James Hohmann of the Washington Post reviews a report that is soon to be released. It is highly critical of Attorney General William Barr.

He writes:

“A forthcoming report from the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania, prepared in partnership with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is sharply critical of Attorney General Bill Barr.

“The authors gave me a first look at their 277-page report, which is scheduled for publication next week, and focuses on nine areas, including the misleading summary Barr initially offered of special counsel Bob Mueller’s conclusions; the Justice Department’s handling of the whistleblower complaint related to President Trump’s infamous call with Ukraine’s president; his intervention in politically sensitive prosecutions, such as the cases of former Trump advisers Roger Stone and Michael Flynn; the deployment of federal agents and troops against protestors, including the order to clear Lafayette Square; the firing or reassignment of U.S. attorneys, especially in the Southern District of New York; his role in trying to block the publication of material unflattering to the president, such as former national security adviser John Bolton’s memoir; the politicization of several offices within the department, in particular the Office of Legal Counsel; and his resistance to congressional oversight, including subpoenas.

“The meatiest, and perhaps most timely, chapter focuses on Barr’s support for investigating the origins of the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Several of the authors have backgrounds in national security and intelligence, and they express fear that the ongoing investigation by U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut, ordered up by Barr, could have chilling effects on collecting and disseminating information about potential foreign interference amid the 2020 election.

“There is a grave danger to the Intelligence Community from politicized DOJ investigations, intimidation and potential prosecutions,” the authors argue. “The use of a criminal investigation is ill-suited to examining the process of foreign intelligence analysis, poses unnecessary risks to intelligence sources and methods, intimidates and alienates foreign intelligence analysts, and chills the analytic process in a way likely to undermine the candor essential to producing the best intelligence information for national policymakers. The cumulative effects are likely to increase the attrition of talented intelligence personnel and neutralize the concept of ‘speaking truth to power’ that is essential to the effective use of intelligence in national policy decisions. All of this weakens prospective U.S. intelligence capabilities to the advantage of Russia and other adversaries in competition with the interests and goals of the United States.”

Barr’s spokespeople at the Justice Department did not respond to three requests for comment. The attorney general has vigorously defended the propriety of all his actions since taking office early last year. He testified last year that he thinks “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign in 2016 and has repeatedly cast doubt on whether there was proper predication for the investigation. He has said that – as the nation’s chief law enforcement official – he has an obligation to pursue wrongdoing, if there was any. He recently delivered a fiery speech that criticized career prosecutors for the zealousness with which they have pursued certain targets of investigations and defended the politicization of the Justice Department on his watch.

 

The three chairs of the 10-member working group that prepared this document over several months are University of Pennsylvania law professor Claire Finkelstein, the faculty director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law; University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush; and Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of CREW, a liberal-leaning watchdog group, and a former federal corruption prosecutor.

The bipartisan working group includes several members with significant national security backgrounds, including Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, who served as general counsel of the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency; George Croner, who oversaw signals intelligence and FISA compliance in the operations division of the NSA’s general counsel’s office; Stuart Gerson, a former acting attorney general who ran the DOJ’s civil division under George H.W. Bush; Richard Meyer,who taught law at West Point after 22 years in the Army, including as a military intelligence specialist; and Shawn Turner,who wascommunications director for the director of national intelligence. Donald Ayer, who was deputy attorney general under Bush and Barr’s boss at one point, was a consultant for the project.

It is unknown whether Durham will issue any findings about his probe before Election Day, but Barr has not ruled out that he would announce something during the homestretch of the campaign. “The Attorney General appears to be determined to use the Durham investigation as a publicity tool in order to justify President Trump’s conduct in the 2016 campaign and to discredit the investigation of Robert Mueller,” the report says. “All signs point toward a politically orchestrated ‘October surprise.’”

Trump signed an executive order last year giving Barr broad authority to declassify government secrets, and the attorney general has used it. The Justice Department recently released a pair of documents that seemed designed to cast fresh doubt on the judgment of senior law enforcement officials who investigated possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016, showing that one of the FBI case agents thought prosecutors were out to “get Trump” and that a key source of allegations against the president had been previously investigated as a possible Russian asset.

Last month, a senior prosecutor working with Durham on his investigation resigned, raising concern that Barr was pushing the case toward some kind public announcement to benefit Trump ahead of the election. Durham’s investigators have reportedly asked witnesses about how the FBI handled the case after it came to have doubts about the credibility of Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer whose work the bureau relied on in part to obtain the secret court order to surveil Page.

The working group says it came to “the reluctant conclusion” that Barr is “using the powers” of the Justice Department to help get Trump reelected and cited several interviews that the attorney general has given to Fox News about the Durham investigation. The authors conclude with a list of 10 recommendations that they say would safeguard the rule of law, including ensuring more independence for future special counsels, requiring recusal of presidential appointees from matters involving his personal financial interests, staggered 10-year terms for U.S. attorneys and inspectors general, more autonomy for career prosecutors, additional independence for members of the intelligence community, more vigorous congressional oversight and requiring all Justice Department attorneys to comply with ethics advice from DOJ ethics officials. 

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, told the group in an interview quoted in the report that the questioning of intelligence analysts as part of a criminal probe into substantive foreign intelligence analysis issues has been “unprecedented.” Clapper said he could think of no other instance of such an inquiry during his 54 years in the intelligence world, and he complained that this will have a “very chilling effect” on analysts inside the agencies. “That just shouldn’t be,” Clapper said. “The intelligence community is supposed to tell the unvarnished truth as best it can, which is a hard enough job to start with.”