When Mike Pompeo became CIA director in 2017, he soon began a thorough personal review of the agency’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump.
His findings? There is no evidence that CIA analysts acted improperly or were under political pressure to come up with a certain conclusion, three people familiar with the matter told Politico’s Natasha Bertrand.
This calls into greater question the necessity of Attorney General William Barr’s review of the intelligence community’s findings, which said Russia intervened to benefit Trump.
Barr tapped Connecticut US Attorney John Durham to conduct a review of the entire Russia investigation, specifically whether FBI agents acted improperly when opening the inquiry into the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
But Durham, as part of his probe, is also planning to assess the conclusions of CIA analysts who determined the Kremlin acted to benefit Trump — a move that’s unnerved some who see the Justice Department as politicizing intelligence and potentially overstepping.
The Politico report doesn’t offer much detail about Pompeo’s findings, but sources told Bertrand that Pompeo’s interviews with CIA officers were “robust”:
“This wasn’t just a briefing,” said one person familiar with the episode. “This was a challenging back and forth, in which Pompeo asked the officers tough questions about their work and how they determined Putin’s specific objectives.”
A congressional aide also confirmed to Politico that Pompeo never testified or gave any indication to lawmakers that the CIA had engaged in any wrongdoing throughout the course of its investigation.
The fact that Pompeo — an ardent defender of Trump in all things — didn’t find anything amiss with the CIA’s work or its conclusions about Russia’s motives in 2016 is quite significant, as it further repudiates the suspicions of some House Republican lawmakers and Barr himself (not to mention President Trump) that the intelligence community overstepped or acted improperly.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), already came to a similar conclusion last July. “The Committee has spent the last 16 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft and analytic work underpinning the Intelligence Community Assessment and sees no reason to dispute the conclusions,” Burr said in a statement.
But Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have argued throughout the years-long investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia that the entire probe was begun based on shoddy intelligence and that federal law enforcement illegally spied on members of the campaign.
And Barr, as attorney general, has given oxygen to those claims by agreeing to carry out a wholesale “investigation into the investigators.” Of course, whether the FBI acted improperly and whether the intelligence community was correct in its 2017 assessment are two separate matters.
But there’s some fear that throwing both together will jeopardize intelligence-gathering and have a chilling effect — which will make it much harder to defend against future incursions by foreign powers into US elections, by Russia or anyone else who might be interested.
In addition to the Justice Department’s review led by Durham, two other inquiries are examining the origins of the Russia investigation.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz — basically the agency’s watchdog — is reviewing the FBI’s handling of the Russia probe, and most recently interviewed former British spy Christopher Steele, of the infamous Steele dossier.
Utah US Attorney John Huber is also investigating the origins of the Russia probe and potential misconduct by Hillary Clinton, although that inquiry has been largely quiet and its status is somewhat opaque.
Barr, with his far-reaching review, has helped give credence and legitimacy to the “witch hunt” narrative. But this Politico report offers another slice of evidence that this conspiracy theory is just that — a conspiracy theory.