The Justice Department is investigating the role of Obama-era CIA director John Brennan in the assessment that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election. Attorney General William Barr appointed US Attorney John Durham to the case.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that Durham appears to be pursuing the theory that Brennan had a preconceived notion about Russian interference, manipulated evidence to get a particular result, and prevented other intelligence agencies from seeing all the evidence. There is evidence that shows Brennan played an integral role in the early days of Russiagate.
In January 2017, shortly before President Trump took office, an intelligence community assessment was released to the public that concluded, “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election … We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”
According to The New York Times, Durham is interested in how the intelligence community came up with that assessment. Upon the release of the assessment, a falsehood that all 17 US intelligence agencies agreed with its conclusions spread through the media. But testimony from Brennan and Obama’s Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper in May 2017 revealed that only hand-picked analysts from the CIA, FBI, NSA, and Office of the DNI were involved in drafting the assessment.
Durham has been examining emails between a small group of analysists from the CIA, FBI, and NSA that worked together on the assessment. One point of contention between the three agencies was the credibility of a CIA source within the Kremlin. This source was the basis for the accusation that Putin himself ordered an influence campaign to help get President Trump elected.
The NSA did not give as much weight to the source’s claims, which was reflected in the assessment. According to the assessment, the NSA only had “moderate confidence” in the source’s claim that Putin worked to elect Trump, as opposed to the CIA and FBI’s “high confidence.”
The Trump administration views the intelligence assessment as a hasty attempt by Obama’s intelligence officials to delegitimize Trump’s victory. Reports of the assessment’s existence surfaced as early as December 9th, 2016, about one month after election day.
Since leaving his post as CIA director, Brennan has been an outspoken critic of President Trump and fueled the flames of the Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy theory. After Trump denied Russia’s role in influencing the 2016 election alongside Putin at the Helsinki conference in 2018, Brennan called Trump’s comments “nothing short of treasonous.” Brennan penned an op-ed for the New York Times in August 2018 titled “President Trump’s Claims of No Collusion Are Hogwash.” Robert Mueller’s investigation later revealed there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Durham previously investigated the CIA over its torture program and destruction of interrogation videotapes, including two cases that resulted in the death of the detainees. After the long investigation, Durham did not charge anybody, and nobody was held accountable for the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation techniques.