WASHINGTON – Attorney General William Barr is likely to consult with the intelligence community on how best to handle classified material related to the Russian investigation as he seeks out “corruption at the FBI and the DOJ,” the top White House spokeswoman said.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in defending President Donald Trump’s moves to declassify intelligence, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday without citing evidence that people within the agencies “were specifically working trying to take down the president, trying to hurt the president.”
“The president wants transparency, and he’s given the attorney general the ability to put that transparency in place, make those decisions,”‘ Sanders said.
Sanders didn’t specifically respond to a question about whether Trump would accept “exoneration” of the motives behind the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, if that’s what Barr concludes. “I’m not going to get ahead of what the final conclusion is,” she said, adding, “we already know” that there was “a high level of corruption” and “wrongdoing.”
The president this week gave Barr broad authority to declassify information from the CIA and more than a dozen other U.S. intelligence agencies as part of a review of their role in what became a two-year special counsel probe into the election and Trump’s campaign.
Although Barr isn’t compelled to take suggestions from top U.S. intelligence officials, Sanders said there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t “do everything that is necessary to make sure we’re protecting important intelligence that is vital to our national security.”
“We expect that the attorney general will consult with them on matters that he needs that guidance and advice from them,” she said. “Certainly they work in lock step on a number of things. I don’t see this to be any different.”
Trump’s move has been cast by some as an attempt by the president to exact revenge on political opponents.
“It looks like he’s using the attorney general to be his personal lawyer,” Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, one of about two dozen Democrats running for the 2020 presidential nomination, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
The actions by Trump and Barr could put a “chilling effect” on members of the intelligence community, including FBI agents, he said.
Republican lawmakers mostly got behind the administration’s approach on Sunday.
“If the FBI and other federal agencies were misused, whether it was looking into campaign activities or otherwise, we do need to get to the bottom of that because we should not be using those federal agencies to go after political opponents,” Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican of Wyoming, echoed Sanders in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”
“We have to have confidence in our law enforcement, and the attorney general has got to get to the bottom of what happened,” she said, asserting “complete confidence” in Barr’s handling of the process.
But Republican Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, a former CIA officer, said his interpretation of Trump’s directive to Barr is that the attorney general still must abide by an executive order from former President Barack Obama that says the head of agencies need to be involved in decisions about how intelligence is used.
“Making sure the intelligence community retains the ability to determine if and how intelligence is declassified is critically important,” Hurd said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.