Five takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe

President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE this week gave Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrInspector general testifies on FBI failures: Five takeaways Budowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen asks judge to reduce sentence MORE new authorities to examine and possibly release classified material related to the Justice Department’s inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation.

The move is widely perceived as an effort by Trump to ramp up his administration’s probe of surveillance directed at members of his 2016 campaign. The president and his allies have suggested that federal agents biased against him improperly initiated the investigation into Russia's election interference.

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Barr said last month he would examine the “genesis and conduct” of the Russia probe, adding that he believed the Trump campaign was “spied” on and wanted to ensure it was “adequately predicated.” Those remarks drew fire from Democrats, who accused him of advancing a conspiracy theory.

Here are five things you need to know about Trump’s new direction.

Sweeping powers for Barr

On Thursday evening, Trump instructed top intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE and CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelEnhanced interrogation — better known as torture — took America to the dark side Trump administration, military officials at odds over CIA's Afghanistan role: report Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan MORE, to “quickly and fully” cooperate with Barr’s investigation into “surveillance activities” during the 2016 election.

Barr was also given the authority to unilaterally declassify materials related to the investigation, allowing him to “direct” intelligence officials to declassify them. Such documents usually go through an interagency process to determine what can be declassified and released publicly, and the agency where the intelligence originated has to sign off on the final declassification.

The White House memo sent to intelligence agencies on Thursday said Barr should, “to the extent he deems it practicable,” consult with intelligence officials before declassifying certain materials.

The move affords Barr considerable new powers to view and potentially release highly classified material gathered by the FBI and CIA in the course of the Russia investigation.

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“As far as I know, it is unprecedented for the president to delegate his authority to declassify to somebody who is not the original classifier,” said Steven Cash, an ex-CIA officer and former chief counsel to Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate confirms Trump's 50th circuit judge, despite 'not qualified' rating Inspector general testifies on FBI failures: Five takeaways Pelosi endorses Christy Smith in bid to replace Katie Hill MORE (D-Calif.).

“He’s now in the chain of command with respect to classification between the president and Coats or Haspel or whoever’s information it is,” added Cash, who is now an attorney specializing in national security law at the law firm Day Pitney.

Trump’s move also reflects the growing trust he has in Barr, who has earned praise from the president as a result of his handling of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE’s report and decision to open up an inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation.

The new declassification powers are limited to materials related to Barr’s inquiry into the Russia probe. The memo released Thursday states that the powers will terminate when Barr leaves his post and will not extend to the next attorney general.

Potential for conflict with intelligence community

Trump is no stranger to conflict with U.S. intelligence agencies, and former officials say his latest move could put the intelligence chiefs in a difficult position.

While it’s not unusual for the intelligence community to cooperate with law enforcement investigations, some former officials say it will become problematic if Trump is seen as using the agencies to go after his political enemies.

John Sipher, a retired member of the CIA’s clandestine service, said it could create problems for Haspel and others if the president looks to “scapegoat” officials who collected intelligence that formed the basis for the Russia investigation.

“Hopefully, Barr and people in the national security structure of Justice go about this in a standard way. They can get the information they need,” Sipher said. “If he himself is trying to get specific information to be used by the president for political purposes, then he’s really being irresponsible.”

Some also say that even the threat of declassifying materials could chill existing intelligence sources and make it difficult to cultivate new ones going forward. Foreign partners may also be wary of sending intelligence to the U.S. if they think it could ultimately be made public.

It is unclear to what extent the intelligence agencies were consulted before Thursday’s announcement.

Coats said in a statement Friday afternoon he would provide Barr with the “appropriate information” in his review. He also expressed confidence the attorney general would work with the intelligence community “in accordance with the long-established standards to protect highly-sensitive classified information that, if publicly released, would put our national security at risk.”

An FBI spokesperson declined to comment, and a CIA spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Barr’s use of the term “spying” has already put him at odds with FBI Director Christopher Wray, who told lawmakers during testimony earlier this month that he wouldn’t use that term to describe lawful FBI investigations. Wray also said he had no evidence “personally” that FBI agents illegally surveilled the Trump campaign.

At the same time, Wray described Barr’s review as appropriate and said he had been in “fairly close contact” with the attorney general to assist him.

Democratic fury meets Republican praise

Democrats, already critical of Barr’s handling of Mueller’s findings, have accused Trump and the attorney general of attempting to politicize the nation’s intelligence apparatus. Some suggested the administration may be looking to selectively release classified material to shape a false narrative.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats seek leverage for trial Pence's office denies Schiff request to declassify call with Ukrainian leader Comey, Schiff to be interviewed by Fox's Chris Wallace MORE (D-Calif.) described Trump’s order in a statement Friday as a "corrupt escalation of the President's intention, with the assistance of the Attorney General, to weaponize and politicize the nation's intelligence and law enforcement entities."

Schiff added that his committee will "conduct vigorous oversight of any steps to selectively reveal and distort classified information, abuse the declassification process, and place at risk sources and methods, thereby weakening our safety and security."

Trump’s Republican allies have long clamored for an investigation of the Russia probe, pointing to text messages exchanged by FBI agents criticizing Trump before the election.

Some have also scrutinized the FBI’s use of information from Christopher Steele — author of the unverified Trump-Russia dossier — in a warrant application to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, alleging the bureau did not properly disclose the researcher’s Democratic link.

"Outstanding—President Trump authorizing the Attorney General to declassify documents related to surveillance during the 2016 election," House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMeadows says he's advocating for Trump to add Alan Dershowitz to impeachment defense team State Department, Nuclear Regulatory Commission ranked the worst agencies on IT issues Trump abandons plan to dissolve Office of Personnel Management: report MORE (R-N.C.), a close ally of Trump, wrote on Twitter. "Americans are going to learn the truth about what occurred at their Justice Department."

Other key Republicans, such as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Senate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges MORE (R-N.C.), have not publicly weighed in on the move. A Burr spokesperson declined to comment on Friday.

Trump’s calls to ‘investigate the investigators’ get louder

Thursday’s developments illustrate Trump’s calls to “investigate the investigators” — a message he has used to counter an onslaught of investigations from Democrats following the release of Mueller’s report.

Trump has accused FBI officials involved in the original Russia probe — former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyInspector general testifies on FBI failures: Five takeaways Horowitz offers troubling picture of FBI's Trump campaign probe GOP senator to FBI: 'Someone's got to be fired' MORE, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeMcCabe: Being accused of treason by Trump 'quite honestly terrifying' Horowitz report is damning for the FBI and unsettling for the rest of us Fox's Chris Wallace: IG report headline is 'It didn't find the things that Bill Barr and Donald Trump alleged' MORE and others — of engaging in “treason.”

On Friday, Trump denied he was seeking “payback” following Mueller’s two-year investigation, which did not result in conspiracy charges against members of his campaign but nevertheless ensnared some of his allies. Mueller’s final report contained embarrassing details about Trump’s attempts to seize control of the investigation but ultimately failed to reach a judgment on whether the president obstructed justice.

Trump described the Russia investigation as “an attempted coup or an attempted takedown of the President of the United States” in remarks to reporters on Friday.

“I don’t care about payback,” Trump said. “I think it's very important for our country to find out what happened.”

More shoes to drop

Trump’s recent move all but guarantees his administration will release certain materials from the early stages of the Russia investigation.

Trump has long said he would declassify and release sensitive documents, including the application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil Page, a highly redacted version of which the Justice Department made public last summer under pressure from Republicans.

Trump last fall backed off swiftly releasing the Russia documents after the Justice Department — then headed by Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsLisa Page sues DOJ, FBI over alleged privacy violations Sessions leads GOP Senate primary field in Alabama, internal poll shows Trump rebukes FBI chief Wray over inspector general's Russia inquiry MORE — and U.S. allies raised objections.

Trump told reporters on Friday he is leaving what to release up to Barr.

“I declassified, I guess, potentially, millions of pages of documents. I don’t know what it is. I have no idea. But I want to be transparent,” Trump said. “We have documents now that I have declassified for the purpose of the attorney general. He can then show them to the public, do whatever he wants to do with them.”

Barr has tapped John DurhamJohn DurhamInspector general testifies on FBI failures: Five takeaways DOJ watchdog: Durham said 'preliminary' FBI Trump probe was justified Live coverage: DOJ inspector general testifies on Capitol Hill MORE, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to spearhead the review. Meanwhile, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is conducting a parallel inquiry into the FBI’s application for the Page warrant. That probe is expected to wrap up no later than June, and it’s likely Horowitz will soon after release a report on his findings.