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Barr wants to investigate origins of agencies 'spying' on Trump campaign

Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday he is reviewing the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, declaring he believed the president's campaign had been spied on and wanted to make sure proper procedures were followed.

Trump and supporters have repeatedly accused FBI, Obama administration of bias

Attorney General William Barr appeared on Capitol Hill for the second day in a row to talk about the Justice Department budget request, but questions about the special counsel probe again overshadowed the session. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday he is reviewing the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, declaring he believed the president's campaign had been spied on and wanted to make sure proper procedures were followed.

"I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal," Barr told senators at a budget hearing that, like a similar House hearing Tuesday, was dominated by questions about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

It was not immediately clear what "spying" Barr was referring to, but President Donald Trump's supporters have repeatedly made accusations of political bias within the FBI and seized on anti-Trump text messages sent and received by one of the lead agents involved in investigating whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia.

"I think spying did occur," Barr told the Senate hearing. "But the question is whether it was adequately predicated, and I am not suggesting that it wasn't adequately predicated. … I am not suggesting those rules were violated, but I think it is important to look at that. And I am not talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly."

Barr, who was nominated to his post by Trump four months ago, told a Senate appropriations subcommittee that though he did not have specific evidence of wrongdoing, "I do have questions about it."

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden called Barr's testimony a distraction.

'There were dirty cops': Trump

Barr's reference to "spying" may refer to a secret surveillance warrant that the FBI obtained in fall 2016 to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing and has denied being a Russian spy. That warrant included a reference to research that was conducted by an ex-British spy who was funded by Democrats to look into Trump's ties to Russia.

Critics of the Russia investigation say the warrant on Page was unjustified and have also seized on anti-Trump text messages sent and received by one of the lead agents involved in investigating whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia.

Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, who also chairs the Freedom Caucus, made up of Conservative and Libertarian members, said in a tweet that the probe is long overdue.

At the White House on Wednesday, Trump repeated his claim that the investigation was illegal.

"It was started illegally. Everything about it was crooked. Every single thing about it. There were dirty cops," he said.

Barr's review is separate from a Justice Department inspector general investigation into the early days of the FBI's Russia probe, which Barr said he expects to conclude sometime around May or June.

"I feel that I have an obligation to ensure government power was not abused," Barr said.

Information that reflects poorly on Trump

Barr also said he expected to release a redacted version of Mueller's nearly 400-page report next week — possibly a slight change from the estimate he gave Tuesday, when he said the release would be "within a week."

Though he said the document will be redacted to withhold negative information about peripheral figures in the investigation, Barr said that would not apply to Trump, who is an officeholder and central to the probe.

Democrats said they were concerned that a four-page summary letter of the report's main conclusions Barr released last month portrayed the investigation's findings in an overly favourable way for Trump.

The letter said that Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and Trump associates around the time of the 2016 election and that Barr did not believe the evidence in the report was sufficient to prove the president had obstructed justice.

With files from CBC News

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