Representative John Ratcliffe tweets a statement after President Trump announces his nomination for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI):
There has been some speculation that ODNI Dan Coats needed to step aside because he was refusing to comply with the declassification process. It’s worth waiting to see if that assumption is accurate, or if the speculation is unfounded. However, there is validity to the speculation based on the structure of how executive declassification is done.
Declassification of intelligence is a process, and each person -within the executive branch- inside the intelligence agency must agree to the process. Technically President Trump can declassify anything. However, it is also true that technically POTUS doesn’t actually declassify anything.
Any intelligence action President Trump discusses publicly is automatically declassified. The President cannot break any law that covers declassification and/or secrecy; when he or she talks about anything.
However, when it comes to documents the process is different. If the president were to hand documents to the media, with instructions that those documents were heretofore declassified, they are automatically declassified (same as public speech standard), but that is never done [it’s theoretical].
Instead, the Office of the President asks for a document to enter into a declassification review process. This is the declassification process authority President Trump gave to AG Bill Barr on May 23rd, 2019 by executive order.
WHITE HOUSE: “Today, at the request and recommendation of the Attorney General of the United States, President Donald J. Trump directed the intelligence community to quickly and fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation into surveillance activities during the 2016 Presidential election.
The Attorney General has also been delegated full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation, in accordance with the long-established standards for handling classified information. Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last Presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions.” (read more)
Memorandum for Agency Guidance below:
MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE
THE SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY
THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
THE SECRETARY OF ENERGY
THE SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY
THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE
THE DIRECTOR OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
SUBJECT: Agency Cooperation with Attorney General’s Review of Intelligence Activities Relating to the 2016 Presidential Campaigns
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct the following:
♦Section 1. Agency Cooperation.
The Attorney General is currently conducting a review of intelligence activities relating to the campaigns in the 2016 Presidential election and certain related matters. The heads of elements of the intelligence community, as defined in 50 U.S.C. 3003(4), and the heads of each department or agency that includes an element of the intelligence community shall promptly provide such assistance and information as the Attorney General may request in connection with that review.
♦Sec. 2. Declassification and Downgrading.
With respect to any matter classified under Executive Order 13526 of December 29, 2009 (Classified National Security Information), the Attorney General may, by applying the standard set forth in either section 3.1(a) or section 3.1(d) of Executive Order 13526, declassify, downgrade, or direct the declassification or downgrading of information or intelligence that relates to the Attorney General’s review referred to in section 1 of this memorandum. Before exercising this authority, the Attorney General should, to the extent he deems it practicable, consult with the head of the originating intelligence community element or department. This authority is not delegable and applies notwithstanding any other authorization or limitation set forth in Executive Order 13526.
♦Sec. 3. General Provisions.
(a) Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b) This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(c) The authority in this memorandum shall terminate upon a vacancy in the office of Attorney General, unless expressly extended by the President.
(d) This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
(e) The Attorney General is authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.
Officials within that process (CIA, DoS, DIA, FBI, DOJ-NSD, DoE, DoT, DoD, DHS) based on their unique relationship to the interests within the document(s), can approve or refuse to sign-off based on their specific intelligence interests. This is where compartmented intelligence comes into play.
Normally any officer who refuses the request for declassification must justify to the intelligence hub; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI, Dan Coats).
Normally the compartmented executive branch intelligence official tells the ODNI (Dan Coats) why they, their unique interests, cannot approve of the declassification request.
The ODNI then informs POTUS why the document is not cleared for declassification.
If he disagrees with the decision of the intelligence official, POTUS then would have to fire, replace and hope the next person in the chain-of-command would sign-off. In essence, President Trump would have to fire people, and keep firing people, until he gets to a person, inside that specific agency, who will comply.
However, President Trump granted AG Bill Barr with decision-making authority that would override any cabinet officer who might block Barr’s request.
Subsequently, with Bill Barr holding the executive power to declassify information, why would replacing ODNI Dan Coats be necessary?
There are a few possibilities, but only one pertains to declassification. ODNI Dan Coats was refusing to comply with the declassification demand by Bill Barr.