(CNN) —  

Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday defended his use of the word “spying” to describe surveillance of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, telling lawmakers his use of the word during a hearing last month was done “off the cuff” and that he wasn’t using it pejoratively.

“I’m not going to abjure the use of the word ‘spying.’ I think, you know, my first job was in CIA. And I don’t think the word ‘spying’ has any pejorative connotation at all,” Barr said, responding to a question from Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He continued: “‘Spying,’ I think ‘spying’ is a good English word that in fact doesn’t have synonyms because it is the broadest word incorporating really all forms of covert intelligence collection.”

Barr said the Department of Justice did a review of press usage of the term and found that it was commonly used in the media, including when referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court as the “spy court.”

Challenged by Whitehouse that the term was commonly used by the DOJ, Barr retorted, “It’s commonly used by me.”

Last month, Barr, during testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, suggested that Trump’s campaign was spied on, saying he would be looking into the “genesis” of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation that began in 2016 of potential ties between the campaign and the Russian government.

“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said at the time, echoing some of the more inflammatory claims lobbed by the President for months, but declining to elaborate on his concerns. “I think spying did occur.”

The comments took the panel’s Democrats by surprise, many of whom were angered by Barr’s statements and accused him of mischaracterizing the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation in an effort to please Trump.

CNN’s Laura Jarrett, David Shortell and Evan Perez contributed to this report.