Trump Prioritizes Prosecutions
On Thursday the president announced a declassification order covering the 2016 campaigns and related matters. This has been expected based on Trump's comments over the last few months and reporting by people like John Solomon. As has been customary over the last two years, Trump took sudden and decisive action that was mostly misunderstood in different ways by people on the left and the right.
On the left this action was understood as an attempt by the President to selectively release intelligence to damage his opponents politically. They think this order was designed to authorize Barr to give interviews and press conferences. To this end they're hoping that Barr was sufficiently discredited over the last few months so that people will discount these public proclamations of guilt.
On the right there was much rejoicing as at first people thought this would mean the imminent release of information they had been waiting for since Trump first said he would declassify last year. As the details of the order emerged most on the right understood the order much as people on the left. Barr would soon start releasing this classified information and Trump's opponents would be damaged. Some, realizing the release is now dependent on Barr, have devolved back into "Trump is screwed" conspiracies.
What both sides seem to have missed is exactly what was ordered. So let's take a look at the order. The first thing that stands out is the reference to Trump's Constitutionally vested powers. I have referenced in previous articles that Trump is using Constitutional authorities in ways most other recent Presidents have not had to. He came into office knowing that the government that he was elected to lead was out to remove him.
"By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct the following:"
So what is Trump using his Constitutional authority for in this order? Well in section one he orders the "heads of elements of the intelligence community and the heads of each department and agency" to provide assistance and information as Barr may request in connection with his review of "intelligence activities relating to the campaigns in the 2016 Presidential election and certain related matters."
His order is primarily designed to ensure that the departments involved in the intelligence apparatus of the United States fully cooperate with Barr's review. This isn't an IG review, it isn't compartmentalized by department. This isn't a congressional committee providing oversight. This is the Attorney General of the United States. His review is designed to establish the legal predicate for prosecution.
In section two Trump gets to the question of declassification. Barr's authority regarding declassification is limited to his review as described in the first section. The whole point of the declassification is to support Barr's effort. The whole point of Barr's effort is to resolve if laws were broken. If they were they will be prosecuted.
That section describes two standards that Barr con use to declassify. "Attorney General may, by applying the standard set forth in either section 3.1(a) or section 3.1(d) of Executive Order 13526". Under (a) "Information shall be declassified as soon as it no longer meets the standards for classification under this order." This seems to imply there are documents unnecessarily classified. That decision is no longer left with the agencies.
Under (d) "It is presumed that information that continues to meet the classification requirements under this order requires continued protection. In some exceptional cases, however, the need to protect such information may be outweighed by the public interest in disclosure of the information, and in these cases the information should be declassified. When such questions arise, they shall be referred to the agency head or the senior agency official. That official will determine, as an exercise of discretion, whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs the damage to the national security that might reasonably be expected from disclosure."
So Trump has now consolidated the decisions of all these various agency heads into Barr's hands. He can, "as an exercise of discretion" determine that materials that otherwise deserve classification can be declassified for "the public interest". What is that interest? This can "never ever happen to anyone else". We will get back to that quote shortly.
Now in announcing this order Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, doesn't call it a review. She calls it what it is. An investigation. She also reveals that this was done at the request of AG Barr. And here's the best part, she says this is being done "in accordance with long established standards for handling classified information". Yeah so you know Executive Order 13526. It was issued in December 2009 by Barrack Obama.
This wasn't initiated by Trump as some political vengeance play. It was initiated by Barr as a measure necessary to complete his investigation. Ultimately it wasn't done for Trump at all or for this moment in time. Trump survived. The coup plotters already lost. The part that is being completely missed is that this is being done for future Presidents. Barr believes in the unified executive. Barr specifically came back because he saw the rules were being changed for Trump but those changes would leave a weakened Presidency and a weakened country.
So how do you ensure this never happens again? You prosecute people who believed they were safe to take it into their hands to undermine and reign in the duly elected President. You ensure that the legal penalty they pay is so severe that no one will ever consider doing this again.
Look at how Trump described it the next morning:
“We want to be fully transparent so as you know we declassified everything. Everything they want. I put it under the auspices of the Attorney General. So he’s going to be in charge of it. He’s a great gentleman and a highly respected man. So everything that they need is declassified. And they’ll be able to see how this hoax, this witch hunt, started and why it started. It was an attempted coup or an attempted take down of the president of the United States. It should never ever happen to anyone else. So it’s very important. Now people have been asking me to declassify for a long period of time. I’ve decided to do it and you’re going to learn a lot. I hope it’s going to be nice but perhaps it wont.” https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/05/24/full_replay_president_trump_press_conference_ahead_of_trip_to_japan.html
He's handed to the prosecutors everything they need to make their case. He's stripped from the coup plotters one of their best protections, the safety of hiding behind classified material. What will be declassified? We likely won't know until the indictments are handed down.
The one key to this plan is the Attorney General. Is Barr the historic figure we hope he is? Even Trump admits he doesn't really know how it will turn out. He hopes it will be nice "but perhaps it won't". Trump hasn't fixed anything. Nothing is rigged. He didn't do what would have been politically expedient. Instead he empowered his AG to make sure this never ever happens to anyone else. He prioritized prosecutions.
Note: It is my opinion, explained in previous articles, that there has been an investigation run out of the White House since day one of the Trump Presidency. I believe that, when Trump demonstrably says "We declassified EVERYTHING", he is referring to investigative findings that resulted from various sting traps. I will be writing more on this later.