Trump and Putin at G20 in Hamburg
Credit: Алексей М/Flickr

As Donald Trump embarks on his campaign of vengeance against his enemies, Philip Rucker reminds us that part of that effort is to rewrite history on the Russian probe.

Seven months after Mueller’s marathon testimony brought finality to the Russia investigation, Trump is actively seeking to rewrite the narrative that had been meticulously documented by federal law enforcement and intelligence officials, both for immediate political gain and for history.

Lost amidst all of the focus on the Senate impeachment trial and the attorney general’s undermining of the Department of Justice is the fact that a little more than two weeks ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee released their report on the Obama administration’s response to Russian interference in the 2016 election. The committee’s account tracks almost perfectly with the report published in the Washington Post over two years ago, which led me to write that Trump should be more worried about the Brennan dossier.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report focuses on the ways the administration was constrained in its response to Russian meddling.

(1) the heavily politicized environment; (2) the concern that public warnings would themselves undermine public confidence in the election, thereby inadvertently helping the Russian effort; (3) the unknown extent to which the Russians could target and manipulate election systems; (4) the delay in definitive attribution of some efforts to Russia; (5) the time and resources required to compose policy options prior to execution; and (6) challenges in how to address WikiLeaks. These constraints affected the response options available, as well as the timing and sequencing of their implementation.

In discussing the “heavily politicized environment,” the committee noted that:

On October 16, 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump publicly tweeted, “The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary – but also at many polling places- SAD.” The next day, he followed up with a tweet stating, “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day,” and further reiterated these claims at a campaign rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin that evening, stating, “[r]emember, we’re competing in a rigged election. This is a rigged election process.”

In a heavily redacted portion of the report, the committee notes that it was a “wake-up call” from former CIA Director John Brennan that spurred the administration into action. Brennan initially briefed the president, who convened a small group Principals Committee on the topic. Brennan then briefed the so-called “Gang of 8” individually because Congress was not in session.

On September 8, 2016, Lisa Monaco, Director Comey, and Secretary Johnson briefed the Gang of Eight and the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Homeland Security Committees from the House of Representatives and the Senate.

It was during this briefing that administration officials discussed the issuance of a bipartisan statement, which they hoped would convince state and local officials to avail themselves of the cybersecurity services being offered by DHS to secure and protect election infrastructure…

Numerous administration officials stated some members of Congress that attended the September 8, 2016, meeting resisted the administration request that a bipartisan statement be made regarding Russia being responsible for interference activities…Ms. Monaco recalled Senate Majority Leader McConnell stating “[y]ou security people should be careful that you’re not getting used,” which she interpreted as suggestive that the intelligence regarding Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections was being inflated or used for partisan ends.

That basically confirms earlier reporting that it was McConnell who refused to issue a bipartisan warning to state election officials about potential Russian interference.

Overall, the bipartisan committee report implies that the Obama administration was too slow, timid, and guarded in their response to Russian interference. But then, Senators Risch, Rubio, Cotton, Cornyn and Sasse wrote a separate partisan response that basically blasted the administration for not being more aggressive. In other words, they are criticizing President Obama for not being more publicly assertive about the investigation Trump calls “a hoax.”

In the midst of all of that, we also learn that the investigation of the investigators being conducted by John Durham seems to have set its sights on former CIA Director Brennan.

Mr. Durham appears to be pursuing a theory that the C.I.A., under its former director John O. Brennan, had a preconceived notion about Russia or was trying to get to a particular result — and was nefariously trying to keep other agencies from seeing the full picture lest they interfere with that goal, the people said.

As we’ve already seen, the “wake-up call” Brennan sent to the White House consisted of a warning that, not only was Russia attempting to interfere in the 2016 election, the efforts were being directed by Vladimir Putin in support of Donald Trump. It is that last part that Barr desperately wants to undermine as part of Trump’s attempt to re-write history.

Here is how Barr and Durham are going about doing that.

The Durham investigation has rattled current and former intelligence officers. Little precedent exists for a criminal prosecutor to review the analytic judgment-making process of intelligence agencies, said Michael Morrell, a former acting C.I.A. director who left the government in 2013.

“This whole thing is so abnormal,” Mr. Morrell said.

Prosecutors are ill equipped to assess how analysts work, he added. “The bar for making a legal judgment is really high. The bar for an analytic decision is much lower,” Mr. Morrell said. “So he is going to get the wrong answer if he tries to figure out if they had enough information to make this judgment.”

That is reminiscent of something that former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson warned about.

With the law books filled with a great assortment of crimes, a prosecutor stands a fair chance of finding at least a technical violation of some act on the part of almost anyone. In such a case, it is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it, it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books, or putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him.

It now appears that Durham is going in search of a “technical violation” that he can pin on John Brennan for sending a “wake up call” to the White House about Putin’s intentions. All of that is underway as the Senate Intelligence Committee finds that the Obama administration wasn’t aggressive enough in dealing with an attack on our elections that the current president calls “a hoax.” Got it? The lies aren’t meant to be consistent. The goal is merely to disrupt the truth from being exposed.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.