James Comey Hewlett Foundation
Sausalito, California CNN  — 

Former FBI Director James Comey said Thursday he had “no idea” what Attorney General William Barr was talking about when he testified that there was spying on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, adding that he found Barr’s comments “concerning.”

“With respect to Barr’s comments, I really don’t know what he’s talking about when he’s talking about spying on the campaign, so I can’t really react substantively,” Comey said at the Hewlett Foundation’s Verify cybersecurity conference.

“When I hear that kind of language used, it’s concerning because the FBI and Department of Justice conduct court ordered electronic surveillance, I have never thought of that as spying,” he added. “If the attorney general has come to the belief that that should be called spying, wow, that’s going to require a whole lot of conversations inside the Department of Justice.”

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Comey, whom Trump fired in May 2017, said he didn’t know of any court-ordered electronic surveillance of the Trump campaign.

Comey said he believed that Barr’s career had “earned him a presumption that he will be one of the rare Trump Cabinet members who will stand up for truth and facts,” but cautioned that Barr’s comments on Wednesday makes that “harder.”

Reacting to the arrest in London of Julian Assange and Trump’s past praise of WikiLeaks, Comey said, “I would hope that the President would let the Department of Justice pursue a case as it ordinarily would. Obviously, given the track record the last two years, I can’t have high confidence that that will happen, but I don’t know how that will turn out.”

Much of Comey’s appearance at the conference was focused on online disinformation operations, including the vast network of fake social media accounts that were run by a Russian troll group in the lead-up to the 2016 US presidential election.

As part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, the Justice Department indicted a group of Russian nationals last year for their part in the disinformation campaign.

Comey said that he believes one of the reasons to “get transparency on the special counsel’s report” was to better understand how Russia exploited racial and other societal divisions in the United States to undermine American democracy.

CNN’s Dan Simon and Oliver Darcy contributed to this report.