Trump’s FBI Director Disputes Charges of ‘Spying’ During 2016 Race

(Bloomberg) -- FBI Director Christopher Wray pushed back on accusations his agency improperly spied on Donald Trump’s campaign, a charge that Attorney General William Barr said he is reviewing during a contentious Senate hearing last week.

“That’s not the term I would use,” Wray said Tuesday in testimony to a Senate Appropriations panel, when asked about whether there there was spying. “I believe the FBI is engaged in investigative activity and part of investigative activity includes surveillance activity.”

Wray said he isn’t personally aware of any evidence to support the accusation that there was improper surveillance of the Trump campaign in 2016. Wray became FBI director in August 2017, after Trump fired his predecessor, James Comey.

Barr, Wray’s boss at the Justice Department, suggested there might have been investigative “overreach” during the 2016 campaign and that he was assembling a team to probe the issue. That echoed accusations President Trump and many of his top Republican supporters have long lobbed at the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Trump’s campaign.

Barr told the Senate Judiciary panel that his team will determine whether there was any improper “spying” on the Trump campaign in 2016, including whether intelligence collection began earlier than previously known and how many confidential informants the FBI used. He suggested his focus was on senior leaders at the FBI and Justice Department at the time.

Barr’s review will also examine whether a dossier that included salacious accusations against Trump was fabricated by the Russian government to dupe U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI, Barr told the Senate panel last week.

Wray said he and his staff are working to help Barr understand the circumstances surrounding the FBI’s decision to open a counterintelligence investigation in July 2016 into whether anyone on the Trump campaign was conspiring with Russia to interfere in the election.

“We’re working to help him get that understanding,” Wray said. “I think that’s part of his job and part of mine.”

Wray also offered a warning about the upcoming 2020 election, saying the FBI anticipates that foreign influence operations from Russia and other adversaries will be more challenging than it currently is.

“We continue to assess that the Russians are focused on sowing divisiveness and discord in this country,” Wray said.

Although Barr’s review has only begun, it supports the Trump narrative that the Russia investigation was politically motivated and concocted from false allegations in order to spy on his campaign and ultimately undermine his presidency.

Barr’s review could get a boost after a report by the New York Times on Thursday that the FBI sent a trained investigator to London in 2016 to pose as a research assistant and probe Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos over possible campaign links to Russia.

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