Comey’s Excuse for Spying on Trump: ‘I’ve Never Thought of Electronic Surveillance as Spying’

Former FBI Director James Comey looked to clear the air and push back on claims from Attorney General William Barr that multiple U.S. intelligence agencies spied on then-candidate Trump in 2016 and 2017.

During the Hewlett Foundation’s Verify cybersecurity conference, Comey said he found Barr’s comments “concerning” and that he was not familiar with any spying that was conducted while Trump was a candidate.

“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.

In his next sentence, Comey admitted that he did not consider “electronic surveillance” to be a form of “spying.”

“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,” Comey said via CNN.

The former FBI director hinted the entire Department of Justice would have a lot to answer to if the meaning of “spying” included the surveillance.

“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.”


NBC News reports Comey continued, speaking of Barr: “I have no idea what he’s talking about, so it’s hard for me to comment. Maybe the only thing I can say generally is — I think that his career has earned him the presumption that he will be one of the rare Cabinet members who will stand up for things like truth and facts, and institutional values.”

“I still think he’s entitled to that presumption,” he added. “Language like this makes it harder, but I still think he’s entitled to that presumption. And because I don’t know what the heck he’s talking about, that’s all I can say.”

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From NBC News:

At a Senate subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Barr — defending his decision to order a review of the Trump-Russia probe’s origins — said government “spying” on Trump’s 2016 campaign “did occur” and raised questions about inappropriate surveillance and whether the FBI followed its own rules.

“For the same reason, we’re worried about foreign influence in elections … I think spying on a political campaign — it’s a big deal, it’s a big deal,” Barr said when asked why he plans to probe the origins of what would become special counsel Robert Mueller’s almost two-year Russia investigation.

He later added, “I have no specific evidence that I would cite right now, I do have some questions about it. I have concerns about various aspects of it.”

Barr added that he wasn’t launching an investigation of the FBI, but said, “I think there was probably a failure among a group of leaders there at the upper echelon.” He did not elaborate on who he believes failed and how.

Here’s more on Comey’s speech at the conference, via CNN:

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.