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.”
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