Donald Trump routinely argues that federal officials "spied" on his campaign, committed "treason," and tried to "overthrow" a democratically elected administration. Most sensible observers realize that the president's hysterical rhetoric should not be taken seriously.
Attorney General Bill Barr is not one of those sensible observers. On the contrary, Trump's handpicked AG has begun a review of how the investigation into the Russia scandal began, as part of a process that treats the White House's conspiracy theories as if they have merit.
It's against this backdrop that Trump made some news fairly late last night, expanding Barr's power.
President Donald Trump has directed the U.S. intelligence community to "quickly and fully cooperate" with Attorney General William Barr's investigation of the origins of the multi-year probe of whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.The move Thursday marked an escalation in Trump's efforts to "investigate the investigators," as he continues to try to undermine the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe amid mounting Democratic calls to bring impeachment proceedings against Trump.
A White House statement on Trump's new directive said the president has "delegated full and complete authority" to the attorney general "to declassify information pertaining to this investigation."
I think it's fair to say much of the political world is still coming to terms with the practical effects of what, exactly, the White House has done, though House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) was understandably alarmed.
"While Trump stonewalls the public from learning the truth about his obstruction of justice, Trump and Barr conspire to weaponize law enforcement and classified information against their political enemies," Schiff wrote on Twitter. "The coverup has entered a new and dangerous phase. This is un-American."
Meanwhile, David Laufman, who was the head of counterintelligence at the Justice Department under President Obama, told us last night that Trump's move is "a grotesque abuse of the intelligence community to further his goal of political retribution, made worse by the spectacle of the Justice Department as his handmaiden."
Rachel also spoke to Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney, who added that Trump's directive appears to be "very significant."
"The idea that [agencies] should cooperate with each other, I have no problem with. But the idea of giving William Barr the power to declassify all of the material within the intelligence community is unprecedented. Ordinarily, each intelligence agency controls its own information because they are best able to assess whether it would compromise a source or method to disclose particular information -- with the director of national intelligence over all of it."Instead, President Trump has given all of that power to William Barr. You know, when I was practicing and handling cases, there were times when I wanted to bring a case but I was prevented from doing so because someone in the intelligence community made a decision that it would irreparably harm some source or method and that equity was worth more than my little case. So I accepted that they were acting in good faith when they made that decision."If William Barr who I think now has given at least the appearance that he is acting in the best interests of President Trump -- as opposed to the best interests of our national security -- has that power, I worry that it gives him the power to create a whole lot of mischief within the intelligence community and with the outcome of his investigation."
Rachel raised the related possibility that the attorney general has sought information from the intelligence community, been rebuffed, and then went to Trump for expanded power.
Watch this space.