24 May: Donald Trump has given his Attorney General, William Barr, sweeping powers to investigate US intelligence agencies. Trump has issued a Presidential directive that commands the agencies to “promptly provide” any information that Barr may request. Trump has tweeted that Barr is looking into “TREASON!” (the caps are his, not ours). He also tweeted that he expects the investigation to result in long prison sentences for his enemies.
Barr is Trump’s creature. He has already misrepresented the results of the Meuller report into Russian interference and possible Trump campaign collusion during the 2016 Presidential election (that is Mueller’s opinion, not ours). Barr has also refused to appear before Congressional intelligence committees to explain himself and has been held in contempt as a result. Now this man has been given unlimited power to dig into the records of the intelligence agencies.
The problem is this: the US agencies were ordered to look for evidence of Russian meddling in American politics. To do this, they had to examine the activities of the Trump campaign. It will be very easy for Barr to make this activity look like opposition to Trump. As he has made clear in his tweets, Trump expects heads to roll. Although he has been able to place his own people at the head of some of the agencies, he wants to achieve greater control by clearing out the ranks of senior management. This will make it easier to use the agencies against his other enemies.
Whether this can be done remains to be seen. But there is no doubt that this latest move is a grave danger to the independence of the US intelligence system.