President Donald Trump can only escalate. He cannot help it.
On Thursday night, he spread from his own presidential account a video of the speaker of the House, edited to splice together moments when she stumbled over her words, in an apparent effort to deceive people into thinking her drunk or ill. In 2016, Trump’s Russian supporters performed this service for him with faked videos of Hillary Clinton. Now he seems to have decided that if you want a dirty-tricks campaign done right, you must do it yourself.
At the same time, he has put the declassification powers of the presidency to work as part of a larger campaign of cover-up.
Trump directed his attorney general to declassify documents in an effort to depict Trump’s campaign as a victim of improper surveillance in 2016. Trump tweeted that the attorney general had “requested” these powers. That may even be true. But Trump has been demanding such an investigation of U.S. intelligence agencies since long before William Barr got the top law-enforcement job. Barr is compliant and complicit, but the idea is all Trump’s.
The declassification process will be selective, of course, in service to a predetermined narrative. Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers are fiercely battling in court to suppress congressional subpoenas for the financial documents that would cast light on Trump’s pre-2016 finances.
Who will trust or credit in any way the integrity of a Barr-led investigation? The intelligence agencies found evidence that alarmed them enough about the campaign’s Russia connections to justify a request for warrants. A federal court reviewed that evidence and authorized and reauthorized the warrants. Will that evidence be declassified?
Barr mischaracterized the content of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report in his letter summarizing its conclusions. He set aside Mueller’s reluctance to interpret the evidence of obstruction of justice, instead taking the decision upon himself—and decided in his boss’s favor. He held his peace as the president used his bully pulpit to falsely claim over more than a month that a report nobody else was allowed to see absolved him of wrongdoing, when the report did no such thing. And now Barr is tasked to declassify documents as he thinks fit to support conclusions already whistled up by Trump?
Trump will be acting as his own Julian Assange, releasing U.S. secrets to advance his agenda.
If Trump’s claims had any basis in reality, he would convene an independent commission of respected fact finders. Instead, he has relied on supporters willing to do his bidding—first Devin Nunes, now William Barr. The mission he has assigned them: Fight to suppress documents properly subpoenaed by Congress to answer important public questions, then pick and choose U.S. national secrets to defame career professionals who sought to protect the integrity of the nation’s elections against foreign adversaries who manipulated those elections in Trump’s favor.
Where’s the cover-up? This is the cover-up, as the White House and the office of the attorney general collude to conceal what the public deserves to know.