Today’s hearings in the House of Representatives ought to go down in annals of some sort. Maybe the annals should be created just for them. Talk about asking the wrong guys the wrong questions. (See here for the right question.)
The big wrong-question episode was the one in which FBI Director James Comey was asked about President Trump’s allegation of “wiretapping” in Trump Tower. Technically, it was a check in the block to ask Comey the question, since the FBI still could, conceivably, wiretap targets. But no one who has educated himself on the issue thinks the FBI actually — literally — wiretapped Trump. It was basically a little charade, to go through the pro forma exercise of asking Comey about it. Of course he said no.
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t surveillance of Trump by the Obama administration. But the “wiretapping” question asked in today’s hearings could not have established that. So the media are misleading the public when they imply that it has.
Here’s some information that’s more relevant (emphasis added):
Comey did not say, however, that no Trump associate was ever picked up by American surveillance. He declined to comment on anything related to surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the FBI to eavesdrop, with a court order, on people they suspect are agents of a foreign power.
Answering that question could have shed light on what the FBI knew about surveillance related to Trump. But Comey didn’t answer it.
Meanwhile, the guy who could have definitively stated exactly which individuals, out of the entire U.S. government, retrieved any piece of recorded surveillance data on Trump was not asked to comment on that point. Admiral Mike Rogers, director of NSA, was asked instead to comment on the question whether GCHQ, the British “NSA,” had retrieved surveillance data on Obama’s behalf, as a way of getting around U.S. law.
Rogers said he wasn’t aware of such activity. It took some searching to find a measured, reasonably accurate summary of the Rogers interlude — as opposed to a tendentious, falsely conclusive one. The LA Times did pretty well:
Adm. Mike Rogers said such a request to eavesdrop on a U.S. citizen would be “expressly against the construct” of intelligence agreements with the British and other close allies.
“I have seen nothing on the NSA side that we ever engaged in such activity” or was asked to conduct surveillance of Trump by Obama, Rogers said.
Rogers wasn’t pressed on whether he looked for evidence of it, and by what method. Both Comey and Rogers got off easy on the “wiretapping” (more properly, surveillance) questions. Like Comey, Rogers was also asked questions that would have shed light on what he knows — in his case, about retrieving bulk-recorded surveillance data on Trump associates. You’ll never guess what his response was (emphasis added):
Rogers declined to discuss press reports that U.S. surveillance picked up several telephone conversations between retired Lt. Gen Mike Flynn, who was ousted as national security adviser last month, and Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, after last year’s election.
Once more, because this is the only thing that matters: on the topics most pertinent to whether surveillance was conducted of Trump and his associates, Comey and Rogers declined to give answers.
They were, however, grilled at length on whether there was vote tampering detected in swing states during the presidential election. Given that the NSA has no charter to even bulk-record the relevant servers for such information, much less retrieve and analyze data to form opinions about it, it’s a moment’s cheap entertainment to get a load of the questioning he had to field on this matter (courtesy of MRC).
While speaking to the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, Rogers was asked by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), “Do you have any evidence that Russia cyber actors changed vote tallies in the state of Michigan?”
“No, I do not, but I would highlight we’re a foreign intelligence organization, not a domestic intelligence organization,” Rogers responded. “It would be fair to say we’re probably not the best organization to provide a more complete answer.”
“How about the state of Pennsylvania?” Nunes asked.
“No, sir.” Rogers responded.
“The state of Wisconsin?”
“The state of Florida?”
“The state of North Carolina?”
“The state of Ohio?”
“So you have no intelligence that suggests or evidence that suggests any votes were changed?”
“I have nothing generated by the National Security Agency, sir.”
Glad we got that cleared up.