Barr investigation eyes coordination by Obama intelligence chiefs

Analysis by WorldTribune Staff, July 19, 2019

Attorney General William Barr’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign is focused on Obama-era intelligence chiefs and the role they played in surveilling Trump campaign workers.

Barr’s review of the Obama-era conclusion that Russia interfered in the election to benefit then-candidate Donald Trump “sets up a struggle between the nation’s top spies and Trump’s skeptical Republican allies,” security correspondent Rowan Scarborough noted in a July 18 report for The Washington Times.

Attorney General William Barr

“On one side are President Trump’s past two CIA directors and his current chief of national intelligence (Dan Coats). All have publicly endorsed the January 2017 intelligence community assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.”

The 2016 election intelligence assessment came from two Obama loyalists who have since become Trump’s most ardent critics on CNN and MSNBC: former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Also signing off was another fierce Trump critic, then-FBI Director James Comey.

Brennan and Clapper have accused the president of being an agent for Russia. The Mueller report determined there was no collusion between Trump and his associates and Russia.

On the other side are Republicans in Congress who “wonder whether FBI informants were put into place for the sole purpose of getting a Trump ally to say something that could justify an investigation,” Scarborough noted.

Coats has all but acknowledged that Barr is conducting a wide-ranging investigation of intelligence agency activities.

Following President Trump’s announcement in May that he had granted Barr wide powers to collect information and declassify material, Coats issued his own statement in response.

“Much like we have with other investigations and reviews,” the statement read, “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.”

Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said he found great fault in how Obama appointees wrote the intelligence community assessment (ICA) on Russia’s intentions.

“While the committee found that most ICA analysis held up to scrutiny, the investigation also identified significant intelligence tradecraft failings that undermine confidence in the ICA judgments regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategic objectives for disrupting the U.S. election,” Nunes said in a 2018 committee report.

Barr appointed John Durham, the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut, to head the investigation.

Fred Fleitz, who served inside the White House as national security adviser John Bolton’s chief of staff, has written a series of columns casting doubt on the ICA assessment of Putin’s role in the 2016 election.

Fleitz, a member of the board of advisors, is being considered as a possible replacement for Coats as Director of National Intelligence. Coats’s job is reportedly in jeopardy because of testimony this year on North Korea, a White House adviser told The Washington Times.

Coats reportedly angered the president by telling Congress that U.S. intelligence agencies don’t believe North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un will give up his nuclear weapons, despite the president’s groundbreaking diplomatic outreach to Pyongyang and its leader.

Axios first reported this month on Coats’ shaky status, and Fleitz has been interviewed in the Oval Office by Trump and Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Former intelligence officials told The Washington Times it appears Trump’s order on Barr’s powers will allow the Justice Department to hunt for any documentation of a political motive in writing the Russian assessment. The report’s authors said they had “high confidence” in their findings.

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