Citing string of classified leaks, Grassley & Johnson call for public accountability
WASHINGTON – The Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) is again refusing to provide any assurances that a
steady stream of sensitive and classified leaks
from the nation’s intelligence personnel are being investigated. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) are voicing concern that the ICIG’s failure to assure the public of any efforts to investigate the leaks will further erode public trust in critical intelligence agencies.
to ICIG Michael Atkinson, the chairmen cite
previously-unreleased unclassified emails and texts
acquired during the course of their oversight inquiries between intelligence community officials highlighting leaks as well as previous examples of inspectors general confirming the existence of ongoing investigations.
“As we have made clear in previous letters to you, since President Donald Trump’s election there have been a number of leaks of highly sensitive information. These leaks are seemingly perpetrated to achieve partisan political ends at the expense of national security,”
the chairmen wrote. “Given the intense congressional and public interest surrounding the most recent leaks of sensitive and classified information, it is incumbent upon you to answer the simple questions that we have posed.”
In early October, following new revelations of classified leaks, the chairmen
renewed a previous inquiry
about actions the ICIG is taking to investigate classified spills to the media. In response the ICIG
outlined its responsibilities
to detect and deter unauthorized disclosures of national security information. However, it declined to confirm, even in general terms any efforts to respond to those leaks.
In the most recent exchange, the chairmen detail public acknowledgements of ongoing and future investigations by the Justice Department Inspector General as evidence that the ICIG can provide transparency without jeopardizing the integrity of any probe.
‘A Crescendo of leaks’
The chairmen’s letter includes previously-unreleased unclassified communications between FBI officials discussing potential leaks. In one instance former FBI counter-espionage official Peter Strzok predicted a “crescendo of leaks.” In another, Strzok expresses concern that a news report that apparently relied on CIA leaks conflicted with the FBI’s public messaging. A separate text message reveals Strzok’s effort to set up a Skype interview with a reporter. A
2017 Justice Department Inspector General report
faulted the FBI for widely violating policies limiting unauthorized contacts with the media.
The chairmen’s latest letter to the ICIG is available HERE. Strzok’s exchanges referenced above are available HERE.
Text of the chairmen’s letter follows:
October 23, 2019
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
The Honorable Michael K. Atkinson
Inspector General of the Intelligence Community
1500 Tysons McLean Drive
McLean, VA 22102
Dear Inspector General Atkinson:
We are in receipt of your October 10, 2019, letter, which again failed to answer whether your office is investigating leaks from the Intelligence Community (IC). In that letter, you stated that “the ICIG cannot confirm or deny the existence of an investigation into those suspected leaks, or disclose the details of any such investigations”
without citing any law, regulation, or guidance that prohibits you from informing Congress and the taxpayer about the steps you have taken, or not taken, to investigate leaks of sensitive and classified material.
Contrary to your position, other inspectors general have been more transparent with Congress and the public about information relating to their investigations, particularly where there is significant public interest. For example, on January 12, 2017, the Department of Justice Inspector General (DOJ IG) provided Congress details of its soon-to-be initiated investigation into various actions by the DOJ and FBI in advance of the 2016 election relating to the Clinton investigation and other matters.
In a letter to Congress, the DOJ IG provided five detailed bullet points describing the initial scope of review. Two of those bullet points specifically mentioned personnel by job title, “[a]llegations that the FBI Deputy Director should have been recused from participating in certain investigative matters” and “[a]llegations that the Department’s Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs improperly disclosed non-public information to the Clinton campaign and/or should have been recused from participating in certain matters.”
Moreover, the DOJ IG stated that the review would include “[a]llegations that Department and FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information,” which is what we have asked whether you are doing, or intend to do.
Indeed, on March 28, 2018, the DOJ IG also publicly announced its initiation of a review to examine the “Justice Department’s and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s compliance with legal requirements, and with applicable DOJ and FBI policies and procedures, in applications filed with the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court relating to a certain U.S. person.”
We eagerly await that report’s findings. Finally, as we noted in our previous letter, Attorney General Barr confirmed that “multiple criminal leak investigations” are underway relating to sensitive and classified leaks during the pendency of the Russia investigation.
In light of this transparency by the DOJ IG and the Attorney General about their ongoing investigations or imminent reviews, it is unclear to us why you cannot provide the same level of transparency.
As we have made clear in previous letters to you, since President Donald Trump’s election there have been a number of leaks of highly sensitive information.
These leaks are seemingly perpetrated to achieve partisan political ends at the expense of national security. For example, reports have cited leaked information about the FBI’s use of informants to meet with Trump campaign advisors; a warrant to surveil Carter Page; and the United Kingdom signal intelligence agency briefing former CIA Director Brennan on alleged communications between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, among other leaks.
But, that’s not all. Chairman Johnson issued a report detailing leaks during President Trump’s first 18 weeks in office. That report found that the administration had “faced 125 leaked stories – one leak a day – containing information that was potentially damaging to national security under the standards laid out in a 2009 Executive Order signed by President Obama.”
Nearly 80 percent of the leaks focused on the Russia probe, and many revealed “closely-held information such as intelligence community intercepts, FBI interviews and intelligence, grand jury subpoenas, and even the workings of a secret surveillance court.”
Given the intense congressional and public interest surrounding the most recent leaks of sensitive and classified information, it is incumbent upon you to answer the simple questions that we have posed. Furthermore, you asserted that, because you gave closed-door testimony to a Senate Committee and House Committee, you cannot answer our Committees’ questions until transcripts are made public. We are not aware of any justification for this position, which is particularly concerning given the role of Inspectors General in promoting transparency and helping Congress to fulfill its oversight responsibilities. Moreover, our committees are quite familiar with handling sensitive or classified information.
Accordingly, we reiterate our requests that you provide full and complete answers to the questions below from our May 6, 2019 letter, our October 2, 2019, letter and our additional questions no later than October 30, 2019:
On December 15, 2016, Peter Strzok texted Lisa Page, “Think our sisters have begun leaking like mad. Scorned and worried and political, they’re kicking in to overdrive.”
Who are the “sisters” and what does it mean to say that the “sisters have [been] leaking like mad”? What are they worried about, and what are they kicking into “overdrive”?
On April 13, 2017, Strzok e-mailed FBI colleagues with regard to the publication of an article titled, “British spies were first to spot Trump team’s links with Russia.” He wrote, “I’m beginning to think the agency got info a lot earlier than we thought and hasn’t shared it completely with us. Might explain all these weird/seemingly incorrect leads all these media folks have. Would also highlight agency as source of some of the leaks.”
Which “agency” is he referring to and why does Strzok believe the referenced article highlights that “agency as [a] source of some of the leaks”?
Has the ICIG initiated an investigation into these apparent leaks and those detailed in Chairman Johnson’s July 2017 report?
If not, please explain why not.
Are you investigating the classified leaks relating to the complaint and Ukraine call? If not, why not?
How many people within your office had access to the complaint and call transcript before they were made public?
With regard to our October 2, 2019, request about how many people within your office had access to the complaint and call transcript before they were made public, you responded on October 10, 2019, that “substantially similar inquiries have been the subject of [your] closed briefing sessions before [the intelligence committees]” but then noted that “[t]he transcripts of those closed briefing sessions have not yet been made public.” On what basis are you asserting that, because you gave closed-door testimony to a Senate Committee and House Committee, you cannot answer our Committees’ questions until transcripts are made public?
We anticipate that your written reply and some responsive documents will be unclassified. Please send all unclassified material directly to the Committees. In keeping with the requirements of Executive Order 13526, if any of the responsive documents do contain classified information, please segregate all unclassified material within the classified documents, provide all unclassified information directly to the Committees, and provide a classified addendum to the Office of Senate Security. Although the Committees comply with all laws and regulations governing the handling of classified information, they are not bound, absent their prior agreement, by any handling restrictions.
Thank you advance for your assistance in this matter. Should you have any questions, please contact Joshua Flynn-Brown of Chairman Grassley’s Committee staff at (202) 224-4515 and Brian Downey or Scott Wittmann of Chairman Johnson’s staff at (202) 224-4751.
Charles E. Grassley
Committee on Finance
Committee on Homeland Security
and Governmental Affairs
Letter from Michael K. Atkinson, to Chairman Ron Johnson and Chairman Charles Grassley (Oct. 10, 2019).
Letter from Michael Horowitz, Inspector General, Department of Justice to Senator Charles Grassley, Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary et al, (Jan. 12, 2017).
Barr says ‘multiple criminal leak investigations underway’,
Washington Examiner (May 1, 2019). https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/barr-says-multiple-criminal-leak-investigations-underway
In your October 10, 2019 response, you also state, “[p]lease let me assure you that the ICIG has coordinated with the appropriate agencies concerning the matters referenced in your May 6, 2019, letter and will continue to do so, as appropriate.” Without more, it is entirely unclear what you mean by this.
Attached to this letter, we have also included two email chains and a text message exchange between and among FBI officials noting references to leaks during the Russia investigation.
Text message from Peter Strzok to Lisa Page (Dec. 15, 2016).
FBI_HJC_03_22_18_Req7_000376, 377, Email from Peter Strzok (Apr. 13, 2017).