- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2020

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley is pressing a Pentagon official to disclose more about his source relationship with The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, whose January 2017 column triggered the FBI to target retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican, made the request Friday in a letter to James H. Baker, director of the Defense Department’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA).

The letter contained a list of broad inquiries, including a question about one of Mr. Baker’s contract researchers, FBI informant Stefan Halper. Mr. Grassley, citing a Washington Times report, noted that Mr. Halper claimed in one study that he had consulted with various foreign policy experts. But those experts told The Times they never contributed to his work.

In the Flynn matter, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch gained copies of emails between Mr. Baker and Mr. Ignatius in 2016-17 via the Freedom of Information Act. They confirmed that the two maintained a close source-reporter relationship.

Mr. Flynn’s attorney, Sidney Powell, alleged in a court filing that it was Mr. Baker who told Mr. Ignatius about phone calls between her client and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition. The subsequent Ignatius column proved crucial to igniting the Trump-Russia investigation.

The column said Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak spoke about economic sanctions. Trump aides denied it. That provided a reason for then-FBI Agent Peter Strzok to interview Mr. Flynn, President Trump’s national security adviser, since an intercepted call transcript said he had in fact discussed sanctions.

DOCUMENT: Read Sen. Grassley's letter to the Pentagon

Mr. Grassley is asking Mr. Baker to remove all redactions in 143 pages of emails and turn them over to this staff. The senator cited “the overlap in time between the majority of the emails and the leak of the call” and “your apparent close relationship with Mr. Ignatius.”

Mr. Grassley also is asking Mr. Baker questions about whether he might have been the source for the Ignatius column:

“Did you provide any information relating to any Flynn-Kislyak call to the media? If so, what information?”

“Did you provide any information relating to any Flynn-Kislyak call to an individual with the knowledge that it would be shared by that individual to the media? If so, what information?

“In your communications with Mr. Ignatius, did you ever provide Mr. Ignatius any information related to Lt. Gen. Flynn? If so, what information?”

Since Ms. Powell’s court filing, there has been no independent evidence that Mr. Baker was the leaker. The Times asked Mr. Baker to respond at the time. He declined through a spokesman, citing unspecified pending administrative matters.

Mr. Grassley also zeroed-in on Mr. Halper’s lucrative contractor status with ONA.

A long -time national security figure in Washington and a professor at England’s Cambridge University, Mr. Halper also served undercover as a confidential FBI informant.

The FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” Trump-Russia agents tapped him to spy on two campaign volunteers — Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. Mr. Halper wore a wire in conversations with both, but neither ever admitted to or said they knew of any campaign role in an election conspiracy

The Washington Times reported in October 2018 that Mr. Halper received a $244,000 ONA contract to write a Russia-China study in 2015-16. His study boasted a list of 43 “advisors and consultants,” such as former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden.

The Times asked Mr. Hayden about the Halper study. “No memory of project or person,” he said.

The newspaper reached out to 12 listed contributors. Ten said they played no role in Mr. Halper’s work.

In August 2019, the Defense Department inspector general issued a report saying Mr. Halper failed to document the research he said he had conducted for four ONA studies worth more than $1 million.

For example, for the Russia-China study cited by The Times, Mr. Halper submitted a “statement of work” promising to plumb the minds of top foreign policy experts and visit major defense institutions.

“None of the 851 footnotes in the deliverables attributed source material to an interview conducted by Professor Halper,” the inspector general said. “ONA personnel could not provide us any evidence that Professor Halper visited any of these locations, established an advisory group, or met with any of the specific people listed in the statement of work.”

For another China study, the IG said: “According to the statement of work, Professor Halper proposed travel to London, England and Tokyo, Japan. The contract was fixed price based on the acceptance of the deliverables and did not require Professor Halper to submit travel receipts. ONA personnel could not provide documentation that Professor Halper traveled for this contract.”

In light of the findings, Mr. Grassley wrote to Mr. Baker: “It is also perplexing that ONA continues to assert that Halper fulfilled the obligations set forth in his contracts . when citations in his work appear to give contribution to individuals who had no involvement in the work.”

“Can you state with certainty that Halper interviewed the individuals that he claimed to interview for his research papers?” the senator asked. “If not, how can you claim that Halper’s work was of high quality?’

Mr. Grassley told Mr. Baker that his office has stonewalled efforts to obtain all Halper records.

“It appears that either ONA has refused to comply with my requests, or that ONA simply does not maintain full records of Halper’s work,” the Republican senator said.

Mr. Grassley also released a February letter from Mr. Baker responding to the senator’s earlier inquiry.

“We reviewed all of Dr. Halper’s completed work for maturity of analysis, comprehensiveness of research, and clarity in writing,” said Mr. Baker, who was appointed during the Obama administration.

Mr. Baker said that once Mr. Grassley inquired about Mr. Halper last January, ONA asked an unnamed security office to vet the researcher. “That security agency found no derogatory information on Professor Halper,” Mr. Baker said.

“The ONA team is a very small and capable organization busy doing what it is chartered to do,” Mr. Baker said. “It remains widely respected by its customers, including the senior-most policy makers and military leaders in the country.”

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide