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James Comey denies claims that the Justice Department spied on Trump’s 2016 campaign
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James Comey has no idea what Attorney General William Barr means by “spying.”
The former FBI director pleaded ignorance on Barr’s claim that the Justice Department spied on President Donald Trump’s campaign when Comey was the head of the bureau, saying: “I have no idea what the heck he’s talking about.”
Comey pleads ignorance on spying
Barr sparked outrage among Democrats on Wednesday when he told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that he believes “spying did occur” and that “spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” which followed on reports that he is assembling a “team” to review Russiagate’s origins for misconduct. Democrats did not take well to the possibility that Trump’s attorney general may now probe the origins of the investigation that dogged Trump for two years, as many immediately accused Barr of stoking a pro-Trump conspiracy theory.
The Democrats’ sentiment was shared by Comey, who said Thursday that he “[doesn’t] consider that spying” and that “the FBI conducted court-ordered authorized surveillance.” Comey said that he’ll give Barr the “benefit of the doubt” because of his prestigious career, but his spying claims “[make] it harder” to believe him.
“When I hear that kind of language used, it’s concerning because the FBI and the Department of Justice conduct court-ordered electronic surveillance,” Comey said. “I have never thought of that as spying. If the attorney general has come to the belief that that should be called spying, wow.”
Republicans have long alleged that the spying was not authorized or warranted. They have accused the Comey-led FBI of misleading the FISA court by failing to disclose that the evidence that justified the spying largely came from a political opposition research dossier funded in part by the Democrats and the Clintons.
However, Barr did not allege that the spying was improper or part of a grand conspiracy. Barr merely stated that it occurred, and that he wants to investigate whether it was justified.
The Justice Department’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, is also investigating alleged surveillance abuses.
Comey, Dems implicated?
The Democrats’ motives in denying that spying occurred at all are transparently partisan. They have already denied that Mueller’s report exonerated Trump of collusion, despite a summary of Mueller’s report stating that no evidence was found, and have already shifted to stoking conspiracies that Barr is covering up the truth.
Indeed, to acknowledge that spying occurred at all would validate Trump’s claims of a “coup attempt” against his presidency, and possibly bring accountability for those allegedly involved — something the Democrats are scrambling to avoid. Alongside Comey in downplaying the significance of the spying claims, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that Barr “went off the rails” with his allegations, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) demanded that Barr retract his statements.
But Republicans have long alleged that Comey played a role in a bureaucratic conspiracy to spy on and undermine then-candidate and later President Trump. Comey was head of the FBI when the Obama Justice Department began spying on the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, and he led the bureau when Hillary Clinton was exonerated of charges related to improper use of a private email server, a move that Republicans say was premature.
The Russia investigation was well underway when Trump fired Comey in May of 2017, prompting Mueller’s appointment. The former FBI director subsequently admitted to seeding one of his infamous memos, which outlined his private conversations with Trump, to the media through a friend to spark the special counsel investigation.
When Mueller’s investigation concluded, Comey tweeted, “so many questions,” prompting a foreboding response from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is among Republicans calling for investigations into surveillance abuses.
“Couldn’t agree more,” Graham tweeted. “See you soon.”
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