Trump declassification move unnerves Democrats

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFormer Joint Chiefs chairman: 'The last thing in the world we need right now is a war with Iran' Pence: 'We're not convinced' downing of drone was 'authorized at the highest levels' Trump: Bolton would take on the whole world at one time MORE's decision giving Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrTrump: 'I think I win the election easier' if Democrats launch impeachment proceedings Darrell Issa eyes return to Congress Martin Sheen, Robert De Niro join star-studded video breaking down Mueller report findings MORE "full and complete authority" to declassify documents related to surveillance activities during the 2016 campaign has set off a wave of criticism in Washington.

Democrats and former intelligence officials are worried that the move could politicize the intelligence community and put sources and methods at risk, describing his action as "un-American" and "dangerous." 

Trump on Friday defended his decision to grant Barr declassification authority in his investigation, declaring it would reveal the origins of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump Schiff says Intel panel will hold 'series' of hearings on Mueller report MORE's probe into Russia's election interference. But Democrats, dismayed with Barr's handling of the Mueller report, have raised concerns that the attorney general cannot be trusted with the task.

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"We still don’t have the full Mueller report, so of course the President gives sweeping declassification powers to an Attorney General who has already shown that he has no problem selectively releasing information in order to mislead the American people," Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerGOP senators divided over approach to election security Hillicon Valley: House lawmakers reach deal on robocall bill | Laid-off journalists launch ads targeting tech giants | Apple seeks tariff exemptions | Facebook's Libra invites scrutiny Schiff introduces bill to strengthen law barring campaigns from accepting foreign dirt MORE (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffUS finds itself isolated in Iran conflict House Intelligence Committee to subpoena Trump associate Felix Sater Schiff introduces bill to strengthen law barring campaigns from accepting foreign dirt MORE (D-Calif.) called the move "un-American."

John McLaughlin, the former deputy director of the CIA during the George W. Bush administration, called it "a really bad idea" to give Barr declassification authority.

"The agencies can cooperate but must retain their legal responsibility for protecting sources," McLaughlin tweeted late Thursday. "Congressional intelligence committees need to stand in the door on this one."

The White House issued a memo Thursday evening directing the heads of U.S. intelligence agencies and several departments that include elements of the intelligence community to cooperate with Barr's review into intelligence activities related to the 2016 presidential campaigns, which the attorney general has described as "spying."

The memo also states that Barr has the authority to declassify information or intelligence relating to his probe. It instructs him to consult with the heads of intelligence agencies "to the extent he deems it practicable."

The White House asserted that the declassification process would "restore confidence in our public institutions."

Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsHillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger House Intel to take first major deep dive into threat of 'deepfakes' House Intelligence panel to examine 'deepfake' videos in June MORE said in a statement on Friday that the intelligence community would provide the Department of Justice “all of the appropriate information” for its review. 

“I am confident that the Attorney General will work with the [intelligence community] in accordance with the long-established standards to protect highly-sensitive classified information that, if publicly released, would put our national security at risk," Coats said.

Trump has espoused that his campaign was improperly surveilled by intelligence officials who were biased against him during the 2016 election, an unproven theory echoed by some of his conservative supporters. He has bandied the word "treason" to describe the origins of the Russia investigation, and on Friday defended the declassification order.

"People have been asking me to declassify for a long period of time," Trump said as he departed the White House for Japan. "I’ve decided to do it and you’re going to learn a lot. I hope it’s going to be nice, but perhaps it won’t be."

In Barr, Trump has found an attorney general who has lent credence to some of his long-standing beliefs. The attorney general sparked a furor when he said he believed "spying" occurred in 2016, but that he didn't know if it was done improperly.

Democrats and FBI Director Christopher Wray are among those who balked at Barr's use of the term "spying."

Democrats have further raised concerns that Barr is acting more as Trump's personal attorney than the nation's top law enforcement officer. A number of Democratic senators called on Barr to resign after it became clear that Mueller felt Barr mischaracterized the special counsel's findings.

"Trump dangerously politicizes intelligence declassification—giving his henchman AG sweeping powers to weaponize classified info against political foes," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) tweeted Friday. "No safeguards, no accountability, no respect for intel sources—a deeply perilous recipe to distract from mounting troubles."

Trump scoffed at the suggestion that the attorney general was untrustworthy or potentially compromised, calling it "so false and so phony" to raise Mueller's frustrations with Barr's portrayal of his findings.

"The attorney general is one of the most respected people in this country, and he has been for a long period of time," Trump said.

But former intelligence officials wondered whether Trump's desire to unearth the origins of what he has frequently derided as a "witch hunt" will negatively affect the intelligence community's ability to do its job.

James ClapperJames Robert ClapperGeraldo Rivera: Comey, Clapper, Brennan should be 'quaking' in their boots over Barr investigation Trump declassification move unnerves Democrats Comey: 'The FBI doesn't spy, the FBI investigates' MORE, a former director of national intelligence and a regular target of Trump's scorn, said Thursday that the Mueller report already made a significant amount of information public. He suggested further declassification "might risk jeopardizing sources and methods.”

But Trump's allies in Congress hailed the president's decision. Several Republicans praised it as a move in support of transparency, and suggested it would validate their claims of anti-Trump bias among former government officials.

"Americans are going to learn the truth about what occurred at their Justice Department," Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsDarrell Issa eyes return to Congress Oversight Republicans: 'Hundreds' of migrants in caravans have criminal histories FBI, warned early and often that Manafort file might be fake, used it anyway MORE (R-N.C.) tweeted.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks Trump urged to quickly fill Pentagon post amid Iran tensions MORE (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the declassification of documents "long overdue."

"You're going to find out the mentality of the people investigating the president," he said on "Fox & Friends." "You're going to find out exactly what they did and said."

Graham, who has made clear he intends to use his position to look into alleged surveillance abuses during the Obama administration, suggested the response when the documents are released will fall along partisan lines.

"You'll be interested in it," he told the Fox News co-hosts. "Not one Democrat will give a damn."