President Trump on Friday claimed his campaign was “conclusively spied on” and suggested those responsible should be prosecuted for treason and sent to prison as Attorney General William Barr continued to defend his probe of the origins of the Russia investigation.
“My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on,” Trump tweeted. “Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics. A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!”
Trump has long claimed the FBI spied on his campaign and that the federal investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russia was part of an “attempted coup” against him.
But there is no evidence of any coup, critics say. And there is debate over whether the term “spying” should be used to describe court-approved surveillance or a lawful counterintelligence investigation.
The FBI began its investigation in July 2016, after Australia informed the United States that foreign Trump campaign policy adviser George Papadopoulos claimed that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The FBI used an undercover investigator and a longtime informant in Britain to make contact with Papadopoulos.
In September 2016, Yahoo News first reported that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was under federal investigation over a trip he had taken to Moscow two months earlier. The story, by Yahoo News chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff, was later cited in an FBI application for a surveillance warrant against Page. Isikoff’s reporting on Christopher Steele, the former British spy who prepared the controversial dossier about Trump, was also cited in the FBI’s application to wiretap Page.
Steele began working on the dossier in June 2016 for Fusion GPS, a Washington, D.C., research firm, on behalf of a Democratic client. The document, which was published online shortly before Trump’s inauguration, contained salacious but unverified allegations that Russians held compromising material on the president.
Trump and his allies have pointed to the dossier as evidence of surveillance abuses.
Barr said the dossier is a key part of his probe.
“It’s a very unusual situation to have opposition research like that, especially one that on its face had a number of clear mistakes and a somewhat jejune analysis,” Barr said in an interview with Fox News on Friday. “And to use that to conduct counterintelligence against an American political campaign is a strange — would be strange development.”
Last month, Barr touched off a firestorm during a hearing on Capitol Hill by saying he believed “spying did occur” in the probe.
Earlier this week, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress that spying is “not the term I would use.”
“Lots of people have different colloquial phrases,” Wray said during testimony on the FBI’s budget for 2020. “I believe that the FBI is engaged in investigative activity, and part of investigative activity includes surveillance.”
Wray’s remarks drew the ire of Trump.
“I certainly didn’t understand that answer,” the president told reporters. “I thought it was a ridiculous answer.”
But other former FBI officials have dismissed the spying claims.
Baker said he plans to fully cooperate with Barr’s investigation “to help them figure out what happened.”
“I welcome scrutiny,” Baker said.
In a new interview with the Wall Street Journal, Barr again said spying occurred in the Russia investigation.
“Government power was used to spy on American citizens,” Barr said. “I can’t imagine any world where we wouldn’t take a look and make sure that was done properly.”
Former FBI Director James Comey, whose dismissal by Trump led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, sharply disagrees.