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DOJ To Examine Origins Of The Russia Probe, Barr Tells Senators


Spying on President Trump's presidential campaign - the president has long made that claim.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There's a big thing going on right now, which is spying.


TRUMP: They spied on me. They spied on our campaign.

GREENE: OK, so that's President Trump's words. But here is Attorney General William Barr in an exchange with Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire as he testified yesterday, for a second day, on Capitol Hill.


JEANNE SHAHEEN: You're not suggesting, though, that spying occurred.

WILLIAM BARR: I don't - well, I guess you could - I think there's - spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur.

GREENE: The attorney general later clarified that he had no specific evidence of improper surveillance but that he was concerned and wants to look into the origins of the Russia investigation. However, Barr's comments are raising a whole lot of questions. And let's talk them through with NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

Hi, Mara.


GREENE: So the attorney general, it would appear, is taking the president's claims seriously. I mean, what is exactly - what exactly does he want to investigate, here?

LIASSON: Well, he says he has questions. And he wants to look into how the surveillance of the Trump campaign began. And in July of 2016, what we know is that a judge granted the FBI a secret surveillance warrant, a FISA warrant, to, quote, "spy" on a former Trump aide, Carter Page. He - Page had already left the campaign. But he had had a number of contacts with Russian intelligence officials. And the FBI wanted to look into this. Republicans in Congress, and the president, of course, have questioned the legality of that warrant, saying it was inappropriate because it was based, in part, on the information in that infamous document - the dossier that was put together by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer for Democratic oppo research arm. So that's what the president and his allies in Congress have been using to undermine the credibility of the entire Mueller investigation. They say the origin was inappropriate.

GREENE: All right, so this was a moment in a hearing that wasn't really focused on that. But Democrats - I mean, now that this has come up and it's coming from the attorney general himself - not happy at all.

LIASSON: No, they're hopping mad about it. They feel these questions have been asked and answered. And, as a matter of fact, the day before, Barr had said that the Department of Justice's inspector general was looking into this and would be wrapping up his investigation soon. They certainly don't see that it's necessary for another investigation. And here's what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said about Barr's comments.


NANCY PELOSI: On that subject of the Judiciary Committee, let me just say, how very, very dismaying and disappointing that the chief law enforcement officer of our country is going off the rails yesterday and today. He is the attorney general of the United States of America not the attorney general of Donald Trump.

LIASSON: Yes. And Democrats see that - say that Barr is echoing the president's language, cooperating in the effort to undermine the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation.

GREENE: Well, I'm trying to understand some of the president's language because just last week, Mara, I mean, the president was praising Robert Mueller, saying he's honorable - an honorable man. But once again, Trump is now attacking him. He was talking to the press yesterday as he was leaving the White House. Let's just listen.


TRUMP: This was an attempted coup. This was an attempted takedown of a president. And we beat them. We beat them. So the Mueller report - when they talk about obstruction, what - we fight back. And you know why we fight back? - because I knew how illegal this whole thing was.

GREENE: So that - and combine that with the remarks by the Attorney General. Is this a new strategy from the White House?

LIASSON: Well, it sounds like it because, of course, just last week, Trump was praising Robert Mueller. He called him an honorable man because he was basing it on Barr's summary of the Mueller report, which said he was - and he claimed that totally exonerated him. Now he's back to attacking him. And it's interesting, when he talks about obstruction - Mueller might call it obstruction. But he says, that's just me fighting back. So it sounds like, since that summary came out, there have been reports from anonymous members of the Mueller team that that summary did not accurately represent the contents of the Mueller report. And we're getting ready, in about a week's time, to see the entire report, with some redactions by Barr. And it sounds like the president is worried about what that report might say.

GREENE: One of the complaints about the summary, Mara, from Democrats, is that the attorney general had an ability to control the narrative, the first impression for voters of the entire Mueller report. Do we know yet if that has had an impact on public opinion in the country?

LIASSON: It - the polling that we've seen so far suggests that it hasn't had an impact one way or another on public opinion. Big chunks of the public still believe that report did not fully exonerate the president. And that's because so many Americans are totally locked in in their opinions of Donald Trump. Fully 70 percent of Americans either strongly approve or strongly disapprove of the president. And it doesn't sound like anything, even the Mueller report, is going to change that.

GREENE: All right. NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, for us this morning.

Mara, thanks as always.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.