Trump declassification move unnerves Democrats

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage MORE's decision giving Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrBarr bemoans 'moral upheaval' that has brought 'suffering and misery' Trump threatens to sue Schiff and Pelosi Democratic lawmaker says Barr's reported meeting with Murdoch should be investigated 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 MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network 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 WarnerSenators take fundraising efforts to Nats playoff games Senate Intelligence report triggers new calls for action on election security Senate Intel report urges action to prevent Russian meddling in 2020 election MORE (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage Schiff: Whistleblower testimony might not be necessary A Republican Watergate veteran's perspective on a Trump impeachment 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 CoatsRemembering leaders who put country above party The Memo: Polling points to warning signs for GOP on Trump Brent Budowsky: Deep Throat's defending our democracy 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 ClapperWe need answers to questions mainstream media won't ask about Democrats Whistleblowers and the hypocrisy of the ruling class Hillicon Valley: Clapper praises whistleblower complaint | Senators urge social media giants to take action against 'deepfakes' | Tim Cook asks Supreme Court to protect DACA | Harris pushes Twitter to suspend Trump 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 MeadowsEx-Ukraine ambassador arrives to give testimony GOP seeks to gain more control of impeachment narrative Conservative lawmakers demand Schiff's recusal from Trump impeachment inquiry MORE (R-N.C.) tweeted.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Democrats to offer resolution demanding Trump reverse Syria decision Army officer calls Syria pullback 'a stain on the American conscience' 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."