SALT LAKE CITY — There were abuses by officials at the FBI and Department of Justice in their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election that need to be investigated, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said Tuesday.
The 2nd Congressional District representative said criminal referrals are coming soon from him and other Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, a promise that drew cheers at Saturday's Utah Republican Party convention.
"I can promise you this," Stewart told GOP delegates. "There was a conspiracy. There were leaks. There was collusion. It just didn't happen where they said it did. It happened with top officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI."
Among the officials he listed in his convention speech were James Comey, fired as FBI director by President Donald Trump, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
In an interview Tuesday, Stewart agreed with Attorney General William Barr's recent statement to Congress that "spying did occur" on Trump's campaign by U.S. intelligence agencies.
"I don't know why people are so sensitive to that word," the congressman said. "They can call it surveillance, they can call it spying. I don't care what they call it. I care what they did. And to me, there's no difference at all."
But Chris Wray, the current FBI director, told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday he did not consider the court-approved FBI surveillance "spying," according to the Associated Press.
"Well, that's not the term I would use," Wray responded when asked about the word used by Barr. "I believe that the FBI is engaged in investigative activity, and part of investigative activity includes surveillance activity of different shapes and sizes."
Wray said for him, "the key question is making sure that it's done by the book, consistent with our lawful authorities. That's the key question. Different people use different colloquial phrases."
He declined to discuss in detail the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign, but when asked if he was aware of illegally spying, told the subcommittee, "I don't think I personally have any evidence of that sort."
Stewart said officials now have to answer to whether actions taken during the investigation that reportedly included sending an informant to talk with Trump campaign advisers were justified.
"This is an incredibly sensitive undertaking here. You're running assets into not a mafia organization, you're not running into a drug cartel. You're running them into a political campaign of the president of the United States. That's a big deal," he said.
Stewart declined to go into the details of the criminal referrals, which also have been referred to by the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.
There are "boatloads of evidence" that officials involved in the investigation went too far, possibly even lying to Congress and the courts, Stewart said, but he said that evidence may never be able to be disclosed.
He said the committee "has known for more than a year that there was activities and some actions taken by senior people, and not many, but some very senior people at Department of Justice, FBI and perhaps some other organizations that absolutely have to be investigated."
It has also become apparent, Stewart said, that some of those officials "probably committed perjury before our committee" but members wanted to wait for the "appropriate time" to submit the criminal referrals to the Justice Department.
Now that special counsel Robert Mueller's report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has been reviewed, he said it's time to move forward.
"It's always been our intention to pursue this," Stewart said of turning over information gathered by the committee. "We've finished that work by and large and we hope to do that in the next, well, maybe week or two weeks."
He said the Republicans behind the referrals trust they'll be handled properly.
"We just have tremendous respect for Attorney General Barr," Stewart said. "We think that he's a dedicated leader and he's not intimidated. He's not cowed by those who oppose him. We have a lot of confidence that he will do the right thing."
The attorney general is already looking into whether the FBI should have opened a counterintelligence investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, the wire service reported.
No criminal conspiracy was identified in the Mueller report, but Stewart said in a Facebook post he believes Mueller should testify publicly before Congress about the investigation.
"There’s lots of questions we would like to ask him," Stewart wrote, including, "When did he first realize that conspiracy/collusion did not occur? Why did he not investigate or provide information on DOJ/Intelligence assets being run as spies into the Trump campaign? The American people deserve answers."
At Saturday's state GOP convention, Stewart said he and other supporters of the president are being labeled "stupid" for making the wrong choice in the 2016 election by those who want "to override the will of the American people."
Any "conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia is an absolute illusion. It's an absolute fantasy," he said, ending his speech to delegates with what he described as good news. "We are winning. President Trump is winning."