Government surveillance of American citizens has been a controversial issue for years. It became more so this year when President Trump tweeted that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.” Trump never provided evidence of his claim, but now another Republican is coming forward to claim that he too may have been the subject of surveillance by the Obama Administration.
In an interview with Fox News, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that he had “reason to believe” that he may have been surveilled and unmasked by Obama Administration officials. Graham believes that the surveillance was incidental and possibly resulted from his meetings with foreign leaders in his role as a senator.
“I have reason to believe that a conversation that I had was picked up with some foreign leader or some foreign person and somebody requested that my conversation be unmasked,” Graham said. “I’ve been told that by people in the intelligence community. All I can say is that there are 1,950 collections on American citizens talking to people that were foreign agents being surveilled either by the CIA, the FBI or the NSA.”
“Here’s the concern,” Graham continued. “Did the people in the Obama Administration listen in to these conversations? Was there a politicizing of the intelligence gathering process? So, what I want to know: Of the 1,950 incidental collections on American citizens, how many of them involved presidential candidates, members of Congress from either party and if these conversations were unmasked, who made the request? Because I want to know everything there is about unmasking, how it works and who requested unmasking of conversations between foreign people and American members of Congress.”
If the Obama Administration was conducting purposeful surveillance on members of Congress, there is a possible violation of the separation of powers under the Constitution. Surveillance of political opponents could be used gather inside information on political strategies or even for blackmail.
“Now if you’ve got a reason to believe that a member of Congress is committing a crime, then you go get a warrant to follow us around like you would any other citizen,” Graham said. “But I meet with foreign leaders all the time. And I would be upset if any executive branch agency listened in on my conversations, because I’m in another branch of government.”
Graham said that he was not sure if his conversations were unmasked by Obama Administration officials. The senator sent letters to the FBI, CIA and NSA requesting the details of any surveillance that involved him.
Graham is not the only Republican other than Trump who believes that he may have been under surveillance. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote in a letter to President Trump in April, “An anonymous source recently alleged to me that my name, as well as the names of other members of Congress, were unmasked, queried or both in intelligence reports or intercepts during the previous administration.”
The common thread among Trump, Paul and Graham is that all three were Republican presidential candidates in 2016. In May, Paul told the Washington Times, “There are rumors about other people who ran for president as well. I’m concerned not only for myself but for Americans in general.”
So far, there is no firm evidence that the Obama Administration acted improperly in conducting surveillance, but the claims by Trump, Paul and Graham do raise serious questions about surveillance technology and the oversight needed to prevent its abuse. The subject of surveillance of presidential candidates and members of Congress may come when former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week.