Late in the day on May 23, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum ordering the heads of the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, and the Directors of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency to give Attorney General William Barr unfettered access to information about “intelligence activities relating to the campaigns in the 2016 Presidential election and certain related matters.
” The memorandum gives Barr the authority to declassify or downgrade the classification of any information he sees fit as part of the investigation.
Barr’s investigation is not into electoral interference by foreign actors during the 2016 presidential campaign, but rather into whether US law enforcement and intelligence illegally spied on the Trump campaign. In an interview with Fox News earlier this month, Barr explained that “people have to find out what the government was doing during that period…If we’re worried about foreign influence, for the very same reason we should be worried about whether government officials abuse their power and put their thumb on the scale.”
The memorandum states that Barr can “declassify, downgrade, or direct the declassification or downgrading of information or intelligence that relates to the Attorney General’s review.” No restrictions are placed on what Barr can declassify, other than an instruction that “the Attorney General should, to the extent he deems it practicable, consult with the head of the originating intelligence community element or department.”
The order drew fire from Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In a Twitter post, Schiff said:
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.
The coverup has entered a new and dangerous phase.
This is un-American.
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 24, 2019
The blanket order to allow declassification of data may quickly create rifts with US allies as well. Reports indicate that much of the information used as evidence in the Mueller investigation came from data sharing by other members of the Five Eyes—the intelligence alliance that ties together the agencies of the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Much of it, according to a report in The Independent in 2017, came from the UK’s GCHQ.
Trump already has reportedly created tension with allied intelligence agencies, starting very early in his term when he shared information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov during an Oval Office visit. The information had come from Israeli intelligence sources.