AG William Barr given power to declassify documents on surveillance activities into Trump campaign – Washington Examiner
President Trump has given Attorney General William Barr “full and complete authority to declassify information” related to the origins of the federal investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The move is the strongest sign yet that Trump is taking serious action to “investigate the investigators” and has found a willing champion in Barr, who rankled Democrats last month when he said “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign.
The White House issued a memorandum to the heads of several agencies Thursday instructing them to cooperate with Barr’s inquiry, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Department, the State Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Treasury Department, the Homeland Security Department, and the Energy Department.
“Today, at the request and recommendation of the Attorney General of the United States, President Donald J. Trump directed the intelligence community to quickly and fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation into surveillance activities during the 2016 Presidential election,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
“The Attorney General has also been delegated full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation, in accordance with the long-established standards for handling classified information,” she added. “Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last Presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions.”
The inquiry could provide clarity to questions GOP investigators have been eager to answer for more than a year, including whether the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation began earlier than July 2016; the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation; the full extent of the FBI’s use of British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s unverified dossier containing salacious claims about Trump’s ties to Russia by various agencies; what role, if any, foreign intelligence agencies played; who pushed for the dossier to be included in the intelligence community assessment on Russian election interference; the full extent of the use of spies or confidential informants against the Trump campaign; and matters related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
While much of this information may one day be released to the public, the memorandum from the White House suggests some of it will remain concealed in accordance with established policy on handling classified national security information.
“With respect to any matter classified under Executive Order 13526 of December 29, 2009 (Classified National Security Information), the Attorney General may, by applying the standard set forth in either section 3.1(a) or section 3.1(d) of Executive Order 13526, declassify, downgrade, or direct the declassification or downgrading of information or intelligence that relates to the Attorney General’s review referred to in section 1 of this memorandum,” the memo said. “Before exercising this authority, the Attorney General should, to the extent he deems it practicable, consult with the head of the originating intelligence community element or department. This authority is not delegable and applies notwithstanding any other authorization or limitation set forth in Executive Order 13526.”
The FBI is believed to have begun its counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, code-named Crossfire Hurricane, in July 2016. It was launched after Australian diplomat Alexander Downer informed the U.S. government that former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos had told him that Russia had damaging information about Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival in the 2016 election. Several Trump campaign associates came under scrutiny, including onetime Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The FBI applied for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant against Page in October 2016 and got three extensions stemming into 2017.
One obstacle against Trump’s declassification order could be FBI Director Christopher Wray, who opposed declassifying the Page warrant materials. Trump partially declassified hundreds of pages of FISA documents related to Page in July 2018.
Trump’s order on Thursday was panned by David Laufman, who was chief of the Justice Department’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section when the Trump-Russia investigation was launched. In a statement to MSNBC he called it “a grotesque abuse of the intelligence community to further his goal of political retribution, made worse by the spectacle of the Justice Department as his handmaiden.”
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., called the move part of a “plot to dirty up the intelligence community, to pretend that there’s something wrong with the beginning of the Mueller investigation and to persecute and bring into line the intelligence agencies.”
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., referring to a broader Democratic complaint that the Trump administration is obstructing a wide array of congressional investigations, said, “The coverup has entered a new and dangerous phase.”
Trump indicated to Fox News host Sean Hannity in April he was ready to declassify more material with the completion of Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference. “I’m glad I waited because I thought that maybe they would obstruct if I did it early and I think I was right. So I’m glad I waited,” Trump said when asked if he would fully declassify the FISA applications, relevant Gang of Eight material, summaries (302s) of interviews with witnesses, and more. “Now the attorney general can take a very strong look at whatever it is. But it will be declassified and more than what you just mentioned.”
Trump has been promising action like this for nearly a year now. On Sept. 17, 2018, the White House said that “the President has directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to provide for the immediate declassification of the following materials: (1) pages 10-12 and 17-34 of the June 2017 application to the FISA court in the matter of Carter W. Page; (2) all FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation; and (3) all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications.” And Trump also ordered the public release of “all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.”
But he backed away a few days later. “I met with the DOJ concerning the declassification of various UNREDACTED documents. They agreed to release them but stated that so doing may have a perceived negative impact on the Russia probe. Also, key Allies’ called to ask not to release,” Trump tweeted. “Therefore, the Inspector General has been asked to review these documents on an expedited basis. I believe he will move quickly on this (and hopefully other things which he is looking at). In the end I can always declassify if it proves necessary. Speed is very important to me — and everyone!”
After Mueller completed his investigation in March and with the release of his report in April that showed no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin or obstruction charges, Trump declared “total exoneration.” Since then allies of the president have been clamoring to turn the tables on the investigators, who they allege were working to undermine Trump as a presidential candidate.
Over the weekend former Rep. Trey Gowdy said there was a potential “game changer” in transcripts between FBI informants and Papadopoulos. Rep. Mark Meadows said on Wednesday that Democrats are in a panic because “there is information coming that will curl your hair” that would incriminate the likes of Schiff, a vocal Trump critic.
Barr has been reviewing the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign for weeks now. Barr tasked U.S. Attorney John Durham with reviewing the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, after which it was reported the attorney general had enlisted the help of CIA Director Gina Haspel, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
During a hearing in March Barr riled Washington when he said “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign. He clarified that he hasn’t proven there was any wrongdoing and is looking into alleged misconduct within the Justice Department and FBI, but his “spying” declaration riled Democrats and others.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Barr went “off the rails.” Former FBI Director James Comey, who led the bureau when it opened its counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, said “the FBI doesn’t spy, the FBI investigates.” Even Trump’s own handpicked FBI director, Wray, disputed Barr’s use of the word “spying,” saying, “That’s not the term I would use.”
At least three federal investigations into alleged FISA abuse and other matters related to the way the FBI and the Justice Department conducted the Trump-Russia investigation and several top ex-officials, including former CIA Director John Brennan and Comey, are under increasing scrutiny.
Barr has said he is working closely with Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who is expected to wrap up a FISA abuse investigation in the coming days. U.S. Attorney John Huber is also conducting an investigation into potential FBI misconduct.