FBI Director Christopher Wray refuted a conservative conspiracy theory about the federal government “spying” on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign during Senate testimony on Tuesday.
Attorney General William Barr amplified the false claims, pushed by Trump for years, while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, but Wray — the president’s pick to lead the FBI — denied them.
“I don’t think I personally have any evidence of that sort,” Wray told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee when asked about illegal surveillance of Trump’s campaign, adding that spying was “not the term I would use” to describe FBI procedures.
The so-called “Spygate” conspiracy theory is almost as old as Trump’s administration. In March 2017, the president tweeted, “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.”
Though the White House was unable to corroborate the claim, Trump continued to push the conspiracy theory with increasing frequency once special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
However, the details became more nefarious over time. In 2018, Trump claimed the FBI had deployed a spy within his campaign as part of a “Deep State” attempt engineered by allies of former President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to prevent his victory.
Barr’s remarks about “Spygate” — which were based on information that had already been public for years — have been a staple of Fox News’ prime-time programming since his testimony. On Monday, Fox hosts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson devoted time to the conspiracy theory, which Trump’s FBI director would deny just 12 hours later.
Shortly after claiming Democrats are “fascist” for threatening to pursue contempt of Congress charges against Barr, Carlson embarked on a victory lap that already hasn’t aged well.
“I feel like most people who thought maybe Trump was onto something are kind of vindicated tonight,” Carlson said of “Spygate.”
An hour later, a visibly angry Hannity asked, “How many spies were used and what did Biden and Obama know?”
The host of Hannity was then joined by Gregg Jarrett, whose book The Russia Hoax has been promoted by Trump, and Sara Carter, who is reportedly barred from appearing on Fox News’ hard news programming because her work “passes none of the network’s editorial guidelines.”
After rattling off a laundry list of conservative conspiracy theories with his guests, Hannity warned that the media “will be shaking to its foundation” once Barr releases more information about the Russia investigations.
The counterintelligence operations that resulted in federal surveillance of former Trump campaign aides George Papadopoulos and Carter Page have been public knowledge for years.
Papadopoulos, a Trump foreign policy adviser, became an FBI target after allegedly telling an Australian diplomat that the Russian government had damaging information on Clinton and was planning to release it during the 2016 campaign.
Federal investigators secured a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil Page over his ties to Russian intelligence officials after he left Trump’s campaign in September 2016. All 11 FISA judges were appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who was nominated to the bench by a Republican president and confirmed by a GOP-controlled Senate.
In addition to an investigation being run by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) inspector general, Barr has indicated he is also personally reviewing the department’s decisions regarding the counterintelligence investigation that was the basis for Mueller’s probe.
The DOJ also investigated Clinton — Trump’s Democratic opponent — during the 2016 campaign.