Un­ease as Barr’s power grows


The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY SHANE HAR­RIS

Of­fi­cials fear politi­ciz­ing of in­tel­li­gence mat­ters

Pres­i­dent Trump’s new ex­ec­u­tive or­der giv­ing the at­tor­ney gen­eral broad au­thor­ity to de­clas­sify gov­ern­ment se­crets threat­ens to ex­pose U.S. in­tel­li­gence sources and could dis­tort the FBI’s and CIA’s roles in in­ves­ti­gat­ing Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tions, cur­rent and for­mer U.S. of­fi­cials said.

On Thurs­day, Trump al­lowed At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam P. Barr to de­clas­sify in­for­ma­tion he finds dur­ing his re­view of what the White House called “sur­veil­lance ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing the 2016 Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.”

Trump has long com­plained that the U.S. gov­ern­ment en­gaged in il­le­gal “spy­ing” on his cam­paign, al­leg­ing without ev­i­dence that his phones were tapped and that Amer­i­can of­fi­cials con­spired with Bri­tish coun­ter­parts in an ef­fort to un­der­mine his bid for the White House.

It ap­peared un­prece­dented to give an of­fi­cial who is not in charge of an in­tel­li­gence agency the power to re­veal its se­crets. Cur­rent and for­mer in­tel­li­gence

of­fi­cials said they were con­cerned that Barr could se­lec­tively de­clas­sify in­for­ma­tion that paints the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and the FBI in a bad light without giv­ing a com­plete pic­ture of their ef­forts in 2016.

Of­fi­cials are also con­cerned about the pos­si­ble com­pro­mise of in­tel­li­gence sources, in­clud­ing those deep in­side the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment.

Or­di­nar­ily, any re­view of in­tel­li­gence ac­tiv­i­ties would be done by the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Daniel Coats. But in giv­ing that au­thor­ity to Barr, the pres­i­dent has turned to some­one he per­ceives as a loy­al­ist and who has al­ready said that he thinks the gov­ern­ment spied on the Trump cam­paign.

“This is a com­plete slap in the face to the di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence,” said James Baker, the for­mer FBI gen­eral coun­sel. “So why is the at­tor­ney gen­eral do­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion? Prob­a­bly be­cause the pres­i­dent trusts the at­tor­ney gen­eral more,” said Baker, now a di­rec­tor at the R Street In­sti­tute, a non­par­ti­san think tank in Washington.

Trump has never con­sid­ered Coats a close or ef­fec­tive ad­viser, and ear­lier this year ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said they thought the pres­i­dent might fire him.

Michael Morell, a for­mer CIA deputy di­rec­tor, called it “po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous” to let Barr de­cide what to de­clas­sify, be­cause “the DNI is in the best po­si­tion to judge the dam­age to in­tel­li­gence sources and meth­ods.”

“This is yet an­other de­struc­tion of norms that weak­ens our in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity,” said Morell, now the host of the In­tel­li­gence Mat­ters pod­cast. “It is yet an­other step that will raise ques­tions among our al­lies and part­ners about whether to share sen­si­tive in­tel­li­gence with us.”

Trump told re­porters Fri­day that the Rus­sia probe was “an at­tempted coup or an at­tempted take­down of the pres­i­dent of the United States.” He said he hoped Barr would in­ves­ti­gate sev­eral for­eign coun­tries, in­clud­ing two of the United States’ closest al­lies.

“I hope he looks at the U.K. and I hope he looks at Aus­tralia and I hope he looks at Ukraine,” Trump said. “I hope he looks at ev­ery­thing, be­cause there was a hoax that was per­pe­trated on our coun­try.”

Oth­ers ques­tioned whether Barr would take in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials’ ad­vice or act on his own when de­cid­ing what he might make pub­lic.

“The part of this or­der that I find the most trou­bling says that the at­tor­ney gen­eral should con­sult with in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity el­e­ments on de­clas­si­fi­ca­tion ‘to the ex­tent he deems it prac­ti­ca­ble,’ ” said Robert Litt, who is a for­mer gen­eral coun­sel for the of­fice of the di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence and is now with the law firm Mor­ri­son & Fo­er­ster. “He ap­par­ently doesn’t have to con­sult with them if he thinks that would be im­prac­ti­ca­ble.”

In a state­ment, Coats sig­naled that he ex­pected Barr and the agen­cies to work to­gether.

“Much like we have with other in­ves­ti­ga­tions and re­views, the In­tel­li­gence Com­mu­nity will pro­vide the De­part­ment of Jus­tice all of the ap­pro­pri­ate in­for­ma­tion for its re­view of in­tel­li­gence ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion,” Coats said. “As part of that process, I am con­fi­dent that the At­tor­ney Gen­eral will work with the IC in ac­cor­dance with the long-es­tab­lished stan­dards to pro­tect highly-sen­si­tive clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion that, if pub­licly re­leased, would put our na­tional se­cu­rity at risk.”

A se­nior of­fi­cial said Barr has ex­pressed con­cerns pri­vately that the CIA may not have done much to try to use its own source net­works in Rus­sia to fig­ure out whether al­le­ga­tions in a doc­u­ment writ­ten by Bri­tish for­mer in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer Christophe­r Steele were ac­cu­rate.

Trump and his al­lies in Congress have seized on the doc­u­ment, of­ten called “the dossier,” as ev­i­dence that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion built an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Trump pred­i­cated on un­sub­stan­ti­ated and sala­cious claims.

A for­mer se­nior CIA of­fi­cial said the dossier played no role in an in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity as­sess­ment, re­leased in Jan­uary 2017, that con­cluded Rus­sia tried to help Trump win.

“First, the CIA was falsely ac­cused of us­ing the dossier in the [as­sess­ment], and once peo­ple fi­nally re­al­ized they did not use it, now the CIA is be­ing crit­i­cized for not in­ves­ti­gat­ing the dossier,” said the for­mer of­fi­cial, who like oth­ers spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss sen­si­tive mat­ters.

“It is not the CIA’s job to in­ves­ti­gate a doc­u­ment that was in the hands of the FBI and float­ing around the me­dia,” the for­mer of­fi­cial said. “The CIA was fo­cused on try­ing to iden­tify what the Rus­sians were do­ing to in­ter­fere in our elec­tion. The FBI is who was fo­cused on coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence con­cerns with re­spect to U.S. per­sons.”

Spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III found that the FBI be­gan an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into po­ten­tial co­or­di­na­tion be­tween Rus­sia and Trump cam­paign as­so­ciates in July 2016, after an Aus­tralian diplo­mat told U.S. of­fi­cials that a Trump ad­viser claimed to know about in­crim­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion Rus­sia pos­sessed about Hil­lary Clin­ton. Ear­lier that month, emails that Rus­sian gov­ern­ment hack­ers stole from the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee had been pub­lished by Wik­iLeaks.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers have pre­vi­ously de­manded in­for­ma­tion about the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion that has re­vealed the iden­tity of an in­for­mant and led to the par­tial dis­clo­sure of an ap­pli­ca­tion for sur­veil­lance of a for­mer Trump cam­paign aide, Carter Page. Those dis­clo­sures came after lengthy ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cials and mem­bers of Congress.

Now, Barr has the au­thor­ity to de­clas­sify such in­for­ma­tion on his own.

“This ex­tra­or­di­nary as­sign­ment and the re­ac­tion it has pro­voked shows how far we have moved from his­tor­i­cal norms,” said David Kris, a for­mer head of the na­tional se­cu­rity di­vi­sion at the Jus­tice De­part­ment and the founder of Culper Part­ners, a con­sult­ing firm. “Since the mid1970s, the coun­try has ex­pected the at­tor­ney gen­eral to help over­see and en­force a sys­tem of in­tel­li­gence un­der law, ap­pro­pri­ately re­spect­ful of pri­vacy and rig­or­ously apo­lit­i­cal.

“Now, be­cause of the pres­i­dent’s re­lent­less ef­forts to politi­cize law en­force­ment, many ob­servers fear that the at­tor­ney gen­eral is a threat to apo­lit­i­cal in­tel­li­gence un­der law.”


Pres­i­dent Trump and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam P. Barr ar­rive for a cer­e­mony in the East Room at the White House on Wed­nes­day.

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