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An executive order from President Biden instructs all his appointees to sign a pledge to refrain from “improper interference” with any prosecutorial or investigative decisions at the Justice Department.

The new directive comes after Biden selected Judge Merrick Garland to be his nominee for attorney general and as Biden’s son, Hunter, is under a federal criminal investigation. There is also a criminal inquiry into the Trump-Russia investigation being conducted by special counsel John Durham.

“I recognize that this pledge is part of a broader ethics in government plan designed to restore and maintain public trust in government, and I commit myself to conduct consistent with that plan,” the Biden administration pledge reads, adding, “I commit to conduct that upholds the independence of law enforcement and precludes improper interference with investigative or prosecutorial decisions of the Department of Justice. I commit to ethical choices of post-Government employment that do not raise the appearance that I have used my Government service for private gain.”

The Biden transition team revealed Biden selected Garland on Jan. 6, the same day as the siege of the U.S. Capitol, and he introduced the longtime judge as his pick the next day.

“More than anything, we need to restore the honor, the integrity, the independence of the Department of Justice in this nation that has been so badly damaged,” Biden said, telling Garland and his other DOJ picks: “I want to be clear to those who lead this department who you will serve. You won’t work for me. You are not the president’s or the vice president’s lawyer. Your loyalty is not to me. It’s to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation to guarantee justice.”

Garland, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit who was former President Barack Obama’s ill-fated 2016 nominee for the Supreme Court, pointed to Justice Department policies, such as “guaranteeing the independence of the department from partisan influence in law enforcement investigations,” and promised that “if confirmed, my mission as attorney general will be to reaffirm those policies as the principles upon which the department operates.” He added that “the essence of the rule of law is that like cases are treated alike — that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, one rule for friends and another for foes.”

Jen Psaki, who is now the White House press secretary, said in December that Biden would not discuss the investigation of his son Hunter with any of his candidates for attorney general, even after one takes office, but declined to say whether Biden would keep on David Weiss, the U.S. attorney for Delaware known to be investigating the younger Biden’s taxes.

“It will be up to the purview of a future attorney general in his administration to determine how to handle any investigation,” Psaki told Fox News. “As you know, U.S. attorneys are — that’s a personnel decision. We’re far from there in the process … But we’re going to allow the process to work how it should, which is for the Justice Department to be run independently by the attorney general at the top.”

Hunter Biden has been under criminal investigation stretching as far back as 2018 as federal authorities scrutinize his taxes and foreign business dealings, and the 50-year-old’s financial transactions with China are likely at the forefront. Biden’s campaign, along with many in the media, dismissed the Hunter Biden laptop story and other allegations as being part of a Russian disinformation operation, though Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said he had not seen “intelligence that supports that … Hunter Biden’s laptop is part of some Russian disinformation campaign.”

Biden talked about the investigation into his son during a December interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, when the host asked the former vice president what he will do about people who want to “use your adult son as a cudgel against you.”

“I have, we have, great confidence in our son,” Biden replied, adding, “I’m not concerned about any accusations that have been made against him.” Biden claimed that “it’s used to get to me” and “I think it’s kind of foul play.”

Biden said: “Don’t get me wrong, doesn’t mean I’m not angry — doesn’t mean I wasn’t angry, and it doesn’t mean if I were back in the days in high school I wouldn’t say, ‘Come here,’ you know, and go a round.”

Chris Wallace of Fox News asked Psaki about that interview a few days later, pressing her on whether Biden believes the investigation into his son is legitimate.

Psaki said Biden’s attorney general “will oversee an independent department” and “will be overseeing whatever investigations are happening at the Department of Justice.”

Former Attorney General William Barr said in December that he rejected the idea of appointing a special counsel either to investigate Hunter or to look into Trump’s allegations of voter fraud.

Durham, a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, has been looking into a host of issues related to the origins and conduct of the investigation into Russian meddling and alleged collusion with Trump, and his criminal inquiry has netted one guilty plea already, with ex-FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith admitting to altering an email to say that former Trump campaign associate Carter Page was “not a source” for the CIA as the bureau pursued flawed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against him, relying upon British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s discredited dossier.

Biden has not said whether he will allow Durham to finish his investigation.

Author: Jerry Dunleavy, Justice Department Reporter

Source: Washington Examiner: Hunter inquiry looms large as Biden pledge prevents ‘improper interference’ with DOJ investigations

President Trump ordered the declassification of Justice Department documents related to the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation into allegations of Trump-Russia collusion as one of his final acts in office.

The White House issued a memo Tuesday night, on the eve of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, in which Trump said the Justice Department provided the White House with a “binder of materials” tied to the Trump-Russia investigation on Dec. 30.

The memo said, “Portions of the documents in the binder have remained classified and have not been released to the Congress or the public. Trump “requested the documents so that a declassification review could be performed and so I could determine to what extent materials in the binder should be released in unclassified form,” the memo added.

The president “determined that the materials in that binder should be declassified to the maximum extent possible,” the memo said. But, as part of the “iterative process of the declassification review,” the FBI said on Sunday that the bureau had a “continuing objection to any further declassification of the materials in the binder” and “on the basis of a review that included Intelligence Community equities, identified the passages that it believed it was most crucial to keep from public disclosure,” according to the memo.

Trump said he would “accept the redactions proposed for continued classification by the FBI.”

“I hereby declassify the remaining materials in the binder,” Trump said in the memo, addressed to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, and acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. “This is my final determination under the declassification review and I have directed the Attorney General to implement the redactions proposed in the FBI’s Jan. 17 submission and return to the White House an appropriately redacted copy.”

The documents were not immediately made public. The White House directed the Washington Examiner to the FBI, which declined to comment. The Justice Department did not immediately respond.

The disclosure is the latest salvo in the controversy that engulfed the first half of Trump’s presidency. The “witch hunt,” as Trump calls it, began with the FBI opening up an investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016. That inquiry, code-named Crossfire Hurricane, was wrapped into Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, which began after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017. After two years of investigating, Mueller’s team released a report in an April 2019 that said investigators “identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign” but “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Trump previously called for all of the Russia investigation documents to be made public.

“I have fully authorized the total Declassification of any & all documents pertaining to the single greatest political CRIME in American History, the Russia Hoax. Likewise, the Hillary Clinton Email Scandal. No redactions!” Trump tweeted in October, adding that “all Russia Hoax Scandal information was Declassified by me long ago.”

But following a federal court order, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told a judge that month that the president’s tweets were not declassification orders.

Trump said Tuesday that his declassification “does not extend to materials that must be protected from disclosure pursuant to orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court” and that the acting attorney general “has conducted an appropriate review to ensure that materials provided in the binder may be disclosed by the White House in accordance with applicable law.”

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a report in December 2019 that said the FBI inquiry was properly predicated but nevertheless criticized the Justice Department and FBI for 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against former Trump campaign associate Carter Page and for the bureau’s reliance on British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s discredited and Democratic-funded dossier.

Declassified footnotes from Horowitz’s report indicate that the bureau became aware that Steele’s dossier may have been compromised by Russian disinformation, and FBI interviews show Steele’s primary subsource undercut the credibility of the dossier. Horowitz said that Steele’s main source “contradicted the allegations of a ‘well-developed conspiracy’ in” Steele’s dossier.

U.S. Attorney John Durham, who was elevated to special counsel in the fall, is investigating the origins and conduct of the Trump-Russia investigation. He and now-former Attorney General William Barr released statements saying they disagreed with the Justice Department inspector general’s determination that the opening of the Trump-Russia investigation was justified.

FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith admitted to Durham this summer that he falsified a document during the bureau’s efforts to renew its FISA authority to wiretap Page, editing a CIA email in 2017 to state that Page was “not a source.”

Ratcliffe declassified handwritten notes from former CIA Director John Brennan in October showing he briefed then-President Barack Obama in 2016 on an unverified Russian intelligence report claiming former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton planned in July 2016 on tying then-candidate Trump to Russia’s hack of the Democratic National Committee to distract from her improper use of a private email server. He also declassified a September 2016 CIA counterintelligence referral on the allegations to Comey and fired FBI special agent Peter Strzok.

That move was met with a backlash from Democrats and some national security veterans, with Brennan saying that “his selective declassification of information … is designed to advance the political interests of Donald Trump.” At the time, Ratcliffe released a statement saying that “this is not Russian disinformation.”

Ratcliffe said in October that his office had provided almost 1,000 pages of materials to the Justice Department in response to Durham’s document requests.

The January 2017 intelligence community assessment on Russian meddling from the CIA, the NSA, and the FBI concluded with “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016” and that Russia worked to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate former Secretary of State Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency” and “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” Adm. Mike Rogers of the NSA diverged from Brennan and Comey on one key aspect, expressing only “moderate confidence” rather than “high confidence” that Putin “aspired to help” Trump’s election chances by “discrediting” Clinton.

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan report in April defending the 2017 assessment, saying it “presents a coherent and well-constructed intelligence basis.” But a report from the Republicans leading the House Intelligence Committee in 2018 concluded that “judgments on Putin’s strategic intentions did not … employ proper analytic tradecraft.” Ratcliffe sent the intelligence community’s watchdog an investigative referral related to that House GOP report in the fall.

Author: Jerry Dunleavy, Justice Department Reporter

Source: Washington Examiner: Trump declassifies binder of Russia investigation documents on eve of Biden inauguration

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