Andrew Harnik, Associated Press
FILE - Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, accompanied by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., right, speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Democrats have exploited the Mueller investigation to spread baseless innuendo to undermine the effectiveness of President Donald Trump, Lee said Wednesday.

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee continued his defense of President Donald Trump and his assault on Democrats in the wake of the Mueller report Wednesday.

The Utah Republican said Democrats have exploited special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation to undermine the effectiveness of the Trump administration.

Lee's comment came while questioning Attorney General William Barr at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about Mueller's report. Barr released a redacted version of the report last month. Mueller has criticized the attorney general's four-page summary released in March as misleading.

Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., gave Lee the last word in the hearing in which Democrats grilled Barr over his handling of the report.

Lee thanked Barr for his civility and composure "amidst what has been a needlessly and unfairly hostile environment."

During his questioning of Barr, Lee cited the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia saying nothing is as politically effective as the ability to charge that one's opponent is not only wrong-headed or naive but probably a crook, and nothing gives the appearance of validity to those charges as a Justice Department investigation.

That observation, he said, has been borne out the past two years.

"Time and time again, the president’s political adversaries have exploited the Mueller probe, its mere existence to spread baseless innuendo in an effort to undermine the legitimacy of the 2016 election and the effectiveness of this administration," Lee said.

Lee quoted statements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and others that raise questions about Trump's ties to Russia.

"What does Putin have on the president politically, personally or financially?" Lee quoted Pelosi as saying in January.

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said on television that he thinks it's possible that Trump is a Russian agent. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., has repeatedly claimed that Trump "acts on Russia's behalf," Lee said.

After reading each statement, Lee asked Barr if there is any evidence to back up those claims. Barr replied in each case that he was not aware of any evidence.

Trump's alleged collusion with Russia has come up over and over again in the media, on the House and Senate floor and in committee meetings, Lee said.

"But what we’ve heard is as baseless as any conspiracy theory that we’ve seen in politics, at least that I can think. The only difference here is that the purveyors of this conspiracy were in many cases prominent members of the opposition party. That’s concerning," he said.

The Senate hearing comes as Mueller complained that Barr's four-page summary of the report failed to "fully capture the context, nature and substance" of the investigation.

Lee told Fox News ahead of Barr's testimony that he expected the attorney general to take heat from Democrats over the letter, and he blamed the media and "deep state."

"The fact is there's nothing inaccurate or misleading about it, so what do they have left to complain about?" Lee said. "Perhaps they didn't like the way it was characterized by the media. But they own the media for the most part and they should take that up with the media, not with the attorney general."

Lee, who called parts of the Mueller report odd, said he would love to find out what pressing questions House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., had about why it took Mueller two years to conclude there was no collusion between Trump and the Russians. Nadler intends to bring Mueller before his committee.

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"The fact is we've got a very significant deep state problem here. We've got a very significant element within the U.S. Department of Justice that appears to have been trying to delegitimize the outcome of the 2016 presidential election," he said. "That ought to disturb us."

Lee called the Mueller investigation thorough, but now Democrats are "losing their minds" because they've been relying on the report as "this sort of holy grail from whence was going to come all of these blessings."

Democrats, he said, want to take that out on Barr, and Republicans can't let them.