Attorney General William Barr
Credit: The United States Department of Justice/WikiMedia Commons

According to the Washington Post, Attorney General William Barr is traveling around the globe to elicit the help of our allies in probing the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. The paper specifically mentions trips to the U.K. and Italy. The New York Times has also reported about his request that the president call the Australian prime minister to garner his support.

When it comes to the origins of the Mueller probe, Trump’s enablers would have us believe that it all started with the Steele dossier. But it is clear that the investigation began in July 2016 and that report didn’t reach the investigators until September.

In his findings, Robert Mueller documented that the investigation began when an Australian diplomat told the U.S. government that a Trump campaign aid, George Papadopoulos, told him that the Russian government could assist the campaign with the release of the “dirt” they had on Clinton. Papadopoulos had learned of this from someone named Joseph Misfud.

That report from Australian intelligence was, however, simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. Over two years ago, the Guardian reported this.

GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added.

Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians, sources said.

The European countries that passed on electronic intelligence – known as sigint – included Germany, Estonia and Poland. Australia, a member of the “Five Eyes” spying alliance that also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, also relayed material, one source said.

Another source suggested the Dutch and the French spy agency, the General Directorate for External Security or DGSE, were contributors.

It is understood that GCHQ was at no point carrying out a targeted operation against Trump or his team or proactively seeking information. The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets. Over several months, different agencies targeting the same people began to see a pattern of connections that were flagged to intelligence officials in the US.

According to Greg Miller, author of The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy, then-CIA Director John Brennan personally reviewed all of the intelligence material that had been gathered on the matter and not only presented it to the White House, but briefed the Gang of Eight, the top-ranking Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate. That is what spurred Harry Reid, who was then the Senate minority leader, to write a letter to FBI Director James Comey pressuring him to start an investigation.

All of this is to demonstrate that reports from the intelligence services of our allies about interactions between Trump’s staff and suspected Russian agents played a major role in the launch of the FBI investigation. That is why Barr is interested in talking to them.

What isn’t clear is what the attorney general is looking for. Given that Trump has provided Barr with access to all of the classified material that was collected about the investigation, he has already been able to review the intelligence material Brennan used to sound the alarm—including what was gathered by our allies. But we have to keep in mind that, even before Trump nominated him, Barr demonstrated that he was willing to advance conspiracy theories. In response to a question from Peter Baker about whether it was appropriate for the president to pressure Jeff Sessions to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton, Barr said that “he sees more basis for investigating the uranium deal than any supposed collusion between Mr. Trump and Russia.”

When it comes to the intelligence shared by our allies, several conspiracy theories have cropped up to discredit them. For example, Joseph Misfud, who told Papadopoulos about the Russians having dirt on Clinton, has completely disappeared. As the Washington Post reported, that has led to conspiracy theories about him.

While court papers filed in Mueller’s investigation suggested Mifsud operated in Russia’s interests, conservatives and conspiracy theorists have suggested he was instead aligned with Western intelligence agencies.

In an interview on Fox News in April, Giuliani called Mifsud “a counterintelligence operative, either Maltese or Italian,” who took part in what sounded to him like a “counterintelligence trap” against Papadopoulos.

So Giuliani would have us believe that Italian or Maltese intelligence worked with the “deep state” in the U.S. to set up a trap for Papadopoulos by having an agent relay false information to him. Then Australian intelligence trapped Papadopoulos again by enticing him to spill the beans on what he had learned so they could report it back to the CIA. As bizarre as it sounds, this might be why Barr has made more that one trip to Italy.

When it comes to Britain, you might remember that, very early in Trump’s tenure, Sean Spicer repeated a claim from Andrew Napolitano on Fox News that Obama had used GCHQ, the British intelligence service, to spy on Trump. Apparently, the attorney general bought the claim.

Barr met with British officials in London over the summer to discuss the Durham probe, said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation. In those conversations, according to this official, Barr expressed a belief that the U.S. investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election stemmed from some corrupt origin, the official said.

It was not clear what Barr thought was amiss, but he expressed a suspicion that information had been improperly gathered overseas about people connected with the Trump campaign and that the British may have unwittingly assisted those efforts, the official said.

Barr is willing to give the British a pass by suggesting that they were unwitting participants in a corrupt endeavor to smear the Trump campaign. He isn’t completely wrong about the unwitting part. As the Guardian reported, GCHQ intercepted conversations between Trump staff and suspected Russian agents “as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets.” It is the attorney general’s assumption that there is something “corrupt” about those activities that is cause for alarm.

What we are faced with is two options to explain the behavior of the attorney general:

  1. He actually believes these conspiracy theories and is seeking information to prove them, or
  2. He doesn’t believe these conspiracy theories, but is cynically using them in a way that undermines Western intelligence services (including the CIA and FBI) in service to Trump and Putin.

As crazy as it sounds, I think the evidence actually points to number one. But in the end, it doesn’t matter what he believes, it is his actions that are deplorable.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.