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Attorney General Bill Barr told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday that he believes spying by law enforcement officials on the 2016 Trump campaign "did occur," before clarifying at the end of the hearing: "I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I am saying that I am concerned about it and I’m looking into it."

The exchange:

  • Barr: "For the same reason we're worried about foreign influence in elections, we want to make sure that — I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. ... There were a lot of rules put in place to make sure that there's an adequate basis before our law enforcement agencies get involved in political surveillance. I'm not suggesting those rules were violated, but I think it's important to look at that."
  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.): "But you're not suggesting that spying occurred?"
  • Barr: "I don't ... well ... I guess you could — I think spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicated. And I'm not suggesting that it wasn't adequately predicated. But I need to explore that."

When pressed by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) whether he has any evidence of wrongdoing by the FBI or Mueller in the Russia investigation, Barr said: "I have no specific evidence that I would cite right now. I do have questions about it." Barr said he plans on reviewing "both the genesis and conduct" of the Russia investigation.

Why it matters: Defenders of President Trump have long accused Obama-era intelligence officials of spying on the Trump campaign for political reasons, alleging that intelligence tools, like the FISA process, were abused. These claims have not been corroborated.

  • A redacted FISA warrant for Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser, was released by the Department of Justice last year.
  • The documents appeared to show that the FBI properly disclosed its sources of information and that it relied on more than just the controversial Steele dossier, contradicting claims of abuse by Republicans.

Go deeper: How FISA works

Go deeper

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.

Bush labels Clyburn the “savior” for Democrats

House Majority Whip James Clyburn takes a selfie Wednesday with former President George W. Bush. Photo: Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush credited Rep. James Clyburn with being the "savior" of the Democratic Party, telling the South Carolinian at Wednesday's inauguration his endorsement allowed Joe Biden to win the party's presidential nomination.

Why it matters: The nation's last two-term Republican president also said Clyburn's nod allowed for the transfer of power, because he felt only Biden had the ability to unseat President Trump.

GOP research firm aims to hobble Biden nominees

Alejandro Mayorkas. Photo: Joshua Roberts/AFP via Getty Images

The Republican-aligned opposition research group America Rising is doing all it can to prevent President Biden from seating his top Cabinet picks.

Why it matters: After former President Trump inhibited the transition, Biden is hoping the Republican minority in Congress will cooperate with getting his team in place. Biden hadn't even been sworn in when America Rising began blasting opposition research to reporters targeting Janet Yellen and Alejandro Mayorkas.