FBI Director Chris Wray said today he would not describe the federal government’s surveillance, such as that conducted on Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, as “spying,” as Attorney General William Barr has.
During a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Wray was asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., about Barr’s statement last month that “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign.
“I was very concerned by his use of the word spying, which I think is a loaded word,” Shaheen said. “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,” Wray said of “spying.” “So, I would say that’s a no to that question.”
Asked if he had “any evidence that any illegal surveillance” into the Trump 2016 campaign occurred, Wray said he did not.
“I don’t think I personally have any evidence of that sort,” Wray said.
At another point, Wray was asked if he felt the federal government “spied into the 2016 presidential election,” and replied that he didn’t “think it would be right or appropriate” to share his thoughts and that he wanted to respect an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice inspector general into aspects of the Russia inquiry.
Wray’s answers today contradict Barr’s testimony from last month, when he told Shaheen during a committee hearing that he felt “spying did occur” by the U.S. government on Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Barr had also said he was “reviewing the conduct” of the FBI’s Russia probe during the summer of 2016, and that the Department of Justice inspector general would release a report on the agency’s use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process and other matters in the Russia case in May or June.
As part of the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian interference, agents began investigating two Trump campaign foreign policy advisers, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page.
In July 2016, the F.B.I. learned that Papadopoulos had told an Australian diplomat about a Russian offer to help the Trump campaign by releasing thousands of hacked Democratic emails.
The F.B.I. later staged an operation to learn the extent of his contacts with the Russians.
In September 2016, agents arranged for Papadopoulos to meet in London with a government investigator and a longtime informant.
The informant was an American professor who had helped the F.B.I. with previous counterintelligence investigations.
The investigator, a woman, posed as his research assistant.
The following month, the F.B.I. obtained a court-approved warrant to wiretap Page, who had contacts with Russian intelligence.
Page was not affiliated with the campaign when the F.B.I. sought the secret wiretap.
Page was never charged with a crime.
Papadopoulos later pleaded to lying to the F.B.I. and served about two weeks in prison.