WASHINGTON — FBI Director Chris Wray said Tuesday that he does not consider court-approved FBI surveillance to be “spying” and said he has no evidence the FBI illegally monitored President Donald Trump’s campaign during the 2016 election.
His comments at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing broke from Attorney General William Barr, who has said that he believed the Trump campaign had been spied on during an investigation into potential collusion with Russia. Trump seized on those comments as part of his allegation that the investigation was tainted by law enforcement bias.
Asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., if he would say the FBI is “spying” when it investigates suspected terrorists and mobsters while following “investigative policies and procedures,” Wray replied, “Well, that’s not the term I would use.”
He added: “I believe that the FBI is engaged in investigative activity, and part of investigative activity includes surveillance activity of different shapes and sizes. And to me, the key question is making sure that it’s done by the book, consistent with our lawful authorities. That’s the key question. Different people use different colloquial phrases.”
Wray declined to discuss in detail the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign because of an ongoing Justice Department inspector general probe into the origins of the Russia inquiry. Barr has said he expects the watchdog report to be done in May or June.
Was There a Proper Basis for the FBI to Open a Counterintelligence Investigation?
But asked whether he was aware of evidence that the FBI had illegally spied on the Trump campaign, Wray said, “I don’t think I personally have any evidence of that sort.”
Barr is investigating whether there was a proper basis for the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“The attorney general is seeking to understand better the circumstances at the department and the FBI relating to how this investigation started, and we’re working to help him get that understanding,” Wray said about the Justice Department’s review. “I think that’s part of his job and part of mine.”
Barr didn’t specify what he meant when he said he believed there had been spying on the Trump campaign, though he also said that he did not mean for the word in a negative way.
The FBI obtained a secret surveillance warrant in 2016 to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. The New York Times also reported last week that the FBI used a woman posing as a research assistant to approach ex-Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who had earlier been told by a Maltese professor that Russia had “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of stolen emails.
In his book about his entanglement in the Russia probe, “Deep State Target,” Papadopoulos wrote that the woman, who identified herself as Azra Turk, asked him about his work with the Trump campaign.
“She wants to know: Are we working with Russia?” he wrote.
He described her question as “creepy” and said he told her he had “nothing to do with Russia.”