We’ll have to wait and see if this is a smoking gun (the words of a source). But according to Fox News’s James Rosen, he’s been told by an unnamed source that additional evidence — beyond what was described Wednesday by House Intel Committee chairman [score]Devin Nunes[/score] — is to be presented to the House committee as early as this week.
I’m skeptical about it being presented this week, at least in any way that the public hears about, because there’s only one working day left, and the replacement bill for Obamacare is sucking all the oxygen out of Capitol Hill (as it must). Assuming there is such evidence on the way, it’s more likely that it will at best be made available under classified cover to committee staffers and members. Any disclosures to the public would be made later.
It will be interesting — more than interesting — to see what is disclosed to the public. More on that in a moment, as it’s a key point. But first, to Rosen’s reporting on what this evidence will be. Emphasis added:
The intelligence is said to leave no doubt the Obama administration, in its closing days, was using the cover of legitimate surveillance on foreign targets to spy on President-elect Trump, according to sources.
The key to that conclusion is the unmasking of selected U.S. persons whose names appeared in the intelligence, the sources said, adding that the paper trail leaves no other plausible purpose for the unmasking other than to damage the incoming Trump administration.
The FBI hasn’t been responsive to the House Intelligence Committee’s request for documents, but the National Security Agency is expected to produce documents to the committee by Friday. The NSA document production is expected to produce more intelligence than Nunes has so far seen or described – including what one source described as a potential “smoking gun” establishing the spying.
Some time will be needed to properly assess the materials, with the likely result being that congressional investigators and attorneys won’t have a solid handle on the contents of the documents – and their implications – until next week.
The emphasized point is the flip side of the one Devin Nunes has been consistently making. I just heard him make it again, seconds ago, in his interview on the Hannity Show on Fox News Channel. Nunes’s overriding point is the right one: there is no “foreign intelligence value” that he can see in unmasking the identities of the Trump-connected individuals whose names appear in the monitoring reports.
This is a perfectly valid assessment for a layman to make. In virtually every conceivable case, a layman would be able to see why there would or would not be foreign intelligence value — that is, value to the analysis of foreign intelligence problems — in identifying the U.S. persons who were involved in a monitored interaction. It is highly probable that Nunes is right.
Just two comments for tonight. One, Nunes did the right thing in making the disclosure he made on Wednesday. He’s taking grief for it from the Democrats, but he is 100% right that the American people need to know, without prior obfuscation, what the proposition here is. The allegation that’s being made has to be framed the way Nunes framed it — otherwise, the people won’t be able to assess what we find out about it.
It’s essential for the people to understand what is being alleged: that Trump-connected identities were unmasked in November, December, and January, apparently without any normally-applicable justification for the unmasking. This is a pretty abstract concept, and it has been easy for weeks now to obscure that it is the real issue.
Granted, Trump himself didn’t seem to help by putting “tapped my wires” in quotes in a tweet, which led the public debate off on a tangent. But in his own peculiar way, Trump may have done the signal service with that wording of forcing the whole topic of inquiry, in a way nothing else would have.
By announcing it the way he did, Nunes ensured that no one else would intervene before he could speak, to obfuscate what the real issue is. Rosen’s report indicates that Nunes knew the additional evidence was coming. With his briefings on Wednesday, Nunes framed the upcoming debate and expectations accurately — something we sorely needed. Now Americans will know what we’re waiting to hear: whether the identities of Trump and/or Trump-connected individuals were unmasked in an improper way in intelligence reporting, done in the final months of the Obama administration.
The other comment is related. It’s this: it matters immensely whether that unmasking happened. It matters, of course, whether the Obama administration was passing around monitoring information internally on the president-elect and his transition team. But what matters even more is that that could be done to any American, by any administration.
That’s why we need to cycle back to my point that the public mustn’t let Congress off the hook for what is disclosed about all this. It’s not for me to violate any oath I took to safeguard our national intelligence secrets — but I can say this: not one of the secrets is more important in principle than the constitutional rights of the American people. There is no war we will ever have to fight that requires us to put the people permanently at risk of having their Fourth Amendment rights violated.
The people have a right to know, rather, how easily their identities and personal information can be unmasked to employees of the federal government, from bulk-collected information circulated within the intelligence community. If our current framework of law doesn’t afford us the protection we are constitutionally entitled to, then it needs a comprehensive overhaul. There should be nothing that is off the table for rethinking — except the intent of the Fourth Amendment.
Nunes has done every American a favor by making sure we can build toward that process on the basis of forthright understanding. His Wednesday briefs are a touchstone for us. The big picture here is the unmasked identities: whether they happened, why they happened, and what was done with them. Everything else is noise.