The continuing lesson of the wiretapping and unmasking done by the Obama administration

The continuing lesson of the wiretapping and unmasking done by the Obama administration
The "Old" (Eisenhower) Executive Office Building across from the White House in Washington, D.C.. (Image: Wikimedia)

As this whole “investigative” drama flails, stalled in a crashing of gears, never moving “forward” in any sense, it is good to take a moment to remember one of the most important things about it.

We learned this week – assuming the reports are correct – that Paul Manafort, for a time the chairman of Donald Trump’s campaign, was in fact wiretapped from mid-2016 to early 2017.  This probably means conversations with Trump were listened in on, and that Trump Tower, where Manafort has an apartment, was wiretapped, as Trump claimed earlier this year.

We also learned that in 2016, Samantha Power, then U.S. ambassador to the UN, reportedly made more than 260 “unmasking” requests on communications involving U.S. persons, many of them in the days after the November election, and apparently thought to involve people from the Trump team.

Samantha Power, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was ‘unmasking’ at such a rapid pace in the final months of the Obama administration that she averaged more than one request for every working day in 2016 – and even sought information in the days leading up to President Trump’s inauguration, multiple sources close to the matter told Fox News.

Power, of course, had no conceivable reason related to her actual job – ambassador to the United Nations – to unmask the identities of members of the Trump campaign.  Even if there had been a “Russia collusion” link, it was way out of her lane to try to track or investigate it.

The implication is overwhelming that she was merely detailed to act out of convenience.  In the Obama administration, she was vested with the authority to request unmaskings, and she did.

But she had no statutory authority to investigate counterintelligence problems in the United States.  Moreover, the link of the “Russia-Trump” narrative to a counterintelligence problem for U.S. national security is tenuous to the point of absurdity – something Daniel Greenfield observes in a must-read post on this topic on Wednesday.

The real purpose of invoking counterintelligence has been to lower the bar for the evidence needed to obtain warrants.  I’ve alluded to that a couple of times in earlier treatments of this topic, but Daniel put it with elegant simplicity here (emphasis added):

Now the latest CNN spin piece informs us that secret FISA orders were used to spy on the conversations of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.  The surveillance was discontinued for lack of evidence and then renewed under a new warrant. This is part of a pattern of FISA abuses by Obama Inc. which never allowed minor matters like lack of evidence to dissuade them from new FISA requests.

Desperate Obama cronies had figured out that they could bypass many of the limitations on the conventional investigations of their political opponents by ‘laundering’ them through national security.

That’s exactly what the current Mueller “investigation” is designed to do, with its unique designation as a counterintelligence investigation – rather than a pursuit of criminal wrongdoing.  There’s no evidence for criminal wrongdoing.  So Mueller has been set up to investigate a matter for which there are no Constitution-constrained standards of evidence.

Daniel goes on to frame with painful clarity just how deeply wrongful were the Obama administration’s actions: using government resources to spy on a political opponent’s campaign.

The spying ramped up after Trump’s win when the results could no longer be used to engineer a Hillary victory, but would instead have to be used to cripple and bring down President Trump. Headed out the door, Rice was still unmasking the names of Trump’s people while Obama was making it easier to pass around raw eavesdropped data to other agencies.

Obama had switched from spying on a political opponent to win an election, to spying on his successor to undo the results of the election. Abuse of power by a sitting government had become subversion of the government by an outgoing administration. Domestic spying on opponents had become a coup. …

If Obama spied on two of Trump’s campaign leaders, that’s not a coincidence. It’s a pattern.

And that is of existential importance for America, as Daniel lays out.  His points are highly significant, and mustn’t be missed, so I urge you to read the entire post.  (Worth nothing as well: the always-careful Wall Street Journal, in a staff op-ed on Tuesday, also addressed several of Daniel’s points – if in the form of open questions rather than conclusions.)

I don’t want to dwell further on it here, because my point is a related but separate one.  I believe it functions as an unspoken premise for Daniel’s argument, in fact.  If my point is valid, then everything he says is a done deal.

Here is what we cannot forget about the Obama administration’s spying on the Trump campaign in 2016 and early 2017.

They didn’t find anything.

And we already know that.  We’ve known it for months.

There was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  James Clapper and Michael Morell stated that earlier this year, and James Comey concurred that Clapper had spoken accurately about the lack of evidence for such collusion in the late 2016 intelligence community report (released in a public version on 6 January 2017).

Moreover, Dianne Feinstein and Maxine Waters, Democrats and bitter opponents of Trump, also acknowledged that there was no such evidence.

Here is former DNI James Clapper telling NBC News in March 2017 that there was no evidence of Trump’s team colluding with Russia:

Clapper was asked by the Senate in May if that assessment was still correct.  He said it was.

In March 2017, former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell also told NBC there had been no evidence of Russia-Trump collusion.

On 20 March, James Comey was asked in a House hearing about Clapper’s statement that the U.S. intelligence community report (on Russia’s attempt to interfere in the election) contained no evidence of collusion by the Trump campaign.

[REP. CHRIS STEWART, R-UT]:  Mr. Clapper, the former DNI, and we all know who he is, this is someone who should know. I want to read what he said just a few weeks ago. Mr. Clapper then went on to say that to his knowledge there was no evidence of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. We did not conclude any evidence in our report and when I say “our report,” that is the NSA, FBI, and CIA with my office, the director of national intelligence said anything — any reflection of collusion between the members of Trump campaign and the Russians, there was no evidence of that in our report.

Was Mr. Clapper wrong when he said that?

COMEY: I think he’s right about characterizing the report which you all have read.

Remember: these statements from Clapper, Morell, and Comey were made after the Obama administration had stopped spying on Trump and his associates, because it was no longer in office.

There is no new information from those spying efforts.  Whatever they were going to know from the wiretapping of Manafort and the unmasking of Trump associates, it was already known at the time these Obama administration officials admitted the lack of evidence for Russia-Trump collusion.

So parading around the fresh revelations about the spying does not amount to an implication that there is new information.  If there’s new information, it has to come from some other source – a source that had not already been thoroughly reviewed back in January 2017 or before.

No information has been revealed about such a source.  We know what the evidence was after the spying on Trump in 2016 and early 2017, and we have known it for months.  It was zero.  If it were greater than zero, members of the Obama administration had to know that before 20 January 2017 — and to have not only done nothing about it, but lied about it in the months since.

In fact, that point serves as a check on what can be made of any supposedly new evidence that gets trotted out.  The media may start vague rumors about new evidence – but if the import of such “evidence” would have been obvious, or at a minimum suggested, or could have been verified, back when the Obama administration was literally spying on the Trump campaign, then the implication that we’re just now finding out about it has to be highly suspect.  What was never picked up by eager Obama officials in months of spying in 2016 and early 2017 can be confidently assumed to have not existed at all.

No matter what tack the media take – and they just took another one today – keep that in mind, and don’t get confused.  Unless they have a new source – some trove of information they haven’t already had for months, and didn’t have while Obama was still in office, and the spying efforts against Trump were ongoing – they can’t have new information.  It’s all just spin to make you think something is there, when it isn’t.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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