House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff is demanding that the intelligence agencies keep him up to date on the review Attorney General William Barr is conducting of the origins of the FBI investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.
In letters sent Friday to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and National Security Agency Director Gen. Paul Nakasone, Schiff slammed President Donald Trump for granting Barr sweeping powers to declassify intelligence as part of his review, accusing the President and attorney general of trying to “further a conspiracy theory about the investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.”
The California Democrat requested that the agencies brief his panel on the Justice Department review, provide the committee with any intelligence community materials turned over in the review and inform the committee if they object to anything that Barr declassifies. He said his committee would conduct oversight of the review “to ensure that the Attorney General does not abuse his new and sweeping authority.”
“The directive seeks to enlist your agencies in an effort by the President and the Attorney General to politicize the IC and law enforcement, to delegitimize a well-founded investigation into the President, and to attack the President’s political enemies,” Schiff wrote in the letter, which was obtained by CNN.
Schiff’s letter is the latest salvo in the fight over Barr’s plans to review how the FBI began its investigation into members of the Trump campaign team and Russia in 2016. Barr announced last month that he was undertaking the review over concerns about “spying” on the Trump campaign – language that Democrats have criticized – and he later tapped US Attorney John Durham to lead the effort. Last week, Trump ordered the intelligence agencies to cooperate with the review as he granted Barr the declassification powers.
“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 a CBS News interview this week.
Barr told CBS he asked Trump for the declassification powers and that he consulted with the intelligence chiefs, who told him they were “going to be responsive.”
But the move has alarmed Democrats like Schiff, who said last week that it was an effort to “weaponize and politicize the nation’s intelligence and law enforcement entities.”
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also wrote to intelligence leaders last week to express his concerns about Barr’s review, arguing that it would “erode the Intelligence Community’s morale, threaten its independence and weaken its capabilities,” according to a letter obtained by CNN.
Warner similarly asked the intelligence leaders to “immediately alert the congressional intelligence committees” if they saw an impact on the intelligence community workforce, sources and methods, relationships with foreign liaisons or selective declassification.
US allies also are concerned that they will be dragged into the middle of the review and intelligence-sharing relationships could be damaged in the process.
Trump has made clear that he wants the role foreign countries played in the start of the investigation to be probed. “I hope he looks at the UK and I hope he looks at Australia and I hope he looks at Ukraine,” the President said of Barr this week.