Last week’s White House decision to give the attorney general total discretion about selectively making public information collected, processed, vetted and held by 17 federal intelligence agencies was too broad a policy to let pass without question.
While I am all for transparency in government documents, I have handled materials for which it was necessary to remove names. But as Wikileaks taught us, it can be all too easy to unveil a confidential source or method, purposefully or unintentionally, in the drive towards proving an end goal — this time towards protecting this president’s insistence that he is a victim of political mayhem.
What puts the decision into the danger zone for me is the attorney general himself. Over the last several weeks, Atty. Gen. William P. Barr has made clear that he sees his role as protecting the presidency — and its current occupant, Donald Trump.
Whatever else we might say about the inappropriateness of Barr’s views, he has also emerged as the one Trump Cabinet appointee who is totally prepared to use his executive powers. Beyond question, he is competent and knows his patch of ground. He has been attorney general before, under former President George H.W. Bush, and understands how to weave or complicate the intersections between his agencies and the Washington bureaucracy.
A total handle
Barr has a total handle on dealing with the nations law enforcement, its view of legal authority, its contacts with both the Congress and the Judiciary, and his own interpretation of the law.
That Barr has decided to throw in with the extreme, partisan views of Trump about what behavior and policies pass as legal is more than unfortunate.
This same Barr is also not making public the evidence from the Mueller Report or sharing the unredacted report with Congress, citing rules about protecting grand jury testimony, but now we are supposed to trust that he will be judicious in examining the most secret files of the intelligence agencies—which also include shared intelligence from foreign allies. Of course, this same Trump is the one leading rally calls to “Lock Her Up” for Hillary Clinton emails that inadvertently disclosed a few non-critical classified (or not yet classified) notes.
Without a strong hand on a more acceptable route for what is Constitutional and legal, Barr now has new powers that will allow him to go after any American who dares to question Trump, the United States, or any group that clashes with a Trump-centric view of the world.
We are about to see exactly how Barr, who cleverly misled the public about the Mueller investigation, uses these new powers to rip the lid from the FBI and the other counterintelligence agencies here and abroad and make public whatever selective material will support the Trump view that he was the target of a treasonous coup attempt.
What will be the reaction among FBI agents that Barr is now selectively making public confidential sources and methods in pursuit of a political agenda? How will intelligence agencies overseas react to questions of sharing information and sources if they know Barr can make it all public? Do you think Donald Trump thought any of this through before taking his political chisel to remake the framework for law enforcement in this country?
Right behind that investigation of the origins of the special counsel probe will be re-statements of law to absolve the president and Cabinet members from financial misdoings, from post-presidential prosecution for campaign finance violations or possible fraud charges from manipulation of bank documents, and on and on.
Protecting Trump is a full-time job.
Not just the Mueller fallout
Beyond that, Barr’s decision to pursue criminal espionage charges against Wikileaks leader Julian Assange will be seen as a precedent for more legal attacks on press freedoms in this country and abroad. Previously, Assange was facing charges for abetting a computer break-in, not for publishing material the United States would rather not have seen published.
Now, what will now stop a Russia or China or Saudi Arabia from charging a US journalist or publisher?
It will be the same Barr who has changed the government’s stand on the legality of the Affordable Care Act and healthcare in this country. It will be the same Barr who will put his thumb on the abortion question, on the enforcement or not of civil rights, of what we do about guns in this country and the continuing pandemic of school shootings.
The irony of Trump happening not only upon a loyalist for attorney general, but one who is legally competent, especially when compared to the likes of Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos or Wilber Ross, is that it will be Barr who will prove the most dangerous to the American people.
We can only imagine what makes Barr tick. But we need to show no imagination to see that Barr is launching his investigation of the investigators merely as an effort with a forgone, pro-Trump outcome.
Barr is Making America Dangerous.
Let’s make a hat.