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Sen. Ron Wyden On Barr And Russia


Attorney General Barr has told Congress the Trump campaign had been spied on in 2016. This week, President Trump gave Mr. Barr broad authority to investigate that claim, which Barr made without citing any evidence. The president also told intelligence agencies to hand over their files to the attorney general and authorized Mr. Barr to declassify any intelligence about the origins of investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. Ron Wyden, senator, Democrat from Oregon and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, joins us. Senator Wyden, thanks so much for being with us.

RON WYDEN: Hey, Scott, good morning from Oregon.

SIMON: And it's very early there. We're very grateful that you joined us. You've been a vocal critic of the attorney general, even called for his resignation. That noted, what's your reaction to this presidential directive?

WYDEN: Well, this is not a good faith declassification effort where you go out and determine what the public has a right to know and what ought to be kept classified for legitimate national security reasons. What Donald Trump is counting on here - this is what this is all about - is he wants his attorney general to do politicized selective declassification with just one objective - find something, anything, to support the Trump conspiracy theory that the entire Russian investigation was illegitimate. And even before he named Barr attorney general, Trump was basically out there looking for anybody in sight who would basically tell him what he wants to hear, and now he's got Barr.

SIMON: Well, all right, so you think it's an investigation that already has its conclusion in mind. That being noted, what about the idea that an investigation has to restore confidence in public institutions? Because the president has been railing against intelligence agencies.

WYDEN: Well, I don't think you restore confidence in public institutions by matters like what happened on Thursday where Donald Trump is accusing law enforcement personnel of treason. I don't think you reinforce confidence in institutions, for example, when you undermine the press as Donald Trump is trying to do with the Espionage Act. And, look; the bottom line here is you don't have to be a constitutional scholar to understand the distinction between a warrant issued by a court, which is what Trump and his allies are mad about, and warrantless surveillance of Americans, which the Trump folks, and particularly Mr. Barr, seem to endorse.

I think Attorney General Barr is the Babe Ruth of surveillance hypocrisy. He calls a warrant issued by a court spying, and then he testifies in favor of warrantless surveillance and helps establish a massive spying program at the DEA. That's his record.

SIMON: Forgive the baseball analogy - Babe Ruth hit a lot of home runs, but he also struck out a lot. I think he held both records for a number of years.

WYDEN: You've got this remarkable double standard. In other words, what the attorney general wants to say is something that is issued by a court constitutes spying, but then he will actually show up and say, I'm gangbusters for warrantless surveillance. And I think this is a particularly ominous time. You asked about the confidence in our institutions. I think the real questions now, as people look at Washington D.C. where this administration just basically thinks they're above the law, that the rule of law does not apply to them. It's certainly what we saw this week with the treason comments, with the Espionage Act effort, and this whole effort to politicize a declassification is more of same.

SIMON: With the minute we have left, let me raise this with you - shouldn't intelligence agencies in this country be willing and able to withstand occasional investigations? Because, of course, you might - well, let me - the FBI had what was called the COINTELPRO program in the days of J. Edgar Hoover. They spied on Martin Luther King and other African American leaders. And shouldn't there have been an investigation of that?

WYDEN: Of course, there ought to be accountability in intelligence. And I have spent my whole career trying to get the balance right between the public's right to know, which the founding fathers were all about, and making sure that we protect legitimate national security. That is not what's going on here with this declassification effort by Donald Trump. This is politicizing intelligence, and it's wrong.

SIMON: Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat from the state of Oregon - thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Wyden.

WYDEN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.