The Slatest

Obama Officials Reportedly Worked to Preserve Trump-Russia Intelligence for Future Investigation

A mural depicting Vladimir Putin taking off a Donald Trump mask is painted on a storefront in Brooklyn on Saturday.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The New York Times published a staggering report Wednesday evening on the Obama administration’s extraordinary and extensive effort in the waning days of the Obama presidency to preserve and distribute intelligence it had uncovered on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. As the links between Trump associates and Russian intelligence became clearer, and Russian influence on the U.S. election deemed more influential, administration officials worried that classified intelligence that would be vital to a future investigation could be easily destroyed or simply dismissed by the incoming Trump White House.

“At the Obama White House, Mr. Trump’s statements stoked fears among some that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed—or its sources exposed—once power changed hands,” the New York Times writes. “What followed was a push to preserve the intelligence that underscored the deep anxiety with which the White House and American intelligence agencies had come to view the threat from Moscow.”

As information piled up on Trump-Russia links, White House officials looked for ways to distribute the information that was often classified as widely as possible among those with the required security clearance. Officials also got creative in finding ways to enter portions of what they’d found into the record in various forms, making it harder to scrub. From the Times:

Some officials began asking specific questions at intelligence briefings, knowing the answers would be archived and could be easily unearthed by investigators — including the Senate Intelligence Committee, which in early January announced an inquiry into Russian efforts to influence the election.

At intelligence agencies, there was a push to process as much raw intelligence as possible into analyses, and to keep the reports at a relatively low classification level to ensure as wide a readership as possible across the government — and, in some cases, among European allies. This allowed the upload of as much intelligence as possible to Intellipedia, a secret wiki used by American analysts to share information.

There was also an effort to pass reports and other sensitive materials to Congress. In one instance, the State Department sent a cache of documents marked “secret” to Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland days before the Jan. 20 inauguration. The documents, detailing Russian efforts to intervene in elections worldwide, were sent in response to a request from Mr. Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

The Times reporting is gleaned from more than a half-dozen current and former officials, who say the directive did not come from President Obama himself. The officials, who spoke to the Times anonymously because they were divulging classified information, said they were coming forward in order to bring attention to the need for further congressional investigation into the matter. The FBI is currently investigating Russia’s election meddling and Trump ties to Russia.