Saturday, July 27, 2019

UPDATED: Important Clarification On Declassification?

I've noted that in the past week or two we've been getting some releases of information on the progress of the Russia Hoax investigation that appear to be intended to reassure conservatives on two points:

1) Bill Barr's committment to getting to the bottom of it all, and

2) The fact that real progress is being made without undue delay.

President Trump gave an extended interview on "Hannity," July 25, 2019, and in the interview, in response to a question from Hannity, he provided what appears to be a clarification on the whole issue of "declassification." I assume that Trump was given a heads up as to what Hannity's questions would be, or what topics would be covered. Therefore, Trump's response was probably prepared beforehand.

The subject of declassification has been a sore topic in some corners of the conservative commentariat--CTH leads the way, in this respect. Some conservatives have even suggested that the lack of a massive document dump into the public sphere means that somehow a coverup--led by Bill Barr--is underway. That, again, has been suggested several times at CTH. Here is Hannity's question and Trump's response (to the extent that it bears upon declass):

HANNITY: Mr. President, you have the power to literally release the FISA applications and the 302's and the gang made information and you made a decision to hand it over to the Attorney General and let him decide. And I'm curious as to why? 
TRUMP: Well, we have a very respected gentleman, very high quality person named William Barr and he is doing - I can tell you he's working so hard and rather than just doing a total release, I gave him a total release, in other words he's got everything anything he needs, he's got it. 
He is the Attorney General of the United States. He's got a lot of very good people under him that I guess are involved and I gave them a total release. So all of it has been released and he has all of it. I've also given him authorization to release it to whoever he wants. Whether it's his people or, frankly, perhaps people like Devin Nunes who is a star, what he has done and the amount of suffering he has gone through, you know what they did with him where they tried to drive him right out of politics and probably worse than that. He has done an incredible job.

Here's how I take this.

It sounds to me that when the President speaks of a "total release" that means that the President--who, of course, has total access as the chief executive--has granted Barr the same access. That means that Barr can demand access to any classified information that he needs to conduct this investigation. That is not the same as declassification. Barr can also declassify it, but that would require going through the usual time consuming process. The main point is that Barr has the authority to get what he needs to get the job done.

Of course Barr can't run the entire investigation on his own. He has vast responsibilities in many areas--as I pointed out in Being Attorney General: Bill Barr. Therefore, Trump also has "given him authorization to release it to whoever he wants. Whether it's his people or, frankly, perhaps people like Devin Nunes ..."

This means that Barr is authorized to delegate that access to the attorneys and investigators working on the Russia Hoax. Trump says, "to whoever he wants," but I assume it's all done on a "need to know" basis. The important thing is that it's being done.

Finally, that delegation or authority to release to others appears to extend to key members of the Legislative Branch. Trump specifically names Devin Nunes, whom he clearly trusts. That this has been ongoing already may be suggested by the fact that there was word that Nunes and others had been given access to a hitherto unknown third "scope memo" from Rosenstein to Mueller. That's also an interesting confirmation that Barr's "investigation of the investigators" does extend to Team Mueller.

All good news. We shouldn't expect massive or indiscriminate document dumps. I think what the recent revelations show, however, is that Barr is sensitive to the need to maintain a level of civic involvement in his ongoing investigation. We should therefore anticipate that those revelations will continue.

UPDATE: Some writers, like Paul Sperry, are referring to what Trump terms "total release" of documents to Barr as "declassification." I may be wrong about this, but until I get a clearer understanding of this my assumption is simply that Barr--who must have very high level clearances already--has simply been given access to whatever he deems necessary for the investigation. He has access, but the documents probably haven't been declassified. In addition, he has the authority to also give access to others on a "need to know" basis. Nunes, who is also mentioned by Sperry, already has high level clearances as well, so that all fits in. The same would go for the lawyers and agents working on the case--they all already have, at a minimum, Top Secret clearances. It's really just a matter of extending their need to know. This is what I'm assuming.


  1. My vague memory with classified info (many years ago working with secret military stuff) - there was no formal procedure to share secret info. Whoever had physical access to secret info COULD provide access to others who showed appropriate clearance (a photo badge displaying their clearance) and who convinced the owner they had a "need" to see the secret info. There was no requirement to share secret info with anybody. You could simply refuse, then the bosses would get involved.

    So this may involve the typical bureaucratic squabbling - people not wanting to share their precious secret stuff. It may take LEOs walking around with both their LEO badge and top-secret clearance badge, threatening people with obstruction, to pry all the info out of people's hands.

    1. What I see here is inter-agency stuff. Without Trump doing this, Barr could not tell CIA, hey, I need to see xyz docs and I'm going to share it with Durham and Nunes and Horowitz. Wouldn't happen. Same with State. Or NSA. Now it probably is already happening.

    2. It probably even helps with FBI, even though they're within DoJ. Especially re asset/informant materials.

  2. I assumed Trump's initial announcement was made publicly so that there would be no inter-agency turf battles about classified materials--as in many instances the investigators won't know what they're looking for until they find it, i.e. they won't have identified in advance specific documents.

    As in the Flynn case where Sidney Powell is going through tens? hundreds? of thousands of documents--what is germane will be a small fraction of that number, but many/most are necessary for the complete picture.

    One reason for not releasing declassified materials (yet, until their providential use is demonstrated) is such materials will telegraph to possible prosecution targets the investigatory progress, and might prompt manufactured testimony (witnesses getting their story straight).

    1. Understandably, everybody wants to know what really went on ASAP. But it seems Barr is determined to get conviction (or pleas) so is running a tight ship.

  3. I seriously doubt that Barr is going to let red tape stop him. My guess is that he's kicking butt and taking names.

    Another commenter made a wise speculation that Comey has a lot of stuff to implicate Brennan. I think that's a pretty good guess, as is your and Joe DeGenova's thinking that people are suddenly "remembering" things.