Tag Archives: wire tapping

For Whom Is the Chair of House Intelligence Committee Working?

In a report published this afternoon in USAToday, http://usat.ly/2nojfXw, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee was attributed as saying that “communications involving members of President Trump’s transition group were “incidentally collected” by U.S. intelligence officials following the November election.”

According to the report, updated from its first publication,

“Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., did not identify other transition members swept up in the surveillance, adding that he has viewed “dozens” of such intelligence reports that appeared “legal” but perhaps “inappropriate.” “What I’ve read bothers me, and I think it should bother the president himself and his team, because some of it appears to be inappropriate,” Nunes told reporters at the White House after briefing the president on the findings. [Note that the original USAToday story included this line, “”I think the president is concerned and he’d like to see these reports.”] [Note also that Sean Spicer has been reported saying that Nunes spoke to the press before informing Trump]

The chairman said the intelligence reports were not part of a criminal investigation or the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election. Rather, he said the collection was related to broader intelligence gathering activities.

….

Nunes also has rejected the president’s claims that Trump Tower had been wiretapped. And he said “none” of the newly disclosed surveillance was related to “any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.” [emphasis added]

“Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration—details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value—were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting,” Nunes told reporters Wednesday. Nevertheless, Trump, while meeting Wednesday with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, told reporters that he felt “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’ statements.

” I must tell, you I somewhat do,” the president said. “I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, I somewhat do.” Before briefing the president, Nunes said he also notified House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., of the information. Nunes suggested that the information came from one or more whistleblowers. “It came through the proper channels and the proper clearances,” Nunes said. “This was information that was brought to me that I thought the president needed to see.”  He said the National Security Agency has been cooperative, but the FBI so far has not.

Nunes said the surveillance itself appeared to be legal — presumably through a warrant from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — but that the concern was what intelligence agencies did with that information. He would not rule out that senior Obama administration officials received the intelligence or that they were involved in the “unmasking” of the citizens identified in the reports. [Note that he can’t rule Obama’s officials “in” either] But he also re-stated his belief that Obama did not order the wiretapping of Trump Tower, as Trump himself has suggested in a series of March 4 tweets and subsequent public remarks.

“From what I’ve read, there seems to be some level of surveillance action — perhaps legal, but I don’t know that it’s right,” he said. Nunes said nothing he shared with the president was within the scope of the FBI’s investigation into ties between Russia and Trump associates. “The reports I was able to see did not have anything to do with the Russia investigation,” the congressman said. “The president needs to know that these intelligence reports are out there, and I have a duty to tell him that.”

The source of that duty is not clear. The chair of the House Intelligence Committee does not report to the President. I would think that in the midst of an on-going FBI investigation involving the President’s staff, present and former, and possibly the President himself (the investigation is in early stages), the chair would not go running to the President with every piece of information he discovers that he thinks helps exonerate the President or gives more ammunition for the thoroughly discredited claims that the former President Obama ordered electronic surveillance of Trump Tower. Moreover, Nunes concedes that the surveillance he claims to have discovered was legal. The basis for his suggestion that it was not “right” is not clear.

The first USAToday report also stated that “White House spokesman Sean Spicer characterized the Nunes’ information as “startling,” saying that it required additional investigation.” Clearly, Nunes’s disclosures have had the intended effect of bolstering the President’s team in promoting the false narrative that Trump Tower was surveilled.

This hasty action by the chair of the Intelligence Committee speaks volumes about the objectivity of the Republican-managed Committee’s involvement in the FBI investigation and is further compelling, indeed overwhelming, evidence for the need to appoint an independent prosecutor to oversee the investigation of the Trump-Russia connection.

The USAToday report goes on to quote Nunes thus: “I think the president is concerned and he’d like to see these reports.” And then this:

“The chairman said the reports and incidental collection of names were not part of a criminal investigation or the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election. Rather, he said the activities were elated [sic] to intelligence gathering.”

I am not an expert in these matters but I’m having a hard time distinguishing between these disclosures by the chair and what the Trump administration, and the chair himself, have repeatedly decried as “leaks.” Apparently, the only bad leak is one that doesn’t help the false presidential narrative. Furthermore, if the documents reviewed by the chair were indeed related to “intelligence gathering,” why did he feel it was appropriate for him to rush to the White House with the information?

Despite all this hoopla, the report states that “Nunes also rejected the president’s claims that Trump Tower had been wiretapped. But he said “none” of the newly disclosed surveillance was related to “any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.”  By disclosing this “unrelated information,” Nunes appears to have fed the President the talking points he needs to continue his discredited (by both the FBI and NSA) claim of wiretapping. Chair Nunes has, it seems to me, removed the last shred of doubt about his inability and/or unwillingness to lead a proper investigation into the President and his minions. He is too beholden to the President and way too anxious to exonerate him. What is required here is an independent leader of a serious investigation. Failing that, any ultimate exoneration by the Republican led House Intelligence Committee will be suspect.

Trump Is Unfit to Serve as President of the United States – It’s Time to Act

It is not unreasonable, I suggest, to expect, indeed to demand, certain minimum norms of behavior from the political leader of the country. This is true even with respect to someone elected on a “drain the swamp” and “end political correctness” platform. The rhetoric of campaigns is often excessive and fierce but once campaigns end, politicians generally show remarkable, indeed Herculean, capacities to forgive and forget. Witness the parade of Trump’s defeated candidates at Trump Tower after the election to make peace, beg forgiveness and ask for a job in the new administration. Mere mortals can only guess what is said in those conversations but at the end everyone is all smiles as if the personal and professional vilification that characterized the campaigns had never occurred.

The general expectation has also been that the electorate will “get over” the electoral combat, accept the outcome with good grace and “move on.” The theme is that the president is now the president of all the people and of the whole country and so everyone should respect and accept that.

This time, however, these expectations have not been fulfilled. The elected president has generally behaved throughout the transition and since the inauguration as if he were still campaigning. Worse yet, he has continued to lie about matters of both minor and very major import, continued to lash out at every critic, attacked the independent press (“enemies of the people”), demeaned the judiciary (“the so-called judge”) and behaved like someone who has no understanding of the job of president. His single respectable performance, conceded by most critics, was his speech to Congress. The warm glow lasted a whole day.

Trump stunned the country, indeed the whole civilized world, when a few weeks ago, at 6:35 in the morning, he tweeted that he had “just found out” that former President Obama had “wire tapped” Trump Tower during the campaign. He produced no evidence of his claim that his predecessor had committed a serious felony, choosing instead to say that it was up to Congress to investigate the claim. The Republican Congress, to its everlasting shame, snapped to attention and, happily I suggest, diverted attention from the ongoing investigation of Trump’s connection to Russia to look into the allegations. Now the leading members of the relevant committees, Republican and Democrat alike, have stated that no evidence has turned up to support Trump’s claims.

Instead of admitting that the allegations were a sham to draw media and public attention away from the Russia investigation, Trump continued to insist that the allegations were true. His Press Secretary Sean “Whatever You Say, Sir” Spicer, took as his charge the all-out defense of his chief, asserting, first, that “wire tapping” didn’t mean “wire tapping” but referred to broader forms of surveillance and then, when that position was widely mocked because of the continuing lack of evidence, claiming there were reliable media reports that Obama used the British secret service to carry out his illegal clandestine operation at Trump Tower. The rightfully offended British government rejected that claim immediately and forcefully.

What then did the White House do? When asked about the incident specifically in a joint press conference with Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, Trump first suggested that Obama had spied on both Merkel and him and then said this:

“And just to finish your question, we said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox. And so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”

Listen to this for yourself at http://mm4a.org/2mEskIo.

That Trump statement is a bald-faced lie. Here are Trump’s tweets:

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!

Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!

How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

Once again the President of the United States has lied to the people about his conduct, trying to pass responsibility to someone else. His staff, apparently willing to go to any lengths to defend him (remind you of Nixon’s staff?), insulted a major ally, then “walked back” (translation: admitted the President lied) the allegation of British involvement in the non-existent wire tapping scheme.

Not only has this collection of lies, deflections and insults drawn the attention of the media like a piece of rotting meat attracts maggots, but it has wasted time of the congressional staff, congressional committee members the FBI and the Department of Justice, chasing after a ghost, a knowingly false invention by the President of the United States. You are likely aware that this is not the first time. We have lost count.

I say, enough is enough. Donald Trump is not competent to be President of the United States. He is detached from reality and believes that dishonesty is acceptable to get what he wants. His behavior is endangering the United States. Other world leaders are watching every move he makes. How will they ever trust anything he says or believe any promises he makes? The famous parable of the Boy Who Cried Wolf applies here. Trump has squandered whatever small reserve of respectability and trustworthiness he had and should be made to face the consequences before the country faces them in a dangerous situation.

This is not about policy differences. All politicians will exaggerate and sometimes misstate facts and outright lie to escape responsibility for things they have said or done. It usually doesn’t work, at least not indefinitely.­­­­­ ­­­This is about competency to carry out the responsibilities of the office of President. Trump is a man of no integrity who cannot be trusted. The evidence of this is overwhelming. He has jeopardized the United States and undermined the office of the presidency.

The Vice President and the Cabinet should therefore exercise their responsibility under section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the founding document that the Republican Party is so fond of citing in support of its agenda, by initiating removal proceedings against Trump on grounds that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” It is past time.