Attorney General William Barr is facing intense pressure from congressional Democrats over his recent statement that U.S. government “spying did occur” against the Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign—and Trump said on Thursday he “absolutely” believes those unsubstantiated allegations.
Trump told reporters he believes Barr’s allegations to Congress are “absolutely true.”
“I’ll go a step further—in my opinion it was illegal spying, unprecedented spying,” he went on.
Democrats, who politely battered Barr over his refusal to turn over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the election, have alsobecome increasingly more pointed in their criticism of the attorney general following his “spying” comment, including insinuating that he is pursuing the president’s personal vendetta against his enemies in Congress and at the FBI.
“He is not the attorney general of Donald Trump. He is the attorney general of the United States,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “I don’t trust Barr, I trust Mueller.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer echoed Pelosi’s statement on Twitter, calling Barr’s statement a “conspiracy theory.”
He later added that Barr was acting more like “the president’s campaign spokesman than the independent attorney general he’s supposed to be.”
Some of the strongest criticism of Barr’s comments came from Michigan Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Speaking with CNN on Thursday, Lawrence called Barr “dismissive, arrogant,” and said he had “gotten twisted because that comment about spying is a direct quote from the rhetoric of the president of the United States.”
“For an attorney general to just blurt out something as serious as spying by our own government without due process is a very serious accusation,” Lawrence added, when CNN’s Jim Sciutto asked if she should wait to see if Barr has evidence to back up his claim. “If you are going to say that, and from all of the procedural requirements, you should have clear documents, there should be a charge, and is there an investigation?”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler also seemed to accuse Barr of purposefully distorting his own department’s testimony, saying the spying claim “directly contradict[s] what the DOJ previously told us.”
Nadler’s Senate counterpart, Mark Warner, who serves as vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described Barr’s comment as “disrespectful to the men and women who work in the DOJ” adding that “it shows, I think, either a lack of understanding or willful ignorance on what goes into a counterintelligence investigation.”
Democrats have voiced concerns about Barr since the beginning of his tenure. They worried he was nominated in part to run legal interference on behalf of Trump and chafed at his expansive views on presidential power. However, the recent spate of pointed attacks after Barr’s “spying” comments signal a shift from congressional hand-wringing to an open front against a Cabinet member increasingly seen as a partisan flack.
For his part, Barr partially walked back his assertion, saying Wednesday, “I just want to make it clear, thinking back on all the different colloquies here, that I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred.”
“I’m saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it, that’s all,” he added.
Whether Barr will provide any evidence to back up his claim remains to be seen. But his comments clearly pleased the president, who now has more fresh red meat to feed to his “deep state” obsessed base, which is probably all he really wanted anyway.