Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the special counsel report does not address key counterintelligence aspects of the investigation into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, according to national security experts quoted by The Atlantic.
Even though Barr’s summary addressed the issues of crimes and criminal indictments, it leaves open the question of alleged security and national intelligence violations by the president and his aides.
Immediately after Trump fired the FBI director James Comey, the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation. But at this point it’s not clear what happened to that probe. After Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel, the direction of the FBI’s investigations changed and became focused on obstruction of justice, conspiracy and other crimes.
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe explained the counterintelligence investigation this way:
“We were concerned, and we felt like we had credible, articulable facts to indicate that a threat to national security may exist.”
The original counterintelligence investigation was directed at determining whether the president was acting as a Russian agent.
“Normally, the bureau would investigate,” said Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the Defense Department and the CIA during the Obama administration, “and if criminal matters were involved, they’d ask prosecutors to get involved.”
“But if it is just a matter of there being a national-security threat, the FBI would report to the director of national intelligence, who would then report to the president. But what if the president is the threat? We don’t have a playbook for this.”
Trump was seeking lucrative real estate deals in Moscow during the 2016 campaign, which he and his lawyer Michael Cohen lied about. That explains some, but not all, of his unusually strong devotion to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“We still do not understand why President Trump has this affinity for Putin,” said former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell. “What happened yesterday is Mueller took one possibility off the table — that there was a criminal conspiracy. But we still don’t know what is going on between these two leaders, and what is driving this relationship.”
Barr’s summary claims that Mueller determined there was not enough evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy case, but that’s a different standard of proof than what a counterintelligence investigation would determine.
You can have a national security threat and still not have the evidence needed to bring criminal charges.
John McLaughlin, a former acting CIA director, clarified this:
“Mueller always noted that the term evidence meant something different to intelligence analysts who had to work with a variety of sources of varying reliability, whereas an FBI officer needed something so unassailable as to work in a court prosecution.”
That distinction is very important to understanding what evidence Mueller was looking for, but Barr did not address these issues in his summary.
“If all we do is provide criminal standards to investigative findings, we are missing the point,” said Frank Figliuzzi, the former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI.
Most counterintelligence cases don’t result in criminal prosecution, but are intended to determine whether a foreign power targeted, compromised or recruited the subject of the investigation.
“This thing started as a counterintelligence investigation,” Figliuzzi said, “and it needs to end as a counterintelligence investigation.”
The American People Must See the Results of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Probe
“This counterintelligence report will deal only with counterintelligence findings and not whether crimes were committed.”
“It is this report that may address the question of whether or not there was collusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.”
“Unlike a final criminal report, a Mueller counterintelligence report cannot be bottled up. By statute it must be shared with Congress.”
“The most critical elements of Robert Mueller’s report and findings will be seen by Congress and the American people. These elements deal with national security and intelligence risks posed by the Trump presidency.”
“The criminal elements of Mueller’s investigation were contained in the report that William Barr received on Friday. He might try to keep that report secret, but in fact the criminal aspects of Mueller’s probe have already been farmed out to other federal prosecutors, including the Southern District of New York (SDNY).”