Clapper: Barr's spying claim 'stunning and scary'

Former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperTrump denies knowledge of Barr meeting in Italy, says it would be appropriate We need answers to questions mainstream media won't ask about Democrats Whistleblowers and the hypocrisy of the ruling class MORE on Wednesday said it was "stunning and scary" that Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrMulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe Mulvaney ties withheld Ukraine aid to political probe sought by Trump Matthew Shepard's parents blast Barr's LGBTQ record in anniversary of hate crime law MORE would claim then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 campaign was spied on.

"I thought it was both stunning and scary," Clapper said in an appearance on CNN on Wednesday. "I was amazed at that and rather disappointed that the attorney general would say such a thing."

"The term 'spying' has all kinds of negative connotations, and I have to believe he chose that term deliberately," he added.

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Clapper denounced Barr for expressing such concerns at a public hearing instead of seeking a briefing from the Justice Department's inspector general on the probe into whether the FBI mishandled warrant applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

"It would have been far more appropriate for him to just defer to that investigation rather than postulating with apparently no evidence. He just has a feeling that there was spying against the campaign," he said.

"We're focusing on this circus about whether or not somebody was spying on the campaign, which is, I think, a gross misstatement," Clapper added.

Clapper's comments came hours after Barr said during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday that he believed “spying did occur” on Trump's campaign ahead of the 2016 election.

“I think spying did occur,” Barr said. “But the question is whether it was adequately predicated and I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”

Later in the hearing, Barr tried to clarify his remarks, saying he was concerned that “improper surveillance” may have occurred in 2016 and that he was "looking into it."

Barr’s claim drew the ire of Senate Democrats on Wednesday, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"AG Barr must retract his statement immediately or produce specific evidence to back it up,” Schumer tweeted. Blumenthal, meanwhile, accused Barr of "carelessly acting as a mouthpiece for President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump 'and profit off of it' Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' MORE's conspiracy theories."