By Kimberley A. Strassel
Even new habits are hard to break, and that’s the case with a federal intelligence apparatus that can’t keep its fingers out of elections. It seems President-elect Biden on Nov. 4, 2020, owed thanks not only to a cabal of former intelligence officials, but to the Central Intelligence Agency.
That’s the big takeaway of this week’s interim report from House committees detailing the origins of the October 2020 disinformation letter about Hunter Biden’s laptop. An earlier release revealed that Joe Biden’s campaign helped engineer a statement from 51 former U.S. spies that claimed the laptop had “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” That letter provided Democrats, journalists and social-media companies the excuse to dismiss and censor evidence of Hunter’s influence peddling, removing an obstacle from his father’s path to victory.
Now we find out that, according to a written statement supplied to the committee, an active CIA official joined the effort to solicit more signers to the letter. The campaign to elect Joe Biden extended into Langley.
The report (issued jointly by the Judiciary and Intelligence committees and the Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government) tells the sordid story of the letter, beginning with a call from Biden campaign official Antony Blinken to former Deputy CIA Director Mike Morell three days after the New York Post published its laptop scoop. Mr. Morell told the committees that Mr. Blinken wanted his “reaction” to the laptop news, but another signer said Mr. Morell put it to him bluntly: the Biden campaign “asked” for the letter.
Mr. Morell says he scurried to help because he wanted Joe Biden “to win the election,” or, as he emailed former CIA Director John Brennan, because he wanted him to have “a talking point” for the final presidential debate. Behind the scenes he campaigned for more sign-ups, because “the more former intelligence officers the better” and the “campaign will be thrilled.” The organizers put special focus on flagging the credentials of officials with Russia experience to lend credibility to their unsubstantiated claims.
The initial draft contained two impassioned paragraphs defending Mr. Biden against criticism over his son’s seedy work in Ukraine. Some viewed them as too partisan, and they were removed. We learn that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper—last seen playing bandmaster in the Russia-collusion hoax—contributed the “all the classic earmarks” line to “strengthen the verbiage.” We also learn that of the 36 former intel officials Mr. Morell approached, 26 declined to sign—something organizers failed to note when flogging their letter as the widespread view of the intel community.
So far, so partisan. Here’s where it crosses a line. Former CIA employees are required to submit things they intend to make public to the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board, to ensure they aren’t spilling classified info. The board is made up of CIA officials and is small and notoriously slow. Its website warns that even “routine” items like résumés or op-eds “may require several weeks to months” for approval.
No such problem for the well-connected Mr. Morell. He submitted his letter for clearance at 6:34 a.m. on Oct. 19, and presto, it was approved by 12:44 p.m. A colleague texts him to congratulate: “U have some juice!” Mr. Morell—at the time auditioning for the CIA job in a Biden administration—jokes: “They are probably afraid I’m coming back!”
Around the same time, former CIA official David Cariens receives a call from a person on the board. After telling Mr. Cariens that his memoir had been approved (lucky!), the official suddenly tells him about the draft letter, describes its contents, and asks him to get on board. He does, as does his wife, also a former CIA official. Mr. Cariens now says he can’t remember the person’s name or when the call happened. He nonetheless sent an email to the organizers declaring himself a willing signatory at 10:35 a.m.
That a CIA official was using government time and resources to scheme with outside partisans to assist in Mr. Biden’s victory is worthy of termination.