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Our Opinion: Something of a bombshell

Attorney General William Barr dropped something of a bombshell during testimony in Congress last week. But what he said should have come as no surprise.

Though Barr was supposed to be testifying to a Senate committee considering the budget, questions turned to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of whether President Donald Trump or others in his circle cooperated with the Russian government in trying to influence the 2016 election. Mueller’s investigators did not find enough evidence to support that contention.

At one point during his testimony, Barr was asked about reports that agencies of the U.S. government, possibly the FBI, had engaged in surveillance directed at some involved in Trump’s campaign for president.

His reply brought a short but stunned silence from the senators: “Spying did occur” against the Trump campaign, Barr said.

He hastened to add that such activity by U.S. law enforcement and/or intelligence agencies may have been “predicated” on reasonable concerns. Barr said he and some trusted aides are looking into the matter.

Even during the campaign, there were allegations that some in the Washington establishment was cooperating with Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, in an attempt to help her win the presidency. And it is known that the FBI was looking into Trump’s relationship with the Russian government.

So Barr’s qualifier — that he wants to know more about why any spying occurred — is important.

It would not be difficult for any targets of Barr’s inquiry to claim they had genuine concerns about Trump’s connection, if any, to Moscow. But, at least in the court of public opinion, such a defense would be balanced against proof already on the books that some in the FBI hierarchy were staunch opponents of Trump, who voiced a determination to keep him out of the White House.

Members of Congress, of both parties, should be upset at the possibility the machinery of our government may have been used in an attempt to harm one presidential campaign and benefit another. That is the stuff of totalitarian regimes determined to maintain their hold on power.

If it occurred here, Americans need to know about it — and all involved should be punished as severely as the law permits.

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