WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday defended his decision to give Attorney General William Barr new authority to declassify secret government documents for his review of the investigation into Russia election interference and his campaign.
Trump issued an order Thursday evening giving Barr unprecedented leeway to delve into classified documents, a move that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said would “weaponize and politicize” U.S. intelligence and law enforcement entities.
“So everything that they need is declassified, and they'll be able to see how this hoax — how the hoax or witch hunt — started and why it started,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for his trip to Japan.
“It was an attempted coup or an attempt to take down the president of the United States. It should never ever happen to anybody else,” he said.
In response to questions, Trump announced he’s sending 1,500 U.S. troops to the Middle East, said he feels bad for Theresa May who is stepping down as Great Britain’s prime minister and had just congratulated Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his re-election.
Trump also defended his attacks on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), calling her “Crazy Nancy” and saying “she’s lost it” after she accused him of a cover-up and called for his family to conduct an intervention as she questioned his competence and sanity.
“She said terrible things. So I just responded in kind,” Trump said. But he denied he knew anything about a video clip doctored to make it appear Pelosi was slurring her words at the news conference where she taunted the president.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani posted the fake video on his Twitter feed and refused to apologize for it.
But Trump also did not close the door on Pelosi. “I can work with the speaker,” he said.
Trump also repeated his claim that the House could not legislate and investigate him at the same time even though the Democratic majority has passed several significant bills while initiating about a dozen probes into his finances and attempts to derail the special counsel.
“We can pass so many different bills right now. But all they want to do is investigate, because they failed with [special counsel] Robert Mueller, the Mueller report, they want to try and get a do-over of the Mueller report,” Trump said. “It doesn't work that way.”
But Trump also refuses to move on from the Mueller report, which said it could not establish Trump’s campaign criminally conspired with Russia in its interference in the 2016 election and did not charge or exonerate Trump of obstructing the investigation itself.
In the order he issued Thursday, Trump directed the U.S. intelligence community to “quickly and fully cooperate” with the review Barr has ordered of the origins of what became the Mueller investigation and tapped Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham to help oversee it.
“A highly respected man, our attorney general, is in charge. Let's see what he finds,” Trump said.
He added that Barr can do whatever he wants to with the secret documents, even make them public — though he is supposed to confer with intelligence agencies that might be concerned with release of information that could reveal their sources and methods.
David Kris, former head of the Justice Department’s national security division, told The Associated Press that it’s “very unusual — unprecedented in my experience — for a non-intelligence officer to be given absolute declassification authority over the intelligence.”
Republicans hailed Trump’s order.
“Outstanding — President Trump authorizing the Attorney General to declassify documents related to surveillance during the 2016 election. Americans are going to learn the truth about what occurred at their Justice Department,” tweeted Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).
Democrats question Barr’s impartiality, pointing out that his four-page summary of the report’s conclusions effectively clearing Trump even drew a complaint in a letter by Mueller that “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the probe.
“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,” tweeted Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.