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President Trump last week gave his political appointee, Attorney General William Barr, full authority to declassify information from intelligence agencies related to “surveillance activities” in the Russia probe. The move is being questioned by intelligence officials and has stoked fears it could weaken national security. Special correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.
Late last week President Trump gave Attorney General William Barr full authority to declassify information from all intelligence agencies related to surveillance activities in the Russia investigation. The move has been called unprecedented by former intelligence officials and has stoked fears that it could weaken national security. Joining me now from Santa Barbara is special correspondent Jeff Greenfield. Jeff, the president has a idea that this entire thing, let's say the Mueller Report, where the fruits of those labors and then the tree itself this poison the surveillance activities that happened during the campaign at Trump Tower etc, they should be ferreted out, what's wrong with him saying it was attorney general get to the bottom of it and unclassified anything you need to get?
Well, from the intelligence agencies perspective the danger is that you now have a political appointee of the president, who if he is serving the president's political interests, may be compromising intelligence sources. Where did this information come from. And if our adversaries were able to figure out who the sources were that could pose a serious serious issue. The second thing I would say is there is no dispute at all among any intelligence people that Russia did in fact try to interfere with the election questions whether the Trump campaign had anything to do about it. And so if the goal of the president is to undercut that essential argument you can see how a war would begin setup between the president and his political people and his own appointees in the intelligence operations.
The intelligence operations have been fairly consistent throughout this entire episode saying that there is a connection to Russia that the Russians did interfere. But the president has a completely different narrative and he's been selling that to his followers and voters.
That's right. And Mueller report is clear about the sweeping nature of what the Russians tried to do in 2016. Even the most ardent Trump supporters I think on Capitol Hill the Republicans really will push back on that. And so there's one. One of the questions that arises from all this is to what extent is the information that the attorney general is prepared to declassify in the service of finding out what happened or in the service of the president's political agenda?
And why is it so unusual? I mean technically the attorney generals have served at the pleasure of the president and been appointed to these roles before. What's so different about the types of powers that William Barr might have access to now.
Yeah look I think it is very important to underline that point. You know attorneys general do not come in as a neutral observer as being Robert Kennedy was President Kennedy's brother for heaven's sakes. But now you're dealing with an attorney general with the power to declassify information of the most sensitive sort. And I don't believe any attorney general has ever been granted that power. And to be blunt there are an awful lot of people who don't trust at least the president to make these decisions based on some broad notion of we have to find out what happened. Remember the the whole argument of some of the town's most ardent supporters this is all a deep state plot. These people that he's called traders have tried to undermine him. And what I'm most interested in observing is will Gina Haspel and Dan Coats, the two key intelligence appointees of Trump, push back on this. And if so once again what will the Republicans on Capitol Hill do. Will they institutionally defend the intelligence services or will they side with the president no matter what he decides to declassify. Once again how are you. We are in more unchartered waters than you know the crew of Kon Tiki. And we just don't know where this is going to lead because we haven't seen anything quite like this before.
Alright, Jeff Greenfield joining us from Santa Barbara tonight. Thanks so much.
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