How Far Will Bill Barr Go to Promote a Lie?

The attorney general isn’t afraid to endanger America’s national security.

Not long after William Barr assigned John Durham to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, the president gave the attorney general the power to declassify information pertaining to the investigation. As I wrote at the time, what that really meant was that Barr would be able to selectively release classified information that bolstered his charge that the previous administration had spied on the Trump campaign. According to the New York Times, that is exactly what is happening.

Not long after the early 2017 publication of a notorious dossier about President Trump jolted Washington, an expert in Russian politics told the F.B.I. he had been one of its key sources, drawing on his contacts to deliver information that would make up some of the most salacious and unproven assertions in the document.

The F.B.I. had approached the expert, a man named Igor Danchenko, as it vetted the dossier’s claims. He agreed to tell investigators what he knew with an important condition, people familiar with the matter said — that the F.B.I. keep his identity secret so he could protect himself, his sources and his family and friends in Russia.

But his hope of remaining anonymous evaporated last week after Attorney General William P. Barr directed the F.B.I. to declassify a redacted report about its three-day interview of Mr. Danchenko in 2017 and hand it over to Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Mr. Graham promptly made the interview summary public while calling the entire Russia investigation “corrupt.”

The NYT report goes on to say that, while Danchenko’s name was redacted in the released document, it was just a matter of days before “online sleuths” (Russian agents?) were able to identify him based on clues left visible in the declassified document.

Trump’s enablers immediately engaged in a smear campaign against Danchenko and his one-time employer, the Brookings Institution. Not only does all of that put Danchenko and his family at risk, it sends a message to potential intelligence sources that the United States can’t be trusted to keep their word.

But while the attorney general demonstrates that he is more interested in punishing Trump’s accusers than he is in this country’s national security, it is important to keep in mind that this whole charade is based on a lie. From the beginning, efforts to defend the president have been based on convincing everyone that the entire Trump-Russia investigation was based on the Steele dossier. Therefore, Trump and his enablers believe that if that document can be discredited, it shows that the whole thing was a hoax—or even an attempted coup.

So it is once again time to review the evidence. According to the Mueller report, the FBI investigation was launched when they received word that George Papadopoulos (a Trump campaign advisor) told an Australian diplomat that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. That is the same conclusion reached in the bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee and the investigation conducted by Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Here is what the latter reported (emphasis mine).

Although Trump and his supporters have repeatedly insisted that the investigation was built on the back of an uncorroborated dossier, the report categorically states that the dossier was not part of the July 2016 decision to open the investigation. In fact, the team responsible for the investigation didn’t even get copies of his reports until two months later.

In other words, no matter how often Trump and his enablers say that the Trump-Russia investigation was launched based on the Steele dossier, that is a lie—and they know it. The Crossfire Hurricane team didn’t even see the dossier until September, two months after the investigation was launched. By then, not only did the team know about what Papadopoulos has been bragging about, they knew that Trump had hired Paul Manafort to be his campaign manager and Michael Flynn to be his senior foreign policy advisor—both of whom had ties to the Russian government.

The question this whole obsession with the Steele dossier raises is why Trump and his enablers continue to lie about how it was used by the investigators. When the Attorney General of the United States and the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee are willing to risk national security in furtherance of a lie, are they simply trying to punish the president’s accusers or are they attempting to cover up something much more serious? Perhaps both.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.