Attorney General nominee William Barr testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.
Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Trump wastes little time trying to exploit Barr’s reckless ‘spy’ talk

The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/11/19, 9:38 PM ET

Barr scrambles to rewind 'spying' conspiracy theory embrace

Rachel Maddow reviews Attorney General William Barr’s frantic back-pedaling to try to re-cast his embrace of a pet Donald Trump conspiracy theory about the deep state spying on his 2016 campaign.
It was just five days ago when Attorney General William Barr decided to extend his imprimatur to one of Donald Trump’s favorite conspiracy theories, telling senators about his concerns about U.S. officials “spying” on Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. The Republican A.G. went on to specifically tell senators, “I think spying did occur.”

Barr was already struggling with questions about his credibility and political independence from the White House, but he nevertheless needlessly endorsed highly provocative rhetoric – which was not and is not rooted in fact – undermining his standing further.

The attorney general has since tried to walk back his comments, though the damage is already done.

Indeed, the president who handpicked Barr for his post is now making matters worse by exploiting the attorney general’s endorsement of the presidential conspiracy theory. Trump has been talking and tweeting about being the victim of “spying,” and it wasn’t long before his political operation tried to monetize the manufactured outrage.

The Trump campaign on Friday sent a fundraising email and several text messages to supporters misquoting Attorney General William Barr, claiming that he had confirmed the existence of “unlawful” spying on President Trump’s campaign during the 2016 election.

In the email sent Friday afternoon, the Trump campaign claimed falsely that “Attorney General William Barr said what the president has thought all along: He believes “ ‘unlawful spying did occur’ against Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign.”

Part of the problem is that, in reality, there’s no evidence of “unlawful spying.” The other part of the problem that Team Trump is adding insult to injury by dealing irresponsibly with Barr’s irresponsible rhetoric.

As the Associated Press explained this morning:

The email puts words in Barr’s mouth and seeks to raise money in doing so. Barr never said there was illegal spying.

During a Senate hearing Wednesday, the attorney general actually made clear he had no specific evidence to cite that any surveillance was illegal or improper.

“I think spying did occur,” Barr told lawmakers. “But the question is whether it was adequately predicated and I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”

He later added: “I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I am saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it.”

Trump concocted a conspiracy theory, Bill Barr echoed the conspiracy theory, and now Trump’s political operation is twisting Barr’s words to deceive the president’s own supporters.

I wonder if the attorney general is satisfied with his new role in this unfortunate little scheme. If not, today would be a good time for him to say so.

Conspiracy Theories and Donald Trump

Trump wastes little time trying to exploit Barr's reckless 'spy' talk