U.S. intelligence agencies will cooperate with a new Justice Department investigation into whether officials overstepped their bounds and improperly surveilled U.S. President Donald Trump's presidential campaign in 2016.
In a statement issued late Friday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said intelligence agencies would provide U.S. Attorney General William Barr with "all of the appropriate information" for his investigation.
"As part of that process, I am confident that the attorney general will work with the IC [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 added.
The statement from the country's top intelligence officer followed Trump's directive, issued late Thursday, that called on U.S. intelligence agencies to "quickly and fully cooperate" with the new Justice Department probe.
The directive also gave Barr what the White House described as "full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation."
"We want to be very transparent," Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday before leaving for a state visit to Japan.
"Everything that they need is declassified, and they'll be able to see how the hoax or witch hunt started and why it started," he added. "It was an attempted coup or an attempted takedown of the president of the United States. It should never, ever happen to anybody else."
The move comes as some Democratic lawmakers have ratcheted up calls to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, a Republican. It also comes as the White House has battled with Democratic lawmakers over the two-year investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Already, several Republican lawmakers have praised the new investigation.
North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows called the move "outstanding" and tweeted:
The hypocrisy from Democrats is almost overwhelming. They subpoena new useless information daily, yet now fight tooth and nail to hide the truth from Americans on FISA activity. It’s obvious they solely want to target Trump. Their desire for “transparency” is nakedly partisan.— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) May 24, 2019
Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan also accused Democratic lawmakers of being "focused on taking down the president."
"They're so desperate to stop the president that they won't help the country," he tweeted.
Compare that to what the Democrats are doing. They%27re going after:-The President%27s PERSONAL tax returns-The President%27s PERSONAL finances-The President%27s PERSONAL business recordsIt has nothing to do with oversight of the executive branch. (4/7)— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) May 24, 2019
But Democrats fired back. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California tweeted:
While Trump stonewalls the public from learning the truth about his obstruction of justice,Trump and Barr conspire to weaponize law enforcement and classified information against their political enemies.The coverup has entered a new and dangerous phase.This is un-American.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 24, 2019
The vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, also raised concerns.
"People risk their lives to gather the intelligence material that President Trump and Attorney General Barr are so eager to politicize," Warner said in a statement Friday. "Selectively declassifying sources and methods in order to serve a political agenda will make it harder for the intelligence community to do their jobs protecting this country from those who wish to do us harm."
Former U.S. intelligence officials also expressed reservations about Trump's actions.
April Doss, a former head of intelligence law at the National Security Agency, said on Twitter:
Giving the AG unilateral authority to declassify intel is a terrible idea. It risks: putting current intel sources and methods at risk; making it harder for US to gather intel in the future; politicizing intel; and undermining public confidence in IC. https://t.co/uT7MP5NvIu— April Doss (@AprilFDoss) May 24, 2019
?Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent who also comments for CNN, tweeted:
Make no mistake: If Barr discloses the identities of CIA and CI sources providing information on Russia he is disabling our intelligence capacities *to Russia’s advantage*. It puts sources providing intelligence in danger and cripples the ICs ability to recruit new sources 1/— Asha Rangappa (@AshaRangappa_) May 24, 2019
?But Trump has repeatedly pointed to the special counsel's report, which did not find evidence to support criminal charges against the president, as proof his campaign did not collude with Russia to turn the 2016 election in his favor.
Instead, the president has said the report shows there was a conspiracy against him, telling supporters at a rally in Pennsylvania on Monday that former U.S. officials spied on his presidential campaign and were guilty of treason, a claim he stood by on Thursday.
"If you look at [former FBI Director James] Comey; if you look at [former FBI Deputy Director Andrew] McCabe; if you look at probably people higher than that," Trump said when asked which officials committed treason, which is punishable by death.
"They couldn't win the election, and that's what happened," he said. "That's treason."
Comey, the former FBI director who was fired by Trump, responded Friday on Twitter:
Investigate whatever you wish about 2016 but don’t forget the people of the FBI must investigate and stop Russian efforts in the 2020 election. What impact will loose talk about “spying” and disgraceful talk about “treason” have on FBI agents and analysts?— James Comey (@Comey) May 24, 2019
Another frequent target of Trump's ire, former CIA Director John Brennan, an outspoken Trump critic, also spoke out on the social media platform late Friday.
Highlighting one of the president's tweets — showing a cartoon of him, Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — Brennan called Trump's behavior "very immature":
Young people everywhere: Please do not emulate Mr. Trump’s very immature behavior. Find others of honesty, integrity, & decency to be your role models. And always try to do what you know is the right thing, even when doing what is right is both unpopular & difficult. https://t.co/DptZcfk1Z1— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) May 24, 2019