Because this is the Donald Trump era, the news that the president has “repeatedly urged” the Army Corps of Engineers to give a lucrative contract to a GOP donor and frequent Fox News guest is only the second most scandalous story of the day. The most scandalous is this one:
President Trump has granted Attorney General William P. Barr “full and complete authority” to declassify government secrets, issuing a memorandum late Thursday that orders U.S. intelligence agencies to cooperate promptly with Barr’s audit of the investigation into Russia’s election interference in 2016.
The president’s move gives Barr broad powers to unveil carefully guarded intelligence secrets about the Russia investigation, which the attorney general requested to allow him to quickly carry out his review, according to the memo.
Barr’s “investigation” is nothing but a propaganda exercise, an effort to provide ballast to the lunatic idea that there should never have been any investigation at all into Russia’s attempts to help Trump get elected president. But we have to be clear about just how shocking this order from Trump is.
The executive order not only gives Barr permission to “declassify, downgrade, or direct the declassification or downgrading of information or intelligence” to whatever degree he likes, but also orders the leaders of every intelligence agency to give him whatever he wants. If he wants to declassify something and they object, tough luck for them. The New York Times reports that this is “likely to irk the intelligence community”:
One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, said previously that Mr. 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.
Needless to say, the identity of foreign assets is one of the most sensitive categories of information intelligence agencies hold. If we had a different attorney general, you might say, “Well, surely he’ll exercise the utmost care in what he reveals to the public.” But with virtually every action Barr has taken and statement he has made, he has shown himself to be someone who is only too happy to deceive the public, mislead Congress, go on Fox News to spin on the president’s behalf, and generally act as though the only purpose of his office is to cover up for Trump. The idea that this political hack would conduct any investigation related to this president with any other goal in mind is, at this point, not even worth discussing.
Which is why it’s so important to emphasize that his investigation is a propaganda exercise. Its purpose is not to discover some unknown truth, because despite what Trump and Barr have said, we know exactly how the Russia investigation began. It began, as the Mueller report states, when Trump aide George “Papadopoulos suggested to a representative of [Australia] that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the campaign through the anonymous release of information that could be damaging to Hillary Clinton,” and the Australians informed the FBI.
Barr is not trying to learn more about whether there was something fishy about that investigation. He’s looking for information that can then be selectively declassified in order to help Trump and undermine his perceived enemies. If that involves compromising sensitive intelligence, he won’t hesitate for a moment.
We can be pretty sure of what’s going to happen. Barr will scour every record he can to learn as much as possible about the Russia investigation. Whenever he comes across something that can be spun to make the FBI or anyone Trump has decided is his enemy look bad, he’ll put it in the “Declassify” pile. Then he’ll release it all to the public and hold a news conference where he suggests that there was a conspiracy to take down Trump. The president will then take to Twitter to proclaim that he was indeed the victim of a vile witch hunt that has at last been exposed. The news media, in possession of only the materials Barr has chosen to give them, will struggle to avoid amplifying and reinforcing Barr’s claims.
In case you were wondering what happens when an infinitely corrupt president decides to use the powers of the federal government for his own self-interest with the help of lackeys he has installed to protect him, this is it. Now just wait until he tells Barr to go after the Democratic nominee for president.