Former CIA officer: Trump and his allies have a long history of bullying intelligence experts who probe Russian election interference
When Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council (NSC) senior director specializing in Russian and European affairs, testified before the House Intelligence Committee on November 21, she stressed that there was zero evidence to support the claim that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the United States’ 2016 presidential election. Nonetheless, the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory persists on the far right. And journalist Alex Finley, in a report for Just Security, discusses the extremes that President Donald Trump’s allies have been willing to go to in the hope of discrediting intelligence on Russian election interference in 2016.
The CrowdStrike conspiracy theory claims that in 2016, the cyber-security firm CrowdStrike conspired with Democrats and the Ukrainian government to frame the Russian government for interfering in the presidential election. According to the false claim that the Ukrainian government — not Russian President Vladimir Putin — was the real villain in 2016, Finley notes, “Trump never could have colluded with Russia, because Russia never did anything wrong.” And Finley notes that Attorney General William Barr has been investigating people in the U.S. intelligence community who have been part of the Russia investigation — and appointed federal prosecutor John Dunham to head that investigation.
Finley explains, “Last month, media outlets reported that Barr’s investigation had become a criminal one. Whether true or not, the claim — much like the public attacks from Trump, Republicans and the conservative media ecosystem — seemed like a clear signal to civil servants — whether in the FBI, the CIA or the NSA — to tread very carefully if they planned to take any actions that came anywhere near the Russia-Trump nexus again.”
Finley adds, however, that Barr’s investigation “was not the first threatening message sent to the intelligence and law enforcement community” about Russia: Trump and his allies have a long history of going after people who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election.
For example, Finley points out, former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe were both fired. And Trump, Finley notes, “has repeatedly attacked FBI investigators Peter Stzrok and Lisa Page on Twitter and elsewhere with particularly prurient and unsettling comments.”
Finley observes, “One of Mike Pompeo’s first actions when he became head of the CIA was to interrogate the analysts who had written the report concluding that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election and had aimed to help Trump win. More recently, Barr traveled to both the United Kingdom and Italy to meet with intelligence officials in those countries. While there, he asked those foreign governments about the actions of his compatriot American intelligence officers.”
During the Ukraine investigation and the impeachment inquiry, Finley adds, many of the witnesses have been smeared by Trump and his supporters — including Marie Yovanovitch (former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine) and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.
“What effect does this have on our national security?,” Finley asks. “If our intelligence community becomes reticent to chase down counterintelligence leads because the president or his associates might be involved or have an interest in how they play out, how vulnerable does the country become? The good news is: these civil servants seem like they won’t be cowed.”