By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr said on Monday that he would raise the threshold needed to open counterintelligence investigations of presidential campaigns, a move that follows complaints by President Donald Trump about government surveillance of his 2016 election campaign.
Any future investigations will need the signatures of both the U.S. Attorney General and the head of the FBI, Barr said at a news conference. He said he had reached the decision with FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Justice Department lawyers currently review applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), which is charged with vetting and granting them, and approval by top officials is not routinely required.
“One of the things that we agreed on is that the opening of a counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign would be something that the director of the FBI would have to sign off on and the attorney general,” Barr said at a news conference.
The Justice Department’s internal watchdog found that FBI officials made numerous errors when they examined contacts between a former Trump campaign adviser and Russia in 2016. These made the case for conducting surveillance of the adviser, Carter Page, appear stronger than it was. The probe clouded the first two years of Trump’s presidency.
Trump has publicly accused U.S. government agencies of leaking allegations that Russia had compromising material on him.
Wray said on Friday that the FBI would tighten its procedures when it seeks permission to launch electronic surveillance in sensitive cases.
FISA named former Justice Department official David Kris on Friday to an advisory post to help it review proposed revisions.
The appointment prompted condemnation from Trump, who tweeted that Kris had “zero credibility.”
The appointment was also criticized by Page, who was the target of FBI surveillance before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“You appoint Kris for only one reason: you don’t want the system fixed. You just want it to look like you do,” Page told Reuters.
Kris did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Additional reporting by Sarah Lynch; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Cynthia Osterman)