Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a warning about national security after President Donald Trump granted Attorney General William Barr broad new powers to declassify intelligence related to the origins of the Russia investigation.
Coats said in a statement that he is “confident” Barr will follow “standards.” But he also warned that if “highly sensitive classified Information” is released, it “would put our national security at risk.”
Coats also emphasized that the intelligence community will “continue” to share “apolitical intelligence” with the rest of the government.
“I am confident that the Attorney General will work with the [intelligence community] in accordance with the long-established standards to protect highly-sensitive classified information that, if publicly released, would put our national security at risk,” Coats said.
During an appearance last month before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Barr accused U.S. intelligence services of “spying” on the Trump campaign in 2016.
As Barr launches an investigation into the origins of the Justice Department probe into Russian election interference and the Trump campaign, observers worry about the new intelligence powers of the attorney general, whom they view as a deeply partisan supporter of Trump.
Michael Morell, a former CIA deputy director, told The Washington Post that it was “potentially dangerous” to let Barr decide what to declassify. Barr could reveal information — ever inadvertently — that could jeopardize the safety of intelligence officers.
“This is yet another destruction of norms that weakens our intelligence community,” said Morell. “It is yet another step that will raise questions among our allies ... about whether to share sensitive intelligence with us.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called Trump’s order a “corrupt escalation” of a bid to “weaponize and politicize the nation’s intelligence and law enforcement entities” in a statement Friday.
“The potential selective release of material that implicates sources and methods will undermine the Intelligence Community’s efforts to gather intelligence ... putting not only sources at risk, but the nation’s security along with them,” Schiff said.
Trump directed the intelligence community to “quickly and fully cooperate” with Barr’s probe on Thursday. He told reporters on Friday that he’s not looking “for payback.”