WASHINGTON - FBI Director Christopher Wray told a Senate panel Tuesday he was unaware of evidence that suggested the FBI engaged in unauthorized surveillance during the now-completed investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 campaign.
While Wray acknowledged that he was assisting Attorney General William Barr's review of the origins of the 22-month inquiry headed by special counsel Robert Mueller, he distanced himself from Barr's recent characterization that "spying did occur" during the Russia inquiry.
"That's not the term I would use," Wray told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee.
Last month, Barr startled some lawmakers on the same committee when he outlined the scope of his surveillance examination into whether federal investigators had overstepped their authority.
"Spying on a campaign is a big deal," the attorney general told lawmakers then. "I think spying did occur. The question is whether it was adequately predicated."
Just last week, during testimony before a separate Senate panel, the attorney general defended his portrayal of the FBI's investigative activities when repeatedly pressed by lawmakers.
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"I think spying is a good English word," Barr said last week, adding that was an 'off-the-cuff" reference. "I'm not going to back off. I don't consider it pejorative."
President Donald Trump and some Republicans have long called for a deeper review of the FBI's conduct during the Russia inquiry and immediately embraced the news of Barr's surveillance inquiry.
Apart from Barr's review, the Justice Department inspector general is conducting a separate review of the the FBI's handling of warrant applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions referred the matter to the inspector general after questions were raised about the FBI's monitoring of former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
The attorney general has said he planned to examine the "genesis and the conduct" of the FBI's investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, launched in the midst of the 2016 presidential run. The inquiry was ultimately turned over to Mueller to complete, and determined that Trump's campaign did not conspire with the Russian government.
"The attorney general is seeking to understand better relating to how this investigation started," Wray told lawmakers Tuesday. "I think that's part of his job and part of mine."
Asked directly about Barr use of the term "spying" to describe the FBI's surveillance activities, Wray said: "A lot of people have a lot of colloquial phrases," Wray said, adding that he was focused on "making sure it's done by the book, consistent with our lawful authorities."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FBI chief Wray says he is unaware of 'spying' during Russia election interference investigation