Embracing an argument made by President Donald Trump in the past, U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday told Senators that he believed 'spying' had occurred against the Trump campaign during the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, though Barr later walked back his comments, saying he was concerned about possible 'improper surveillance' by the FBI and U.S. Intelligence in the Russia investigation.
"I think spying did occur," Barr said in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee. "I'm not talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly."
"But the question is whether it was predicated - adequately predicated - and I'm not suggesting it wasn't adequately predicated, but I need to explore that," Barr added, though he refused to say why he was raising these questions.
But as the hearing went on, Barr was pressed about his use of the term 'spying,' with one Democratic Senator saying it was 'provocative' and 'unnecessarily inflammatory.'
And at the very end of the hearing, the Attorney General backed away from his original use of the term 'spying.'
“I just want to make it clear thinking back on all the different colloquies here, that I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred,” Barr explained.
“I am saying that I am concerned about it, and looking into it, that's all,” Barr said, as he confirmed news reports that he was going to review the origins of the Russia investigation for any possible misconduct.
Barr's comments came as he was asked about news reports which indicated he was starting a review of the origins of the investigation into questions of Russian interference - and whether there were any ties to the Trump campaign.
"I am going to be reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016," Barr said.
"A lot of this has already been investigated," Barr added, noting an ongoing review by the Department of Justice Inspector General.
“I believe there is a basis for my concern. But I’m not going to discuss the basis,” the Attorney General told a Senate hearing.
But the Attorney General said he wanted to pull together all of the information to 'see if there are any remaining questions to be addressed."
At his second budget hearing in two days, Barr's testimony was again dominated by questions about the Mueller report, which Barr once more said would hopefully be released next week - in a redacted form.
Barr again said the goal was to note redactions in a color coded format in the four areas the Attorney General set out in a late March letter to Congress - grand jury information, classified material, information which could interfere with ongoing prosecutions, and material which peripherally addresses third parties not directly involved in the investigation of Russian interference.
Barr's comments came a few minutes after President Trump again denounced the investigation into Russian interference and any ties to his campaign, labeling it 'treason.'
“This was an attempted coup,” Mr. Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before he left for a trip to Texas.
“I knew how illegal this was,” the President said of the Mueller investigation, as he labeled it a 'scam.'
President Trump also very publicly signaled his support for Attorney General Barr's review of how the investigation started.
“Hopefully the Attorney General - he mentioned it yesterday - he's doing a great job, getting started on the origins of where this all started,” as the President again called the investigation an illegal witch hunt.