President Donald Trump said Thursday he's pressing for a full investigation into the intelligence leaks that led to the ouster of former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Circa can confirm that one of the agencies that they’re looking at is the Department of Justice.
The scope of persons and agencies that would have had access to the information contained in the transcribed phone calls is relatively small and would include DOJ officials as well, several U.S. officials told Circa.
The leaks, which were reported in detail by The Washington Post, regarded the relatively short phone conversation between Flynn and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Ivanovich Kislyak.
Despite calls from some Democrats and Republicans to investigate Flynn, the FBI announced Thursday that they would not be investigating him. Sources close to Flynn told Circa he was willing and ready to speak to anybody or any committee about his conversation and that he broke no laws.
Although the FBI is under the jurisdiction of the DOJ and would have access to the documentation, so does DOJ’s counterespionage division, a U.S. official told Circa. The information from the intercepts was also spread more widely in January when DOJ officials briefed White House officials and other elements of the intelligence community. That also expanded the potential pool of people that could leak, to include the NSA and the CIA.
Circa contacted the DOJ Thursday night but officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
The DOJ's intelligence division also "bears the responsibility of overseeing the foreign intelligence, counterintelligence and other national security activities of the United States Intelligence Community to ensure compliance with the Constitution, statutes and Executive Branch policies," according to its website.
On Wednesday Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to DOJ Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz saying that they "request that your office begin an immediate investigation into whether classified information was mishandled here."
Chris Farrell, a former counterintelligence official and director of investigations and research at Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog organization, said they are expecting "documents and records on FOIA requests we filed concerning investigations being conducted by the DOJ on Trump's transition team."
Farrell said if the request is not fulfilled by next Wednesday, Judicial Watch will sue.
He said, "it would be a very narrow universe of persons who would have had access to that classified material. Even the number of persons who would have access should be definable. That sort of communication intelligence, or COMINT (communications intelligence) collection activity is very specific. The list of people is narrow."
However, just before President Obama left office, he expanded the power of the National Security Agency allowing the agency to the intercepted phone calls and personal communications with the 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections, according to a story written by The New York Times.
These expansions of powers also widen the scope of people who may have had access to the details contained in the classified phone intercepts.
On Jan. 12, David Ignatius, with the Washington Post wrote a column where he referenced a senior U.S. government official who told him that "Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions?" Ignatius referred to the Logan Act in his column and whether or not Flynn undermined the sanctions Obama put in place at the end of his term against Russia.
Michael O'Hanlon, a senior foreign policy expert with The Brookings Institute told Cira that Flynn didn't violate the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from cutting deals with countries the United States is in dispute with.
He added, everybody knew Trump's "Russia policy, and everybody knew things like sanctions would probably be reconsidered. Moreover, I don’t see that there was a specific promise made in this phone transcript. I don’t see anymore than Flynn confirming there would be a new direction in U.S. Russia policy under President Trump.”
On Thursday at Trump's first solo press conference, he defended Flynn, saying the retired Army general "did nothing wrong" and in fact, was "doing his job."
When asked if he directed Flynn to make the calls to the Russian ambassador Trump said, "I didn't direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn't do it," Trump said.
It's still anyone's guess who will replace Flynn to head the National Security Agency. On Friday, President Trump tweeted that he's considering General Keith Kellog, the acting national security advisor, as well former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, and Army strategist Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. On Thursday, Vice Adm. Robert Harward turned down the position after reports that the White House wouldn't meet his staffing demands.