Prosecutor probes resistance to sharing Russia intelligence
WASHINGTON — Trump administration officials investigating the government’s response to Russia’s election interference in 2016 appear to be hunting for a basis to accuse Obama-era intelligence officials of hiding evidence or manipulating analysis about Moscow’s covert operation, according to people familiar with aspects of the inquiry.
Since his election, President Donald Trump has attacked the intelligence agencies that concluded that Russia secretly tried to help him win, fostering a narrative that they sought to delegitimize his victory. He has long promoted the investigation by John Durham, the prosecutor examining their actions, as a potential pathway to proving that a deep-state cabal conspired against him.
Questions asked by Durham, who was assigned by Attorney General William Barr to scrutinize the early actions of law enforcement and intelligence officials struggling to understand the scope of Russia’s scheme, suggest that Durham may have come to view with suspicion several clashes between analysts at different intelligence agencies over who could see each other’s highly sensitive secrets, the people said.
Durham appears to be pursuing a theory that the CIA, under its former director John Brennan, had a preconceived notion about Russia or was trying to get to a particular result — and was nefariously trying to keep other agencies from seeing the full picture, lest they interfere with that goal, the people said.
But officials from the FBI and the National Security Agency have told Durham and his investigators that such an interpretation is wrong and based on a misunderstanding of how the intelligence community functions, the people said. National security officials are typically cautious about sharing their most delicate information, like source identities, even with other agencies inside the executive branch.
Durham’s questioning is certain to add to accusations that Trump is using the Justice Department to go after his perceived enemies, like Brennan, who has been an outspoken critic of the president. Barr, who is overseeing the investigation, has come under attack in recent days over senior
Justice Department officials’ intervention to lighten a prison sentencing recommendation by lower-level prosecutors for Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone.
A spokesman for Durham did not respond to phone and email inquiries. The CIA and the NSA declined to comment. The people familiar with aspects of Durham’s investigation spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic.
The Justice Department inspector general, who released the results late last year of an inquiry into aspects of the FBI’s Russia investigation, found no documentary or testimonial evidence senior law enforcement and intelligence officials had engaged in a high-level conspiracy to sabotage Trump, the narrative the president and his supporters continue to embrace.
Durham’s questions shed additional light on where he may be going.
In recent months, Durham and his team have examined emails among a small group of intelligence analysts from multiple agencies, including the CIA, FBI and NSA, who worked together to assess the Russian operation. Investigators have interviewed those analysts and their supervisors about the motivations behind several episodes in which some sought access to delicate information from the other agencies and were told — initially, at least — that they could not see it.
One fight, they said, concerned the identity and placement of a CIA source inside the Kremlin. Analysts at the NSA wanted to know more about him to weigh the credibility of his information. The CIA was initially reluctant to share details about the Russian’s identity but eventually relented.
John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, is leading a review of the origins of the Russia inquiry.