Dems say attorney general undermined credibility with Trump talking point

Democrats on Thursday accused Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrLove or hate Trump, Mueller report doesn't matter Immigration judge calls Barr's move to deny asylum-seekers bond hearings 'highly problematic' Trump's job approval ticks up 2 points: Gallup MORE of playing into President TrumpDonald John TrumpRussia's election interference is a problem for the GOP Pence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Iran oil minister: US made 'bad mistake' in ending sanctions waivers MORE’s attacks on the FBI after he testified the day before that he is reviewing whether U.S. officials were improperly “spying” on the 2016 campaign.

They warned that Barr is undermining his credibility by using language that echoes Trump and his allies.

“When someone is given real information that Russia interfered with our elections, of course they’re supposed to look into it, that’s part of their job,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said from the Senate floor on Thursday.

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“For Mr. Barr to label this as spying, echoing some of the worst conspiracy theorists in the country, he loses all credibility and that credibility is vital,” Schumer said. “Because he’ll be issuing a report with redactions.”

Democratic lawmakers said they plan to ask Barr for more clarity on what exactly he meant with the use of the word “spying” when he returns to testify about special counsel Robdert Mueller’s completed investigation next month. 

“I can hardly wait,” said Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide' Overnight Energy: Collins receives more donations from Texas oil, gas industry than from Maine residents | Interior chief left meetings off schedule | Omar controversy jeopardizes Ocasio-Cortez trip to coal mine MORE (D-Hawaii), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The attorney general knew exactly the import of the words he used. And it was yet another gift to this president.” 

She called Barr's four-page memo summarizing Mueller’s report “the first gift.”

Barr’s memo, Democrats contend, allowed the White House to cement the narrative that Mueller’s investigation left Trump in the clear. While Barr in his letter quoted from Mueller’s report directly to say it did not exonerate Trump on the issue of obstruction of justice, Trump has said that the report did exonerate him.

Democrats have grown more and more frustrated at the fact that Mueller’s report remains sealed. Barr signaled this week that a redacted version was likely to be provided to Congress next week.

In his memo, Barr said that based on the evidence Mueller provided, he did not think a charge of obstruction of justice should be brought against Trump. He also wrote that Mueller did not find evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Trump seized on Barr's comments on Thursday as vindication, saying that he “absolutely” believes there was “unprecedented” spying on his campaign.

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“There was absolutely spying into my campaign,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office during a meeting with the South Korean president. “I’ll go a step further. In my opinion it was illegal spying, unprecedented spying and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again.”

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMenendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic Senate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain MORE (D-Del.), another Judiciary Committee member, said he was surprised that Barr, who previously served as attorney general under George H.W. Bush, used the inflammatory term “spying.”

“The word 'spying,' particularly in the context of spying on the Trump campaign, has very negative connotations,” Coons said. “I was struck that an institutionalist like Barr indulged in such incendiary language.”

Barr made the remarks during testimony before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee when he said that he would be “reviewing both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016.”

“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said.

Barr later tried to clarify his statement, saying that he wanted to review whether anything improper took place.

“I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred,” Barr said. “I’m saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it, that’s all.”

The Justice Department inspector general, Michael Horowitz, has been investigating whether the FBI properly applied for a surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Trump’s conservative allies have accused the Justice Department and FBI officials of bias against Trump during the 2016 campaign that led to pursuing a surveillance warrant on Page based on largely unverified research from the so-called Steele dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer. The Steele dossier is a compilation of memos that make allegations about Trump's ties to the Russian government. 

Another investigation by Horowitz found that agents who worked on both the investigations into Russia's election interference and former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump rips Krugman, NYT after columnist writes GOP no longer believes in American values Klobuchar jokes to Cuomo: 'I feel you creeping over my shoulder' but 'not in a Trumpian manner' Dems seek to rein in calls for impeachment MORE’s emails exchanged text messages critical of Trump during the race. But it found no evidence that their views influenced decisions made in the Clinton investigation.

Trump on Thursday renewed his call for a probe into the origins of the investigation of his 2016 campaign that led to the Mueller probe, calling the alleged surveillance “treason.”

"This is dirty politics. This is actually treason. This is a very bad thing that people have done. And I just hope that law enforcement takes it up because if they don't take it up they're doing a great disservice to our country," Trump said.

Democrats said Barr's comments played into attacks on the FBI.

“I expected better from a guy with that kind of reputation, that he would not so cavalierly undermine the professionals at the Department of Justice and the FBI. And I think it was extraordinarily disappointing,” said Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Hillicon Valley: Trump unveils initiatives to boost 5G | What to know about the Assange case | Pelosi warns tech of 'new era' in regulation | Dem eyes online hate speech bill MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

Centrist Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinCain says he withdrew from Fed consideration because of 'pay cut' On The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed MORE (W.Va.), who was one of three Democrats to vote in favor of Barr’s confirmation, blasted the attorney general.

“I think that was a horrible choice of language, and it was a horrible statement to come from our attorney general,” Manchin said on CNN's “New Day” on Thursday. 

Republicans downplayed Barr’s choice of words.

“There are multiple definitions for it. One is conducting an intelligence investigation. But it's undeniable that both the Clinton campaign and the Trump campaign were investigated by the FBI,” said Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), a Senate Judiciary Committee member. 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Cuban negotiator says Trump's efforts to destabilize Cuba's government will fail Freedom to Compete Act would benefit many American workers MORE (R-Fla.), however, acknowledged that “spying” was an inflammatory word for Barr to use.

“I mean, the terminology's a loaded term and if he had to do it over again, I imagine the word spying wouldn't have been used. But there was most certainly surveillance,” Rubio told CNN. 

Former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyTrump rips Krugman, NYT after columnist writes GOP no longer believes in American values Dems seek to rein in calls for impeachment Heavy lapses in judgment are politicizing the justice system MORE said Thursday that he had “no idea” what Barr meant by saying there was “spying” on the Trump campaign. But Comey warned that Barr's reputation could be damaged by using that kind of language.

“Maybe the only thing I can say generally is — I think that his career has earned him the presumption that he will be one of the rare Cabinet members who will stand up for things like truth and facts and institutional values,” Comey said Thursday at the Hewlett Foundation's conference. 

“So, I still think he’s entitled to that presumption. Language like this makes it harder, but I still think he’s entitled to that presumption,” Comey said.