For everyone who’s been worried about Attorney General Bill Barr’s lawless reign at the Department of Justice last night was the big moment. As you’ve likely already seen President Trump gave Barr blanket authority to access and declassify any and all classified information from the country’s dozen and a half intelligence agencies in his quest to “investigate the investigators” of the Russia scandal.There’s hardly any way to overstate just how big a deal this is or how dangerous it is in the hands of a corrupt official like Bill Barr.
First, this power is totally unprecedented. The President is the ultimate arbiter of what is and is not classified. There are processes in place and guidance he’s supposed to listen to to exercise that authority. But he doesn’t have to. Barr is free to disregard those rules, overrule the heads of the intelligence agencies in question in question or not even tell them what he’s doing.
There’s nothing sacrosanct about the judgment of the heads of these different agencies. The issue is that Barr has an agenda to help the President and punish his perceived enemies. Giving someone like that this kind of power is a recipe for disaster.
Barr has a proven record of selectively disclosing information with the aim of deceiving the public. That was what the Barr Letter was all about and he’s demonstrated that proclivity for deception ever since he took over the DOJ. This is the Barr Letter on steroids. Trump has given him the ability to selectively declassify information to create a narrative of events which supports the President. It goes without saying that if you can choose only the facts you want and sheer them of their context you can create almost any story you want. And that’s what Barr is about to do.
If anyone wants to declassify more information that clarifies the meaning of whatever Barr chose to declassify they won’t be able to. Because that’s up to the President or Bill Barr.
There’s a secondary part of this which doesn’t touch directly on propaganda creation. But it may be more important. This level of power basically gives Barr a whip hand over the entire Intelligence Community. And he seems to want to get his hands on the Russia desks especially. As the Times notes, “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.” These are likely among the most closely held secrets the US government has. They will all but certainly be communicated directly to the President.