There are two new developments in the story of the alleged “wiretapping” of the Trump team during the campaign. The name of the Trump associate that was the subject of a previously known FISA warrant was named and several congressmen are disputing Rep. Nunes’s claim that the intelligence community inappropriately unmasked subjects of surveillance within the Trump campaign.
The Washington Post reports that the FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant to investigate Carter Page as early as last July. The investigation was part of the counterintelligence effort opposing Russian interference in the election. The government claimed that there was probable cause to believe that Page was acting as the agent of a foreign power.
Page was listed as a foreign policy advisor by the Trump campaign in March 2016. In August 2016, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks called him an “informal advisor,” the Post notes. By September, when the investigation of Page’s Russia ties was known, Trump spokesman Jason Miller said that Page “has made no contribution to the campaign” and Kellyanne Conway claimed that he was “certainly not part of the campaign that I’m running.” In January, Sean Spicer described Page as “an individual who the president-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign.”
In a February interview with the Los Angeles Times, President Trump apparently described his relationship with Page, saying, “I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him. I don’t think I’ve ever met him. And he actually said he was a very low-level member of I think a committee for a short period of time. I don’t think I ever met him. Now, it’s possible that I walked into a room and he was sitting there, but I don’t think I ever met him. I didn’t talk to him ever. And he thought it was a joke.”
Carter Page denied the allegations against him in an interview on Tuesday. “This confirms all of my suspicions about unjustified, politically motivated government surveillance,” he said. “I have nothing to hide.” No charges have been filed.
No charges have been filed against Susan Rice either. Rice was alleged to have improperly handled surveillance by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Nunes claimed in March that intelligence on Trump staffers appeared to have been legally collected, but was concerned that the identities of campaign team members unmasked and details that had no intelligence value were widely disseminated.
Now CNN reports that Nunes’s claims are being refuted by both Democrats and Republicans who have reviewed the same intelligence documents cited by Nunes. The unnamed congressmen said that the requests made by Rice were “normal and appropriate” for a National Security Advisor and that there was “absolutely” no smoking gun in the reports.
Rice has also denied any wrongdoing. “There were occasions when I would receive a report in which a US person was referred to — name not provided, just a US person — and sometimes in that context, in order to understand the importance of the report, and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out, or request the information as to who the US official was,” Rice said. “The notion that some people are trying to suggest, is that by asking for the identity of a person is leaking it, is unequivocally false. There is no connection between unmasking and leaking.”
President Trump told the New York Times last week that he believes that Rice broke the law, but has thus far failed to provide evidence or have the Justice Department file charges against her. The president claimed that he would provide the evidence “at the right time.”
There have many conflicting claims and counterclaims in the surveillance scandal. The revelations that Trump aides were under investigation for their ties to Russia is an established fact that was known before the election. The identification of Carter Page as a target of the investigation is likely accurate as well. It is also possible that the investigation was not limited to Page.
The jury is still out on the matter of Nunes’s claim of impropriety on the part of the intelligence community. If there is evidence that Rice or other intelligence officers broke the law, then they should be prosecuted and a sanitized version of the evidence should be made public to support the extraordinary claims of Trump and Nunes.
So far there is no indication that any surveillance was conducted illegally or for purely political purposes. Even Nunes acknowledged that the intercepts of Trump campaign communications appeared to be an “incidental collection” that could result from communication with foreign nationals who are under surveillance. If this is how the intercepts resulted, then the FBI was doing its job.
The one person who has the power to clear up the entire mess is President Trump. The president has access to all the intelligence information available and the power to have relevant portions declassified and released to the public. So far, however, it appears that Mr. Trump is not inclined to clear up the situation.