AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Trump has given his Attorney General William Barr expansive new powers to review how the 2016 Trump campaign's ties to Russia were investigated. The president granted Barr those powers in a memo issued last night. He also gave Barr the power to declassify any intelligence that led to the opening of the Russia investigation. In that memo, the president also ordered the heads of the U.S. intelligence agencies to cooperate with the attorney general.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Everything that they need is declassified. And they'll be able to see how this hoax - how the hoax or witch hunt started and why it started. It was an attempted coup or an attempted takedown of the president of the United States. It should never, ever happen to anybody else.
CORNISH: Jeremy Bash was the chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Defense and the CIA during the Obama administration. Welcome to the program.
JEREMY BASH: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: Let's get into this a little more. On the subject of confidential sources, what are the implications of this? I know that, I think, just last year, the Justice Department reportedly revealed the name of a source in the Trump campaign in the course of a congressional investigation. So what are the implications of this going forward?
BASH: The president wants to advance a political narrative that there was a coup or a deep-state effort to undermine him. He's asked Bill Barr to undertake somewhat of an investigation, although the parameters of that investigation have not really been described publicly. And the president has now stripped the directors of CIA, NSA and the director of national intelligence from their authority to control classified information. And so if I were running intelligence operations, I'd be concerned that sources would be clamming up. This is very dangerous territory. It's politicizing intelligence in a wholly inappropriate way.
CORNISH: There's also the issue of declassifying information. What are the concerns about one person having the power to declassify at will?
BASH: Well, the power to declassify information is also the power to selectively declassify information. So if Bill Barr, in his investigation, comes upon snippets of intelligence that bolster the president's political narrative, then he has the apparent authority under this order issued last night to declassify selectively that information. And what happens is there can be a false narrative out there in the public. And the source can be exposed.
CORNISH: But it's only a limited review, right? This is not a criminal investigation. Are people making a bigger deal out of it than they should?
BASH: I don't think we know yet exactly what the parameters of this review were. I suspect, Audie, that this review by Bill Barr has not been fully thought out. It's been a mechanism for Bill Barr to say to the president, Mr. President, don't worry. We're going to do exactly what you want us to do. We're going to basically conduct this political exercise in trying to, quote, unquote, "go after" those who started the investigation. It is very dicey territory to try to investigate the investigators who were trying to protect national security.
CORNISH: Given how politicized this investigation has become, is there any value to finding out the origins of it?
BASH: I think we know a lot about the origins of the investigation. If the Department of Justice wants to conduct a very circumscribed, limited review, perhaps that's appropriate. And if the attorney general had been someone who I think had been playing it straight all along, I'd be less concerned. But here we have an attorney general who has misrepresented Bob Mueller's key findings and then misled Congress as to the concerns that Bob Mueller had raised directly to the attorney general.
CORNISH: If this is a political move in the way that you're talking about, what do you think is to be gained here?
CORNISH: That's Jeremy Bash. He was chief of staff at the Central Intelligence Agency during the Obama administration. He's the founder of Beacon Global Strategies. Thank you for talking with us.
CORNISH: Thanks, Audie.
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