Let’s just start with the President’s tweet, since that’s what kicked all of this off. Expressing frustration with Attorney General Bill Barr, Donald Trump appeared to be reaching the end of his patience yesterday, retweeting a comment from author Todd Starnes, suggesting that the President simply “declassify everything.”
As reported in The Sun, this was part of a longer rant by the President, reflecting the reality that any investigations into Hunter Biden’s overseas business dealings or tax issues will very likely fall down the memory hole after Joe Biden is sworn in and installs his own people. And it’s not as if we haven’t seen similar things in the past.
Trump added: “I have been doing this. I agree!”
He then went on a rant accusing President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign and his son, Hunter, among others, of spying and treason.
“IF Biden gets in, nothing will happen to Hunter or Joe,” Trump tweeted.
“Barr will do nothing, and the new group of partisan killers coming in will quickly kill it all.
“Same thing with Durham. We caught them cold, spying, treason & more (the hard part), but “Justice” took too long. Will be DOA!”
I suppose the first question to ask is whether the President is talking about declassifying “everything” that’s specific to Barr’s investigation into Hunter Biden or, well… everything. We should probably assume he means the former. It’s rather unimaginable that Donald Trump would simply wave his hand and declassify every bit of information in the possession of the federal government, including all of our nuclear weapons and other tactical capabilities, the identities of overseas information assets, and countless other items that are critical to national security.
Assuming we’re only talking about the Hunter Biden material, some journalists would need to move quickly to file FOIA requests for all of the information. But even then, the clock would be ticking. Whoever receives the FOIA requests could slow walk them until January 26th, at which point Joe Biden could simply classify them again. Yes, the optics of that would be horrible for the nascent Biden administration, but if you think that wouldn’t happen I would suggest you haven’t been paying much attention to the swamp for the past couple of decades.
I’ve also seen some people on social media asking if Trump actually could declassify whatever he feels like. The answer to that question is nearly unambiguously yes. This question has come up before and the general consensus is there are essentially no limits to the power of the President to classify or declassify information at will. The issue was even addressed by the Supreme Court back in 1988. The majority concluded that the President’s official capacity as the Commander in Chief gives him the final word on such matters without any congressional oversight.
“The President, after all, is the ‘Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States’” according to Article II of the Constitution. His authority to classify and control access to information bearing on national security … flows primarily from this constitutional investment of power in the President, and exists quite apart from any explicit congressional grant.”
Assuming that President Trump has been made aware of his sweeping powers in this area, there’s really nothing stopping him from declassifying the Hunter Biden investigation, though it would be unusual in the extreme to empty the bag in an ongoing investigation. Then again, “unusual in the extreme” could probably be printed on the President’s business cards at this point.
While we’re on the subject, might I suggest a few other documents that Donald Trump could declassify for us if he’s in the mood to share? For starters, everything the Pentagon has on Roswell, other UFO incidents and the findings of the UAP Task Force to date would be nice. Oh, and he might finally release everything we have on the JFK assassination. (He suggested on the campaign trail that he might do that.) I’m sure we could think of a few more, but that’s already a pretty major laundry list to handle and time is running short.