the past two years. Last month, the president told a crowd of cheering supporters at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention that illegal surveillance had occurred, comparing it to a coup.
“Corruption at the highest level — a disgrace. Spying, surveillance, trying for an overthrow. And we caught them. We caught them. Who would have thought in our country?” he said.