For the past three years, Washington’s gatekeepers have covered up evidence of two potentially massive and overlapping public-corruption scandals that, if fully exposed, threaten to shake the nation to its core.
One involves the Obama administration spying on the Trump campaign while sexing-up Russian interference in the 2016 election to justify it. The other involves it pulling punches in the Hillary Clinton email investigation and clearing her of criminal wrongdoing just in time for the Democratic National Convention.
President Donald Trump has granted his plucky new attorney general the power to rip the cover off both these election-year scandals.
Trump’s recent declassification order not only helps Attorney General William Barr dig into the earliest days of the Trump-Russia investigation to see the full extent of surveillance measures ordered by Obama officials. It also puts him in a position to declassify still-secret documents generated during the highly irregular Clinton probe, which absolved her of mishandling state secrets transmitted through her unauthorized basement email-server before agents could even interview her.
White House lawyers wrote the May 23 order in a way that delegates sweeping authority to Barr to declassify or un-redact documents covering both 2016 presidential investigations. This is key, because the same former Justice Department and FBI officials who led the Russia “collusion” investigation also headed the Clinton inquiry.
Under the order, these and other agencies will finally have to cough up key classified documents — including summaries of suspect and witness interviews, confidential source reports, transcripts of covert recordings and other investigative records — that they’ve withheld from congressional Republicans investigating whether the former administration misused its spying powers to monitor Trump and his aides. In addition, they’ll have to loosen their grip on secret papers related to the probe of Clinton’s illicit server.
One of these undisclosed papers remains so secret that Justice’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz was barred from discussing it in his 500-plus-page report on the FBI’s investigation of Clinton. “The information was classified at such a high level by the intelligence community that it limited even the members [of Congress] who can see it, as well as the staffs,” he said.
The documents are said to implicate the Clinton campaign and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a secret deal to fix the Clinton email investigation.
In his memoir, former FBI Director James Comey says he worried Lynch might be viewed as “politically compromised” if the secret information leaked, especially after the public found out she privately met with Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac just days before the FBI interviewed his wife in July 2016.
In recent closed-door House testimony, Lynch said she received a “defensive briefing” from the FBI on the potentially incriminating material in late summer 2016, but claimed it told her it couldn’t verify the information and didn’t think it “worthy of investigation.”
The FBI has been sitting on the documents — which I’m told are classified Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information, meaning they can only be viewed in a secure room known as a SCIF — since March 2016.
The CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence also have copies and are keeping them under tight seal. (ODNI is the intelligence hub through which all requests and approvals for declassification normally flow.) Horowitz said they told him they need to protect “sources and methods” — an excuse the agencies too often hide behind when they don’t want to release embarrassing or potentially incriminating information.
But Trump’s order gives Barr unilateral authority to declassify any information classified under Obama’s Executive Order 13526, including “intelligence sources or methods.”
Count on Barr also freeing up a highly classified May 2016 memo drafted by Clinton investigators for higher-ups at Justice’s National Security Division. At the time, agents sought access to a still-secret intelligence report that a foreign government (reportedly China) penetrated Clinton’s unsecured private server and exfiltrated classified emails. They needed to explore the issue to complete their investigation, since cyber-espionage was relevant to their probe.
But this was the same month Comey began drafting his statement exonerating Clinton, so the memo was never sent. And the breach was never fully investigated. “The FBI left a potential mountain of evidence unreviewed,” former Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said.
In August 2015, the Intelligence Community’s IG first alerted then-FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok to an “anomaly” related to the foreign intrusion on Clinton’s emails going through her server. Strzok’s notes from their meeting have suddenly turned up “missing,” or at least that’s what the FBI is telling the watchdog group Judicial Watch after it FOIA’d them.
For obvious reasons, the FBI is loath to see these documents exposed. But Barr has the power to ferret them out, along with other hidden Clinton data. Among them are intelligence reports shedding light on the suspicious Uranium One transaction the former secretary of state approved for Moscow — as millions poured into her husband’s wallet and their foundation from Russia. (Interestingly, Trump’s declassification memo also orders the Energy Department’s cooperation in the declassification effort. And Barr has previously stated he believes there is strong “basis” for investigating the Clinton-Russia deal.)
Comey and other former Obama law enforcement and intelligence officials are wringing their hands over the move. They warn that Barr could burn U.S. sources and assets, even leak valuable methods and techniques used by spooks. Former CIA Director John Brennan fears the attorney general will declassify secrets “willy nilly” and imperil national security.
Their warnings are a red herring.
Trump’s memo directs the attorney general to first “consult with” agency heads before declassifying materials; and Barr, who started his career in the CIA, has vowed to do just that. “I know how to handle classified information,” he said, “and I believe strongly in protecting intelligence sources and methods.”
More likely, Obama officials are fighting the release of these documents because they reveal their own misconduct.
Paul Sperry, formerly Investor’s Business Daily’s Washington bureau chief, is a senior reporter for Real Clear Investigations.
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