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?