Trump memo: Former intelligence officials and Democrats attack president's 'un-American' security instructions

Move comes amid stand-off between Democrats and White House

Lily Puckett
New York
Friday 24 May 2019 20:37
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Carl Bernstein: William Barr is abetting the 'most authoritarian president'

Donald Trump gave attorney general William Barr the unilateral authority to declassify intelligence documents and ordered the US intelligence community to “quickly and fully cooperate” with his work in an official memorandum.

The move is meant to accelerate Mr Barr’s inquiry into whether US officials improperly monitored or carried out surveillance on the president’s 2016 campaign.

The directive signed on Thursday night alarmed former intelligence officials and Democratic legislators, who see it as a move to “investigate the investigators” probing the president’s alleged ties to Russia.

David Kris, former head of the justice department’s national security division, told the AP that it’s “very unusual — unprecedented in my experience — for a non-intelligence officer to be given absolute declassification authority over the intelligence”.

John McLaughlin, former deputy director of the CIA who served as acting director in 2004, tweeted disapproval as well.

“Giving Barr declassification authority for this investigation is a really bad idea,” Mr McLaughlin wrote. “The agencies can cooperate but must retain their legal responsibility for protecting sources. Congressional intelligence committees need to stand in the door on this one.”

The move gives Mr Barr the power to unilaterally unseal documents that the justice department has historically regarded as among its most highly secret, such as warrants obtained from the foreign intelligence surveillance court, which are never usually made public.

Donald Trump refuses to rule out death for former FBI officials

Mr Trump also gave the declassification power explicitly to Mr Barr, noting that it would not extend to another attorney general. It is to be used only for Mr Barr’s review of the Russia investigation.

Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, pointed out that lawmakers still do not have the full Mueller report.

“So of course the president gives sweeping declassification powers to an attorney general who has already shown that he has no problem selectively releasing information in order to mislead the American people,” Mr Warner tweeted on Friday morning.

Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, called Mr Trump’s decision “un-American”.

“While Trump stonewalls the public from learning the truth about his obstruction of justice, Trump and Barr conspire to weaponise law enforcement and classified information against their political enemies,” Mr Schiff wrote on Twitter. “The cover-up has entered a new and dangerous phase.”

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