AG Barr: 'What happened to the Trump presidential campaign ... must never happen again'

Kristine Phillips, USA TODAY
·4 min read

WASHINGTON – Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday issued new guidelines and restrictions on the FBI's ability to conduct surveillance of elected officials, candidates, and their staff members and advisers, saying such investigations must be "justified and non-partisan."

The new rules, which involved requiring the FBI to consider briefing an official, candidate or adviser that they might be compromised by foreign governments before applying for a surveillance warrant, were part of department-wide changes to address problems in the early stages of the Russia investigation.

Barr and President Donald Trump's Republican allies have been critical of the Russia investigation and on the FBI's surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser during the early stages of the probe.

An inspector general's report found several errors, omissions and misstatements in the FBI's warrant applications to wiretap Carter Page in 2016 and 2017. A former FBI lawyer has pleaded guilty to falsifying an email that investigators used to justify continued surveillance of Page.

The report, however, found that the broader Russia probe was justified.

"When ... activities involve federal election officials, federal political candidates, or their respective staff members, the Department must be especially vigilant," Barr said in one of two memos outlining the new rules. "Such intelligence activities must be subject to rigorous review to ensure that they are justified and non-partisan, are based on full and complete information, take into account the significant First Amendment interests at stake, and do not undermine the political process."

Both memos outline several layers of requirements, approval and oversight on the FBI's surveillance activities. For example, warrant applications targeting elected officials must first be approved by the Justice Department and FBI leadership before they're submitted to surveillance court judges. Investigators are required to justify the surveillance by explaining that other less intrusive tactics have failed.

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The FBI will also create a new office that will routinely examine the bureau's surveillance activities.

"The American people must have confidence that the United States Government will exercise its surveillance authorities in a manner that protects the civil liberties of Americans, avoids interference in the political process, and complies with the Constitution and laws of the United States. What happened to the Trump presidential campaign and his subsequent Administration after the President was duly elected by the American people must never happen again," Barr said.

Barr told lawmakers last year that he believes "spying did occur" on the Trump campaign. Barr has tapped an outside federal prosecutor to review the Russia investigation and has told Fox News there would be "significant developments" from the review before the November election.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said he has ordered more than 40 actions since the inspector general's findings on the Page surveillance were released last year. The FBI is also seeking outside consultant to advise on how to improve its surveillance process.

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The FBI said in July that its review of more than two-dozen wiretap applications on U.S. citizens contained only minor errors that did not undermine the legal justification for the warrants. The FBI and the Justice Department reviewed 29 applications in response to the inspector general's findings and found errors that were mostly typographical, such as misspellings and wrong dates.

Last month, a wide-ranging report released by a GOP-led Senate panel gave a comprehensive account of contacts between Russian actors and Trump associates, including former Trump campaign Paul Manafort. The bipartisan report confirmed the findings of former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation that Russia sought to sway the 2016 race in Trump's favor, although the probe did not find evidence of a conspiracy with the Kremlin.

The Mueller investigation led to the indictments of half a dozen former Trump campaign aides and associates, including Manafort and longtime ally Roger Stone, whose sentence the president commuted.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: AG William Barr tightens rules on FBI surveillance of politicians