Cloak and Dagger
Attorney General William Barr's unorthodox travels to and interactions with foreign governments as he personally leads a review of the origins of a 2016 counterintelligence investigation are "sparking discord in several foreign capitals," The Wall Street Journal reports. In Italy, Australia, and Britain, leaders are facing questions from opposition lawmakers and intelligence officials about why Barr is breaking protocol and whether the governments are doing President Trump's domestic political bidding.
Typically, the Journal reports, "when prosecutors seek help from outside the U.S. in obtaining evidence for an investigation, the requests usually go through the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs, or through Federal Bureau of Investigation legal attachés stationed at U.S. embassies around the world whose job is to maintain relationships with foreign counterparts."
In Italy, where Barr has traveled twice since August to meet directly with political and intelligence officials, opposition leaders are accusing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of treating Italy's intelligence services as waiters for Trump. "Some diplomats and intelligence officials at the American Embassy were unsure why he had come" to Rome, too, The New York Times reports, and were surprised to learn Barr "had circumvented protocols" to seek "evidence that might bolster a conspiracy theory long nurtured by President Trump" about U.S. "deep state" enemies and America's closest allies conspiring to secretly block his 2016 election.
In Australia, politicians are bristling at insinuation from Trump and his allies that an Australian diplomat was part of that alleged conspiracy, and "British intelligence officials have privately expressed annoyance" that the Justice Department was going around them, the Journal reports.
Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Journal that he has heard from several intelligence officials worried about Barr jeopardizing America's intelligence-sharing relationship with fellow "Five Eyes" nations Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. "If Australia starts to feel that their intelligence is being used for American domestic political purposes to smear an opponent of Mr. Trump, then that trust breaks down," Warner said.