Ever since the 9/11 attacks, Republicans and Democrats have conspired to keep Americans increasingly ignorant of what the federal government does. The number of secret federal documents skyrocketed, and any information classified was treated like a political holy relic that could not be exposed without dooming the nation. Ironically, the fate of the Trump presidency may hinge on perpetuating the unjustifiable secrecy now pervading Washington.
John Bolton wrote a book about his experiences as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser that could provide key information regarding Trump’s dealing with the Ukrainian government, and Democratic members of Congress are calling for the manuscript to be made public. Former government officials are obliged to submit their publications for review to ensure that no classified information is revealed. Bolton’s lawyer denies that the book contains classified information, but previous manuscript reviews of other would-be authors have dragged out for months or years.
Obama weaponized classification
In 2004, then-Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., derided the federal classification system as “incomprehensibly complex” and “so bloated it often does not distinguish between the critically important and the comically irrelevant.”
The New York Times reported in 2005 that federal agencies were “classifying documents at the rate of 125 a minute as they create new categories of semi-secrets bearing vague labels like ‘sensitive security information.’ ”
Each classified document is tacitly backed by a federal iron fist ready to squash anyone who discloses it without permission. Regardless of whether the Trump White House is conniving to stifle Bolton’s disclosures, it was the Obama White House that weaponized classification. J. William Leonard, former chief of the federal Information Security Oversight Office, complained in 2011 that the Obama administration had “criminally prosecuted more leakers of purportedly classified information than all previous administrations combined.”
For the Obama administration, leaking classified information to the news media was worse than spying for a hostile government. Its Justice Department declared in 2011 that government officials who “elected to disclose the classified information publicly through the mass media” were “posing an even greater threat to society” than do foreign spies.
The Obama administration believed that its classification decrees were so sacrosanct, no federal judge could overturn them. “We don’t think there is a First Amendment right to classified documents,” Justice Department lawyer Catherine Dorsey told a federal judge in 2015.
Dorsey agreed that the government’s position was tantamount to claiming that the court “has absolutely no authority” to unseal evidence even if it’s clear the government’s bid to keep it secret is based on “irrationality” or that it’s “hiding something,” as The Intercept reported.