(CNN) As President Donald Trump and his allies continue to publicly dispute the outcome of the election, they are also quietly seeking to discredit the Russia investigation that has cast a dark cloud over the administration for more than four years.
Before Election Day, senior career intelligence officials and congressional Democrats braced for Trump’s handpicked director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, to release highly classified documents related to the FBI’s Russia probe, which they feared would expose critical sources and methods.
Those concerns roared back this week in the wake of a flurry of personnel changes at the National Security Agency — and the Pentagon — as Trump installed political loyalists in key positions where they could help turn the tide in the behind-the-scenes battle over declassifying documents, which has raged for weeks.
Trump believes the documents in question will undermine the intelligence community’s unanimous finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 race to help him win, by exposing so-called “deep state” plots against his campaign and transition during the Obama administration, according to multiple current and former officials.
But CIA and National Security Agency career officials have strenuously objected to releasing certain information from the Russia interference assessment, arguing that it would seriously damage sources and methods in a way that the intelligence community doesn’t believe can be easily repaired.
Both agencies have also cited concerns about cherry-picking information to release and the politicization of their work as they fight against Ratcliffe’s recent efforts to satisfy Trump’s promises to declassify thousands of pages of documents.
Multiple sources familiar with the classified materials have downplayed the significance of these documents, telling CNN the administration won’t make political hay by releasing them despite the President’s fixation.
While Ratcliffe and former acting DNI Richard Grenell have sought to declassify documents related to the Russia probe and Hillary Clinton’s emails, CIA Director Gina Haspel and National Security Agency chief Gen. Paul Nakasone have fought those moves.
Behind the scenes, Haspel has defended the work of career officials who have come under criticism from Trump and allies over 2016-era intelligence work behind the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
The standoff has led the President to become increasingly frustrated with Haspel, in particular, who he blames for delaying the release of these documents despite the fact that he and Ratcliffe have the authority to declassify the additional intelligence at their own discretion. At the end of the day, if Trump wanted these documents declassified, he could do it himself.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, have attempted to protect Haspel from Trump’s wrath in recent days, providing public displays of support for the CIA director amid speculation of her possible ouster.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas voiced his support for Haspel in a tweet Tuesday, saying: “Intelligence should not be partisan. Not about manipulation, it is about preserving impartial, nonpartisan information necessary to inform policy makers and so the can protect the US.”
The post prompted immediate backlash from the President’s son Donald Trump Jr, who called Haspel a “trained liar.”
“Have you or @marcorubio or @senatemajldr actually discussed this with anyone in the Admin. who actually works with her, like @DNI_Ratcliffe or @MarkMeadows or @robertcobrien, to get their perspective, or are you just taking a trained liar’s word for it on everything?” he tweeted, tagging McConnell and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who serves as acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
While Haspel’s immediate future as CIA director remains uncertain, Trump moved several political allies into new roles at the Pentagon and National Security Agency this week — placing them in career positions, which come with civil service protections. They could also have an immediate impact on the release of classified documents.
Ellis is widely considered to be a partisan Trump loyalist and has little intelligence experience despite being elevated to the job of the White House’s top national security lawyer under the President.
He was part of several White House controversies, including overruling career officials over classified information in the book written by former national security adviser John Bolton. Read from source….