Trump move to declassify Russia intel draws sharp criticism

Trump move to declassify Russia intel draws sharp criticism

WASHINGTON- Agence France-Presse
Trump move to declassify Russia intel draws sharp criticism

President Donald Trump is defending his unprecedented decision to give his Justice Department chief unfettered access to the country's deepest foreign intelligence secrets amid an outcry from the spy community and a veiled warning from the U.S. intelligence czar.

The president said Attorney General Bill Barr needed unilateral power to declassify any top secret material to get to the roots of the 2016-2018 investigation into whether his election campaign colluded with Russia.

Barr "will be able to see how this hoax, how the hoax or witch hunt started, and why it started," Trump said.

"It was an attempted coup or an attempted takedown of the president of the United States. It should never ever happen to anybody else, so it's very important."           

But politicians and former intelligence community leaders said Trump and Barr are threatening to expose the country's most protected sources of secrets on Russia to mount a political attack on a legitimate investigation that exposed a serious threat to the United States.

The brief order issued late on May 23 tells the heads of each of the bodies of the intelligence community, including the CIA and National Security Agency, to support Barr in his review of what he has called suspected improper "spying" on Trump by the FBI and intelligence bodies.

It also gives Barr the power to access and declassify any information he views necessary, which could extend to the top-secret sources of information that intelligence chiefs used to conclude that Russian President Vladimir Putin presided over a concerted effort to sway the election on Trump's behalf in 2016.

The same information led to the investigation of Trump by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose final report in April detailed numerous acts of possible collusion, but concluded none amounted to criminal conspiracy.

Critics said Trump and Barr, who has become one of the president's staunchest defenders, were playing fast and loose with intelligence for political reasons.

"The president has granted 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," said Senator Mark Warner, the leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"People risk their lives to gather the intelligence material that President Trump and Attorney General Barr are so eager to politicize."   

Former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin called for Congress to thwart the move.