“I think spying did occur, yes.”
Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday that he believes U.S. intelligence agencies spied on the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
At a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Barr was asked about his statement a day earlier that he would review how the FBI launched its investigation into whether Donald Trump’s associates worked with Russians to win him the presidency.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It’s a big deal,” Barr said, noting that longstanding rules bar spy agencies from targeting domestic political figures.
WATCH: Jordan Peterson’s Epic Smack Down of a Reporter
“I’m not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it’s important to look at that,” he said. “I’m not talking about the FBI necessarily but intelligence agencies more broadly.”
The comments seemed to stun Barr’s questioner, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who followed-up: “So you’re not, you’re not suggesting though that spying occurred?”
Barr answered: “I think spying did occur, yes. I think spying did occur.”
The attorney general went on to say that he is obligated to look into whether law enforcement officials had proper legal justification to open and conduct the investigations involving the Trump campaign.
“I need to explore that … I want to say that I am reviewing this, I haven’t set up a team yet,” Barr said, pushing back on reports Tuesday that he had assembled a group. “I also want to make clear this is not launching an investigation of the FBI, frankly, to the extent that there were any issues at the FBI, I do not view it as a problem that’s endemic to the FBI. I think there was probably a failure among a group of leaders there in the upper echelon.”
Barr said he would not shy away from scrutinizing senior FBI officials.
“I feel I have an obligation to make sure that government power is not abused,” he said. “I think that is one of the principal roles of the attorney general.”
It was not clear exactly what alleged spying Barr was referring to. But the FBI obtained a secret surveillance warrant on a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, after he left the campaign, and the agency reportedly used at least one confidential informer to collect information on campaign associates.
President Donald Trump and his allies have repeatedly accused former FBI Director James Comey and some of his top aides of politically motivated misconduct in investigating him. Shortly before Wednesday’s hearing, the president called the Russia probe “an illegal witch hunt” and “treason.”
“It was started illegally. Everything about it was crooked, every single thing about it was crooked,” he told reporters outside the White House. “This was an attempted coupe. This was an attempted takedown of a president, and we beat them. We beat them.”
Meanwhile, current and former law enforcement officials have insisted that they did nothing wrong in investigating the Trump campaign, saying they needed to determine whether members were conspiring with Russians to interfere in the election.
On March 24, days after Special Counsel Robert Mueller finished his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Barr released a summary letter saying that Mueller had found no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians and stop short of recommending the president be prosecuted for obstruction of justice regarding the investigations of him. The attorney general said no charges would be brought.
Democrats have suggested Barr is trying to hide damaging information about Trump, and have pledged to continue a number of congressional investigations of the president.
At the Senate hearing, Barr refused to disclose whether he had briefed Trump on the Mueller report. He said that a redacted version of the report would be released “hopefully next week.”
WATCH: Hilarious Smollett Judge Judy Mashup Banned From Twitter