White House

Trump piggybacks on Barr comments on 2016 ‘spying’

President says he might be open to a small deal with North Korea to keep talks alive

President Trump in the Oval Office Thursday before he took questions from reporters as First Lady Melania Trump looks on. (John T. Bennett/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday alleged there was “unprecedented” and “illegal” spying into his 2016 campaign, and also signaled he could be open to a smaller deal with North Korea to keep talks alive.

Trump was asked if he agrees with comments made — and then clarified —during Senate testimony Wednesday by Attorney General William P. Barr said “spying did occur” before closing the session with this clarification: “I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I am saying I am concerned about it and looking into it — that’s all.”

The president was asked a day later, only about Barr’s initial “spying” remark. Trump said he thinks what his attorney general said “was absolutely true.”

“There was absolutely spying into my campaign. I'll go a step further: In my opinion, there was illegal spying, unprecedented spying,” Trump told reporters during a meeting with his South Korean counterpart.

[Did you say ‘spying?’ Barr walks back testimony after making a stir]

Trump appeared to suggest Barr did not need to offer his clarification.

“And I think his answer was actually a very accurate one. ... And a lot of people understand — many, many people understand — the situation,” Trump said. “And we want to be open to that situation. Hard to believe it could have happened. But it did. There was spying in my campaign, and his answer was a very accurate one.”

At another point, the president again broke a longstanding norm by urging federal law enforcement officials to look into those who started — under former President Barack Obama — what eventually became Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russian election meddling and obstruction of justice probe.

“You know when the Democrats go behind the scenes, and they go into a room backstage, and they sit and they talk, they laugh. Because they know it’s all a big scam, a big hoax,” Trump said. “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.”

Meantime, Trump long has said nothing but “complete and total denuclearization” by North Korea would be an acceptable outcome of ongoing talks with the reclusive government of Kim Jong Un.

But, on Thursday, the commander in chief said he might consider a deal that would allow Kim to keep some of his atomic arsenal and long-range missiles if that would keep the talks toward a bigger deal alive.

“I’d have to see what the deal is. There are various smaller deals that maybe could happen,” he said. “Things could happen. You could work out, step-by-step, pieces.”

Democratic lawmakers and some analysts have been concerned Trump might give up too much while allowing Kim to remain nuclear-armed.

[Trump accuses Dems of ‘treason’ even as Mulvaney seeks a border deal with them]

“But at this moment, we’re talking about the big deal,” Trump said. “The big deal is we have to get rid the nuclear weapons."

And, in a lighter moment, the president took one more question from the day’s press pool after he had given them the traditional “thank you” signal to leave the Oval Office. A reporter asked him who he thinks will win the Masters golf tournament this weekend.

“You know there’s 15 players capable of winning. And I guess you could say there’s a lot more than that. They’re great players. I don’t think a field for the Masters has ever been this deep,” he said. “I was watching late last night and they were going over the different players. ... Always, Phil [Mickelson] and Tiger [Woods] and Dustin [Johnson].

Trump has played rounds with Woods and Johnson, currently the world’s second-ranked golfer, since taking office. And Mickelson was selected in 2017 to redesign a Trump course in Bali, according to the Golf Channel.

“I think it's going to be a great match,” said POTUS, the subject of a critical new book about his own golfing etiquette. “I hope so.”

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