In law school they teach you never to ask a witness a question you don’t already know the answer to. But Sen. Jeanne Shaheen didn’t go to law school.
In a Senate hearing on Wednesday, the New Hampshire Democrat tried to take Attorney General William Barr to task over news that his department is looking into the behavior of the FBI, CIA and Department of Justice in launching the surveillance of the Trump campaign in 2016 that led to the Russiagate investigation. Some Trump supporters have raised questions about the partisan aspects of the process for years, including respected federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials.
After several questions about why Barr “has assembled a special team to look into why the FBI opened an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election,” Shaheen seemed rattled by Barr’s answer that, well, of course he is.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr told her. “We have a lot of rules in place to make sure there’s an adequate basis before our law enforcement gets involved in political surveillance. I’m not suggesting those rules are violated,” Barr said. “But I do think it’s important to look at that.”
But, “Shaheen interjected, “you’re not suggesting that spying [on the Trump campaign] occurred.”
To which Barr replied, “Yes, I think spying did occur.”
Shaheen, clearly not expecting that answer, was stunned into silence. Barr took the opportunity to point out that it’s entirely possible the spying by U.S. law enforcement on Trump’s campaign “was properly predicated.” He also reminded Shaheen that “Congress is usually very concerned about agencies staying in their proper lane,” a no-to0-subtle dig at the Democrats in Congress.
“Part of my job is to ensure that government power is not abused,” Barr concluded.
Shaheen’s response was an attempt to turn the topic into an attack on President Trump:
“I think we all have an obligation to ensure that government power is not abused. The question I have is what happens when the Executive is potentially playing that role. That’s where it doesn’t seem to me there’s been adequate oversight,” Shaheen said of the twenty-two month, 300-page Mueller probe into the Trump campaign.
Shaheen then promptly concluded her questioning of the witness without any further questions.