It looked like a spy, it wiretapped like a spy, and set up sting operations like a spy – but James Comey says the FBI’s counterintelligence operation against Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was “investigating.”
In an appearance on ‘CBS This Morning’ on Wednesday, America’s former top spy, sorry, investigator, took aim at Attorney General William Barr for his claim that FBI “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign in 2016.
“Yeah, I have no idea what he’s talking about. The FBI doesn’t spy, the FBI investigates,” Comey told CBS. “We investigated a very serious allegation, that Americans might be hooked up with the Russian effort to attack our democracy.”
So was the FBI’s counterintelligence campaign spying or not spying? That’s an issue of semantics.
The agency wiretapped Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, based on flimsy evidence laid out in the so-called ‘Steele Dossier’ – an unverified piece of Democrat-funded opposition research compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. Comey himself later admitted that the agency knew the dossier was unverifiable.
The FBI also sent an undercover agent to London to meet with George Papadopoulos, another adviser to the Trump campaign to probe Papadopoulos for contacts with the Russian government.
While Barr referred to the FBI’s campaign as “spying,” his use of the word angered America’s top spies.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called Barr’s comments “stunning” and “scary,” while current FBI Director Christopher Wray told senators on Tuesday that “spying” is “not the term I would use” to describe the FBI’s “surveillance activity.”
“Lots of people have different colloquial phrases,” he added.
Although currently embroiled in a struggle with House Democrats over his refusal to hand over a fully unredacted version of the Mueller report, Barr told the Senate last week that his department is “working to try to reconstruct” the FBI’s spying, sorry, surveillance, on the Trump campaign. The Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz is also probing the legality of the FBI’s Carter Page surveillance warrant, with a report expected by June.
Whatever the results, the war of words continues for now. As an aside, according to the Oxford English Thesaurus, “surveillance,” “counter-intelligence,” and “wiretapping” are all synonyms for “spying.”