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Trump declassification move unnerves Democrats

President TrumpDonald TrumpFreedom Caucus member condemns GOP group pushing 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's new free speech site to ban certain curse words Secret Facebook groups of special operations officers include racist comments, QAnon posts: report MORE's decision giving Attorney General William BarrBill BarrGarland rescinds Trump-era memo curtailing consent decrees Boehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers Dominion: Ex-Michigan state senator 'sowing discord in our democracy' with election fraud claims 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) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump 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 WarnerNew US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations Democrats brace for new 'defund the police' attacks Intelligence leaders push for mandatory breach notification law MORE (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOvernight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he Hillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats hearing 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 CoatsExperts see 'unprecedented' increase in hackers targeting electric grid Intel heads to resume worldwide threats hearing scrapped under Trump Lack of cyber funds in Biden infrastructure plan raises eyebrows 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 Clapper140 national security leaders call for 9/11-style panel to review Jan. 6 attack The biggest example of media malfeasance in 2020 is... Meet Biden's pick to lead the US intelligence community 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 MeadowsBoehner finally calls it as he sees it Stephen Miller launching group to challenge Democrats' policies through lawsuits A year with the coronavirus: How we got here MORE (R-N.C.) tweeted.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study Biden aide: Ability to collect daily intel in Afghanistan 'will diminish' Leaving Afghanistan: Is it victory or defeat? 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."