House Intelligence chair to spy agencies: Tell us what Barr asks for

Trump has given the attorney general broad power to declassify intelligence.

May 31, 2019, 3:47 PM

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Friday directed the heads of U.S. spy agencies keep the committee appraised of whatever Attorney General William Barr asks of them as he conducts his review of the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.

In a letter to Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the committee was requesting in-person briefings so the leaders of the intelligence community can "explain what President Trump, Attorney General Barr, or their associates have requested and conveyed thus far" to the intelligence officials, along with “any and all documents, material or information – regardless of form or classification – that are” provided for Barr’s review.

Schiff took issue with a directive from President Trump last week that gave Barr the power to unilaterally declassify or downgrade the classification of information related to his review, noting that it is only suggested, not mandated, that Barr “consult with the head of the originating intelligence community element or department” first.

PHOTO: Attorney General William Barr listens to concerns raised about public safety in rural Alaska during at a roundtable discussion at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, May 29, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska.
Attorney General William Barr listens to concerns raised about public safety in rural Alaska during at a roundtable discussion at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, May 29, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska.
Mark Thiessen/AP

"This approach threatens national security by subverting longstanding rules and practices that obligate you and other heads of [intelligence community] agencies to safeguard sources and methods and prevent the politicization of intelligence and law enforcement," Schiff wrote in the letter to Coats, which was also sent to the heads of the CIA, NSA and FBI.

Schiff alleged the presidential directive was part of an effort “to politicize the [intelligence community] and law enforcement, to delegitimize a well-founded investigation into the President, and to attack the President’s political enemies.”

Last Friday, Trump said by giving Barr sweeping declassification powers "We’re exposing everything" for the American public.

"They will be able to see how this hoax, how the hoax or witch hunt started and why it started. It was an attempted coup or an attempted takedown of the president of the United States. It should never have to happen to anybody else," he said. "You are going to learn a lot. I hope it will be nice, but perhaps it won't be," he said.

This week, Barr continued to question how and why the FBI began its investigation into then-candidate Trump’s campaign contacts with Russians ahead of the 2016 presidential election, which included authorized secret electronic surveillance of one-time foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

An investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that while Trump-linked figures had numerous contacts with Russia-linked figures, the investigation did not establish that Trump campaign members "conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

“I just think it has to be carefully looked at because the use of foreign intelligence capabilities and counterintelligence capabilities against an American political campaign to me is unprecedented and it’s a serious red line that’s been crossed,” Barr said in an interview with CBS News. Barr said it was a “core responsibility” for the attorney general to “make sure that government power is not abused and that the rights of Americans are not transgressed by abusive government power.”

Barr said the Justice Department was "working closely with the intelligence agencies, the bureau [FBI] and the agency [CIA] and others to help us reconstruct what happened."

After Trump’s declassification directive, Coats provided a public statement saying he was "confident that the Attorney General will work with the [intelligence community] in accordance with the long-standing standards to protect highly-sensitive classified information that, if publicly released, would put our national security at risk."

Still, April Doss, a former NSA attorney, told ABC News at the time that she was concerned about Barr’s newfound powers.

Barr is "not naturally situated to have the full scope to know the impact of a declassification decision," said Doss, who also served as former counsel to the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation.

"These sources and methods are fragile, perishable and the intelligence community agency who originated the information is best positioned to understand the impact of a particular declassification decision," she said.

John Rizzo, a former longtime CIA attorney who said he knew Barr when the two served together in the spy agency in the 1970s, said he was confident Barr would be "extremely prudent and careful in treating sensitive sources and methods secrets."

But Rizzo said he was unaware of such power being delegated to an attorney general.

"So these are uncharted waters," he said.

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