Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Wednesday it was “both stunning and scary” that Attorney General William Barr would tell lawmakers that Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign was spied on.
“I thought it was both stunning and scary,” Clapper, who served under President Barack Obama, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I was amazed at that and rather disappointed that the attorney general would say such a thing. The term ‘spying’ has all kinds of negative connotations and I have to believe he chose that term deliberately.”
Barr told lawmakers Wednesday that he would look into the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation that began in 2016 of potential ties between members of Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government.
“For the same reason we’re worried about foreign influence in elections, I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said. “I’m not suggesting those rules were violated but I think it’s important to look at. … I think it’s my obligation.”
A source familiar with Barr’s thinking, however, said that he referred to “spying” in the “classic sense” of intelligence collection, not as “pejorative.” The attorney general did not provide evidence of any spying.
Clapper slammed Barr for airing such concerns publicly. He said he would have preferred that Barr ask the Justice Department’s inspector general for a briefing on an ongoing investigation into whether the FBI mishandled warrant applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
“It would have been far more appropriate for him to just defer to that investigation rather than postulating with apparently no evidence. He just has a feeling that there was spying against the campaign,” Clapper added.
Clapper warned that instead of focusing on addressing the investigation’s impetus of Russian election meddling, “we’re focusing on this circus about whether or not somebody was spying on the campaign, which is, I think, a gross misstatement,” he said.
Barr’s bombshell will likely be viewed as a welcome development to the President, who has regularly called for an investigation and, as recently as last week, told reporters more should be done to examine the origins of the Russia probe.
It will also likely raise concerns of politicization of the Department of Justice’s work at an already tense time, as Democrats worry that Barr is bending to the President’s demands and have called on Barr to release an unredacted version of the special counsel’s confidential report on the Russia investigation to Congress.
Congressional Democrats fumed Wednesday over Barr’s statements, accusing the attorney general of mischaracterizing the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation in an effort to please Trump.