Trump issued an order that lets his attorney general declassify anything he wants about the Russia investigation. It's a move that's highly dangerous to members of the intelligence community — and everyone else.
Trump just gave his attorney general, William Barr, wholesale authority to investigate the nation's intelligence agencies and to declassify whatever he wants.
Barr is conducting an investigation into the actions of intelligence agencies during the 2016 election because he has bought into Trump's absurd contention that his campaign was spied upon leading up to the 2016 election. Trump's order, issued late Thursday, requires all 15 of the nation's intelligence agencies to cooperate with Barr's investigation.
But Trump's order does far more than give Barr the authority to demand cooperation from the intelligence agencies. It also gives him the right to "declassify, downgrade, or direct the declassification or downgrading of information or intelligence" related to his investigation. What this means is that Barr — chosen by Trump to protect him from any repercussions of the special counsel's investigation — now has unfettered authority to make public whatever he wants about the origins of the Russia probe.
And that investigation is going to endanger people in the intelligence community. An official who spoke to the New York Times said that Barr "wanted to know more about what foreign assets the C.I.A. had in Russia in 2016 and what those informants were telling the agency about how President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 election."
In other words, Barr has the power to unmask and publicize the identities of those people who worked to uncover Russia's backing of Trump.
Former high-level members of the intelligence community are already calling Trump out. David Laufman is the former head of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section at the DOJ and worked on both the Hillary Clinton email server investigation and the Russia probe. He called Trump's order "a grotesque abuse of the intelligence community to further [Trump's] goal of retribution."
Jeremy Bash, who was a CIA chief of staff during the Obama era, said that by "stripping the intelligence leaders of their ability to control information about sources and methods and handing that power to political actors," intelligence agents may worry that their identity would not be protected.
Bash also pointed out that "the power to declassify is also the power to selectively declassify, and selective declassification is one of the ways the Trump White House can spin a narrative about the origins of the Russia investigation to their point of view.”
Make no mistake: this effort is absolutely a way for Trump to investigate and harass political opponents.
Earlier on Thursday, after a reporter took pains to explain to Trump that treason was a crime punishable by death, Trump listed the people he believes are guilty of treason: James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page — all FBI employees who expressed reservations about Trump.
Trump also said "people probably higher than that" committed treason as well. He's likely implicating former President Barack Obama with that statement, as he is convinced that Obama ordered the surveillance of Trump's 2016 campaign.
If William Barr had any integrity, he would be resisting these sorts of efforts. Instead, he's happy to help Trump dismantle democracy.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.