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Christopher Wray resists use of word 'spying' to describe FBI probe

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON — FBI Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday he would not refer to court-authorized FBI surveillance as “spying” — as President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr have — and said he has no evidence of illegal FBI monitoring of Trump’s campaign.

 Wray distanced himself from Barr, who recently used the term “spying” to describe the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign, and from Trump, who has lambasted that probe as “illegal spying.”

“That’s not a term I would use.” Wray said when asked about it by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) at an Appropriations Committee hearing.

“I believe that the FBI is engaged in investigative activity, and part of investigative activity includes surveillance activity of different shapes and sizes,"  Wray said. "And to me, the key question is making sure that’s done by the book, consistent with our lawful authorities.”

“That’s the key question,” Wray said. “Different people use different colloquial phrases.”

Wray, who became FBI director in 2017 after Trump fired James Comey, cautioned that he had his own thoughts about the FBI’s probe. But he urged senators to wait for the bureau's inspector general report into the origins of the Russia investigation, which is expected to be released within the next two months.

Wray said he also would work with Barr in his review of the origin of the FBI’s investigation into interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and any Trump campaign links or coordination with those efforts.

Barr has expressed concern about possible violations of government rules regarding investigations of political activity. He has said he  would conduct his own review of the issue, in addition to the work being done by the inspector general.

“He’s trying to get a better understanding of the circumstances at the department and the FBI surrounding the initiation of this particular investigation,” Wray said. “He and I have been in fairly close contact about it. And we’re trying to work together to help him get the understanding that he needs on that subject.”

The FBI opened its investigation at the end of July 2016, after the release of hacked Democratic emails and learning from an Australian diplomat that Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos told him of a Russian offer to help the campaign with hacked emails.

 In September 2016, the FBI used an American professor and an investigator to meet with Papadopoulos to see what they could learn about his Russian contacts. And in October 2016, the FBI obtained a court warrant to wiretap former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, who had contacts with Russian intelligence and visited Russia during the presidential campaign.

Republicans have said the underlying information that the FBI used to get the warrant, and four extensions, to wiretap Page was false.

Democrats say that information was just a part of the information the FBI presented.

The inspector general is reviewing the warrant request, and Barr said he would assemble a team to review the origin of the FBI’s investigation.

A redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report concluded that the investigation could not establish any Trump campaign criminal conspiracy or coordination with the Russian government.

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