House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff demanded on Friday that the nation’s intelligence community report to Congress any effort by Attorney General William Barr to declassify national security secrets over its objections.
Schiff made his demand in a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, calling on Coats to brief his committee in person and to share any information that Barr has requested as part of a review of the origins of the FBI’s investigation of links between Russia and the Trump campaign. Last month, Barr announced his intention to review the decisions that led to the Russia probe, which later was taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller. But Democrats have argued the effort is a politically driven attempt to appease Trump and feed his unsupported claims that the FBI was attempting to mount a “coup” against him.
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Earlier this month, Trump granted Barr broad authority to declassify any material he needs to conduct that review, prompting outrage among Democrats who say such sweeping authority could damage national security.
“This approach threatens national security by subverting longstanding rules and practices that obligate you and other heads of IC agencies to safeguard sources and methods and prevent the politicization of intelligence and law enforcement,” Schiff wrote.
Schiff’s letter came a week after Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) sent a similar letter to Coats, as well as the heads of the FBI, CIA and NSA. He urged the intelligence community leaders to inform the House and Senate Intelligence Committees if Barr’s efforts threatened their agencies’ morale, independence or capabilities.
Warner said he’s particularly concerned that Barr’s review could chill sources’ willingness to work with U.S. intelligence or spook foreign intelligence agencies from cooperating with the United States.
In his letter, Schiff insisted his committee would conduct “rigorous oversight” of Barr’s efforts and asked that Coats keep him apprised of what material Barr has requested or any other information the attorney general conveyed to intelligence agencies about his review. He also asked Coats to provide to Congress any documents shared with Barr and to notify lawmakers prior to any declassification decision.
Schiff also asked Coats to identify specific moves by Barr to declassify material over the objections of the intelligence community — and to inform Congress of what harm might come to national security as a result.