That’s the question raised by a piece published Friday by Politico. I think the piece raises other questions which we’ll get to in a few moments. But first, the issue here is President Trump’s declaration Thursday that the intelligence community must “quickly and fully cooperate” with AG Barr’s investigation into the launch of the Russian collusion probe. Politico’s Natasha Bertrand suggests people within the Intelligence Community are worried about handing information to Barr which could potentially be declassified against their wishes:
“There’s nothing CIA or NSA, for example, guards more jealously than sources and methods,” said Larry Pfeiffer, a 32-year intelligence veteran who served as the chief of staff to CIA Director Michael Hayden. “It is not hyperbole to say that lives are at stake.”
“I doubt any of the [CIA directors] or [directors of national intelligence] that I worked with would have sat by silently if their president contemplated or made such a decision,” added Pfeiffer, who also served as senior director of the White House Situation Room…
Particularly curious to many intelligence veterans and experts is the fact that Barr asked for this new authority from the president, as well as the breadth of the directive. The memo targets not only the FBI — which Trump has repeatedly accused of hatching a “deep state” plot to overthrow him — but also the CIA, which is fiercely protective of its sources and methods. In particular, Barr is seeking more information about the foreign sources the FBI used in 2016, according to a New York Times report…
Steve Hall, a former CIA chief of Russian operations, said Trump’s actions are likely to have a chilling effect on the government’s ability to recruit both agents and informants.
The story suggests this could lead to some kind of showdown where longtime IC professionals try to negotiate some assurance the material won’t be widely revealed. And if they can’t make a deal, maybe some will resign rather than go along with it.
The story frames the debate over what’s going on here in familiar media terms. You either believe there is something fishy about how this investigation (which resulted in no evidence of conspiracy) was conducted, or you believe this is an attempt to distract from other issues. As the author puts it, this is “a probe that Trump’s allies see as a necessary check on government overreach but that critics lambaste as an attempt to create the impression of scandal.”
This has been the dynamic since the first discussion of the FISA warrant and the dueling memos issued by Rep. Nunes and Rep. Schiff. The left has consistently been of the opinion that this is a side story and distraction from the real story, i.e. collusion.
That worked pretty well when a) we didn’t know much about the side story and b) no one was sure what Mueller would find about the collusion story. But things are different now. Now we know there was no collusion so this isn’t a distraction anymore because the collusion story is over. Second, we’ve also heard a lot of curious things about how the FBI investigated this case, not to mention a reference to it as an “insurance policy” in case Trump won the election. Maybe it’s all smoke and no fire. That’s still possible I guess, but enough questions have been raised that the American people deserve to know what actually happened here, not just what the IC feels like telling us.
You’re certainly not going to have this go away by stopping the investigation. Democrats who were eager to defend the Mueller investigation from anything that might thwart it need to take the same approach to this investigation, even if they are confident there’s nothing there. Just as was the case with Mueller, the only way out is through. Every effort should be made to ensure no one is endangered by that process, but at this point, there’s no turning back.