William Barr Blasts Media for Ignoring Surveillance Against Trump Campaign
Attorney General William Barr accused the media in a new interview of being uninterested in finding out about the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, and of shirking their duty as watchdogs for the public.
“Normally the media would be interested in letting the sunshine in and finding out what the truth is,” Barr said in an interview with CBS News. “And usually the media doesn’t care that much about protecting intelligence sources and methods. But I do and I will.”
Barr was discussing his plans for declassification of documents related to the surveillance activities against the Trump campaign during the Russia investigation.
President Donald Trump ordered the heads of various government agencies, including the FBI and CIA, to provide materials to Barr. He also granted Barr the authority to declassify documents as he sees fit.
The decision generated heavy criticism from former intelligence officials, TV pundits and some journalists.
The New York Times, Politico, The Washington Post, and other outlets published stories that quoted former intelligence officials fretting that the declassification order would allow Barr to disclose the identities of confidential sources used in the Russia investigation. The Times article asserted that the CIA is concerned that the declassification order will lead to the unmasking of a sensitive Kremlin source close to Vladimir Putin.
The Times reported that the source, which the CIA has cultivated for years, provided the information that Putin directed the election interference in 2016.
Former CIA Director John Brennan responded to Trump’s order on May 24, saying that he was worried that Barr would release information on sources and methods in “willy nilly” fashion.
“The concern is that very, very precious source and methods of the United States intelligence community as well as our partners and allies abroad — those who share this sensitive information with us,” said Brennan.
But Barr dismissed that argument, saying that he will consult with the heads of intelligence agencies before revealing any sensitive information.
“I’m amused by these people who make a living by disclosing classified information, including the names of intelligence operatives, wringing their hands about whether I’m going to be responsible in protecting intelligence sources and methods,” said Barr.
“I’ve been in the business as I’ve said for over 50 years — long before they were born and I know how to handle classified information and I believe strongly in protecting intelligence sources and methods.”
Barr did not specify instances where journalists have published information about sources and methods. But as The Daily Caller News Foundation has reported, newspapers like The New York Times and Washington Post have published numerous stories disclosing classified information about sources and methods used in the Russia probe.
The Times published stories confirming that the FBI used former Cambridge professor Stefan Halper as an informant to make contact with Trump campaign aides George Papadopoulos and Carter Page. The Times also reported that a woman who posed as Halper’s assistant was actually a government investigator.
The Post on April 11, 2017 broke the story revealing that the FBI obtained a warrant to wiretap Page.
The government officials behind those leaks have not been identified. But there is some evidence that the CIA was involved in at least one leak of highly sensitive intelligence regarding the U.S. government’s assessment of Putin’s role in the cyber attacks against Democrats in 2016.
Peter Strzok, the former FBI counterintelligence official who opened the Trump-Russia probe, speculated in text messages that the CIA was behind one leak about Putin.
“Think our sisters have begun leaking like mad. Scorned and worried and political, they’re kicking in to overdrive,” Strzok wrote in a text message on Dec. 15, 2016. A day earlier, NBC News reported that the CIA believed that Putin directed the computer hacks against Democrats.
Barr also suggested in his CBS interview that the media has largely ignored the government’s surveillance activities against the Trump campaign.
“The fact that today people just seem to brush aside the idea that it is okay to you know, to engage in these activities against a political campaign is stunning to me especially when the media doesn’t seem to think that it’s worth looking into,” Barr said.
“They’re supposed to be the watchdogs of, you know, our civil liberties.”
Barr said in the interview that information he has received about the origins of the Russia probe and counterintelligence activities does not square up with what former intelligence officials have said publicly.
He also said that he has questions about the timeline of the investigation, which the FBI has claimed was opened on July 31, 2016.
“I assumed I’d get answers when I went in and I have not gotten answers that are well satisfactory, and in fact probably have more questions, and that some of the facts that — that I’ve learned don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened.”
Barr appointed U.S. attorney John Durham to oversee an investigation of the government’s surveillance against the Trump campaign.
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