For the wise, a proper reaction would be to gather information, verify, then quietly and decisively go through the proper channels to get an investigation going.
For Trump, however, he saw something on TV, then told the world on March 4, 2017 that the Obama administration had wiretapped Trump Tower, without a shred of hard evidence.
Thus began the frantic scramble to find anything that could be even remotely connected to wiretapping, both publicly and in private.
In a piece from the New Yorker, it is revealed that there was a concerted effort behind the scenes to find evidence to back up the president’s tweet, even at the expense of damaging our intelligence community.
Apparently, members and staffers of the House Intelligence Committee paid a visit to the National Security Agency, in Fort Meade, Maryland and reviewed what is described as “binders” of highly classified interceptions of conversation between foreign government officials.
These were conversations that took place during the presidential transition period, and only one of those conversations involved Russia.
As for Trump or his team, none were involved in the interceptions, although their names did come up in the conversations that were intercepted. Those names were “masked,” because they were not the subject of the interceptions. That is how our intelligence community protects American citizens that may get swept up in their surveillance efforts.
It should have been nothing.
It actually is nothing, but Trump’s defenders needed it to be something, so they began spinning.
The White House made several efforts to justify Trump’s claim, including using Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as a conduit for the documents, which allegedly offered some substantiation. A former Nunes staffer now working for the White House dug up the transcripts and shared them with Nunes. As Bloomberg View reported, earlier this month, Susan Rice, Obama’s national-security adviser, had used a process that allowed her to request that the masked names be revealed to her. Rice had to log her unmasking requests on a White House computer, which is how Trump’s aides knew about them. Nunes and the White House presented this as a major scandal. “I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story,” Trump told the Times, adding, while offering no evidence, that Rice may have committed a crime.
So basically, Rice asked to see what names were redacted in the documents.
Of course she lied about it, but ultimately, that’s not the same as wiretapping. She had to make a formal request and it was pretty much open information.
Last week, CNN was the first to report that both Democrats and Republicans who reviewed the Nunes material at the N.S.A. said that the documents provided “no evidence that Obama Administration officials did anything unusual or illegal.”
Nunes is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee because, in talking about the documents, he may have leaked classified information. But this is like getting Al Capone for tax evasion. The bigger scandal is the coördinated effort to use the American intelligence services to manufacture an excuse for Trump’s original tweet.
The intelligence source told me that he knows, “from talking to people in the intelligence community,” that “the White House said, ‘We are going to mobilize to find something to justify the President’s tweet that he was being surveilled.’ They put out an all-points bulletin”—a call to sift through intelligence reports—“and said, ‘We need to find something that justifies the President’s crazy tweet about surveillance at Trump Tower.’ And I’m telling you there is no way you get that from those transcripts, which are about as plain vanilla as can be.” (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)
Section 702 is part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and it allows for our intelligence community to gather information from surveilling foreign citizens. It’s the kind of intelligence that helps thwart terrorist attacks and is an invaluable tool for our nation’s safety.
In 2014, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board found nothing to indicate there was abuse of the program. Some intelligence officials are now worried, however, that Nunes’ actions, as well as the push by Trump’s administration to find evidence of wrong doing could put the program in jeopardy.
The intelligence source said, “In defense of the President, Devin Nunes and some other partisans have created a huge political problem by casting doubt, in the service of Donald Trump, on these intercepts.” Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, a leading critic of Section 702, has been using the episode to rally libertarians. He recently tweeted, “Smoking gun found! Obama pal and noted dissembler Susan Rice said to have been spying on Trump campaign.”
Democrats have also used this episode to attack the program. Meanwhile, it’s all perfectly legal and it does not target American citizens.
“They manufactured a scandal to distract from a serious investigation,” Eric Swalwell, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, who would not comment on the N.S.A. documents, said. “And the collateral damage is the public confidence in our intelligence community when we need to count on them now more than ever. Considering the threats we are facing right now from North Korea and ISIS, it’s a pretty dangerous time to undermine the I.C.’s credibility to make a five-yard sack in the Russia investigation.”
And he’s right. This is the not the time to undermine our intelligence community.
The New Yorker piece ended on an interesting note, and it says a lot about how each side looks at the ongoing investigation into possible Russian interference in our election.
With the witness lists compiled and submitted for the hearings, Democrats have called former Trump associates, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone. Republicans want to talk to members of Obama’s administration.
Let’s get it together guys, ok?