Claims Of Obama-Era Domestic Spying Are Overblown

As a conservative, it pains me to be perceived as defending Barack Obama. I was a strong and consistent opponent of Obama during his eight years in the White House and rarely, if ever, agreed with him on anything. Yet at times, the criticism and attacks on Obama went too far and I feel obliged to speak up. Such was the case when conservatives charged, against all evidence, that Obama was actually a native Kenyan and that he planned to declare martial law in Texas. It’s the case now with charges of rampant spying on political opponents by the Obama Administration. Objectively speaking, the evidence to support these claims is simply not there.

Such is the case with the recent op-ed by Sharyl Attkisson in The Hill. As with many on the right, Attkisson assumes recent revelations of the surveillance of Paul Manafort are really an attempt to spy on Donald Trump. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Like the others, Attkisson fails to mention that the surveillance started two years before Trump tapped Manafort to be his campaign manager. Attkisson also overlooks the fact that there were many valid reasons for Manafort to be under scrutiny after he closely worked with the party of Ukrainian dictator and Putin figurehead, Viktor Yanukovych.

If the CNN report on the monitoring of Manafort is to be believed, and Attkisson seems to think it does, Manafort was apparently not under surveillance while he was Trump’s campaign manager. The report states that the two FISA warrants that covered Manafort were active from 2014 through “some point” in 2016 and again through fall of 2016 to early 2017. This seems to exclude the period from March through August 2016 when Manafort worked for the Trump campaign and possibly the entire time that Trump has been president.

Other examples of surveillance of by Attkisson are similarly overblown and misinterpreted. She cites comments by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates that “they, too, reviewed communications of political figures, secretly collected under President Obama.” When examined, the testimony in question deals primarily with Michael Flynn, the national security advisor who was fired for lying about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn’s case falls under incidental surveillance in which the Russian diplomat, not Flynn himself, was the person under surveillance. Spying on foreign diplomats is a legitimate role of the intelligence community.

Likewise, Attkisson’s claim that the Obama Administration spied on Congress is misleading. The Wall Street Journal article on which her claim is based makes clear that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the surveillance target, not members of Congress. The article makes clear that the NSA did not intentionally monitor the congressmen, saying that the incidental collection of their conversations with the Netanyahu government led to an “Oh-s— moment” and very valid concerns that the Obama Administration was intentionally monitoring the legislative branch.

Attkisson also cites the example of Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.). In the 2012 article linked by Attkisson on Counterpunch.org, Harman was allegedly the subject of two NSA wiretaps in 2006 and 2009. Obama can obviously not be blamed for the first wiretap since George W. Bush was president in 2006. In any case, once again we see that the target of the surveillance was not Rep. Harman, but a suspected Israeli agent.

Attkisson’s example of Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is another example of a congressman being snared by contact from suspected foreign agents. In Kucinich’s case, the government recorded a call made to his congressional office by Saif el-Islam Qaddafi, at the time a high-ranking official in Libya’s government and a son of the country’s ruler, Moammar Qaddafi.

While the Obama Administration did spy on Fox News journalist, James Rosen, it appears that it did so legally. The Department of Justice obtained a warrant to search Rosen’s emails in connection with an investigation into leaked classified information, says the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Likewise, the cyber spying on the Associated Press was “legal, as far as I can tell,” CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said at the time. “The administration isn’t violating the First Amendment. But they are certainly doing more than has ever been done before in pursuing the private information of journalists. And we’ll see if there’s any political check on them, because there doesn’t appear to be any legal check on what they’re doing.”

Attkisson’s claim that the Obama Administration spied on her is also unverified. The CBS News article describing the breach that Attkisson links to contains a disclaimer: “To be clear, the federal government has not been accused in the intrusion of Attkisson’s computer; CBS News is continuing to work to identify the responsible party.”

Attkisson sued the Obama Administration over the hacking in 2015. The suit is ongoing and she says that the Trump Administration is continuing to defend the case in court. She fails to explain why the Trump Administration would defend illegal actions by the Obama Administration, especially if Donald Trump was also a victim of Obama’s illicit surveillance.

In her closing argument, Attkisson cites alarming statistics about the increase in surveillance under Obama. Nevertheless she fails to point out that, per her source, in 2016, when Obama had supposedly increased surveillance at an alarming pace, only 336 US citizens were targeted by FISA warrants. Likewise, the same memo that Attkisson cites as evidence that the “intelligence community secretly expanded its authority in 2011 so it can monitor innocent U.S. citizens like you and me” actually says that the NSA realized that “its compliance and oversight infrastructure… had not kept pace” and “undertook significant steps to address these issues….”

Additionally, the alarmists fail to acknowledge that the first request for a FISA warrant on Trump campaign staffers was rejected in June 2016. This rejection seems to indicate that at least some intelligence officials under Obama took domestic surveillance protections seriously.

Likewise ignored is a statement in The New York Times from April 2017. Citing an unnamed official, the Times reported with respect to surveillance of Carter Page, another Trump campaign official, “The Justice Department considered direct surveillance of anyone tied to a political campaign as a line it did not want to cross.” This may explain the break in surveillance of Paul Manafort as well.

While there is a lack of evidence of systemic abuse of surveillance by the Obama Administration, there are legitimate concerns. For example, how did the recording of Kucinich’s phone conversation find its way into the hands of reporters four years later? The leaks of Michael Flynn’s conversations to the media were illegal, the lies Flynn told about them to Vice President Pence notwithstanding. The leakers have never been publicly identified or punished.

The unmasking of American subjects of incidental surveillance by Obama Administration officials is also problematic. Susan Rice appears to have been cleared of wrongdoing by House investigators, but Samantha Power still needs to explain her actions.

Finally, the revelations that the CIA inappropriately accessed Senate computers in 2014 shows the need for strict third-party oversight. Nevertheless, the fact that the breach was disclosed at all is encouraging. A subsequent review found that the incident was the result of an error and not intelligence officers acting in bad faith. More protections for journalists from surveillance would be an appropriate reform as well.

The claims of rampant Obama-era spying reflect many of the hallmarks of a classic conspiracy theory. For instance, the dots must be connected between many disparate events and rational explanations have to be ignored. A conspiracy by the Obama Administration to spy on political opponents would mean that virtually everyone in a leadership role in the intelligence community would be complicit, yet few have been fired by President Trump. When he did fire James Comey, illicit spying on Americans was not one of the reasons given.

Occam’s Razor holds that the simplest explanation is most often correct. In the case of Obama’s domestic surveillance, the simplest explanation is that there was probable cause for monitoring in most cases. That includes the cases of Paul Manafort and Carter Page. In other cases, some Americans were caught up in incidental surveillance of legitimate surveillance targets. Michael Flynn fell into this category. Donald Trump may have as well.

What Does The Surveillance of Paul Manafort Mean?

The big story these days is the breaking news that Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was under FBI surveillance. This has brought forth a flurry of claims that Trump was right about his charges of wiretapping, that the FBI only tracked Manafort to find out what Trump was doing and that Manafort was only guilty of talking to Russian diplomats.

The real story is that this news isn’t breaking news at all. The story broke during the campaign that there was an active FISA warrant for surveillance of members of the Trump campaign staff. A November 2016 article by Heat Street (which has since been acquired by MarketWatch) reported that a broad FISA warrant request in June 2016 included Donald Trump as a target. This request was denied, but a subsequent, more narrow request was granted in October.

This was confirmed by the BBC in a January 2017 article which described how the warrant was issued to investigate two Russian banks. The investigation stemmed from intelligence passed to the US by an unnamed Baltic nation in April 2016. The intelligence allegedly included a recorded conversation “about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.” The BBC article mentioned, but did not name, “three of Mr. Trump’s associates were the subject of the inquiry.”

One of the three was Michael Flynn. Flynn was Trump’s first national security advisor. Flynn was fired early in the Trump Administration after it was revealed through leaked surveillance information that he had lied about conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn’s contacts with the Russians were apparently uncovered as an incidental target as the intelligence community monitored Russian diplomats. Flynn is still under investigation by both the Pentagon and Mueller’s task force.

In April 2017, the New York Times named a second target of the investigation. The report stated explicitly that Carter Page had been the target of a FISA warrant after he left the Trump campaign. “The Justice Department considered direct surveillance of anyone tied to a political campaign as a line it did not want to cross,” the report said, citing an unnamed official.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was the third target of the investigation. Manafort had long had ties to the Putin government. He had worked as a consultant for the pro-Russian political party that controlled the Ukraine until it was toppled by a revolution in 2014. Manafort’s name was listed in the so-called “Black Ledger” that detailed secret payments by the Ukrainian ruling party. The ledger, which was discovered after the revolution, showed that Manafort received at least $1.2 million from the pro-Putin ruler of Ukraine per AP reports. Manafort was fired by Trump in August 2016 after the story of the Ukrainian payments broke.

The new story by CNN detailing Manafort’s surveillance says that Manafort was the subject of two FISA warrants. The first, centered on his work in the Ukraine, began in 2014 and “was discontinued at some point last year [2016] for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources.”

The dates for the second warrant are not known but it apparently began after “FBI interest deepened last fall because of intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves.” The warrant reportedly continued until early 2017. The dates suggest that Manafort was not monitored while he was an official part of the Trump campaign, although they do cover a period when he had discussions with President Trump. “It’s unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance,” CNN notes.

Another report by the New York Times says that federal agents raided Manafort’s home in July 2017. Again, this was after his official role as a member of Donald Trump’s campaign staff was long over.

So was Donald Trump right when he claimed that Obama was “tapping” his phones? So far there is still no evidence of this. Surveillance of Trump’s associates is not the same as surveillance of Trump himself. This is especially true if the surveillance did not occur during the period when Trump’s associates were working on his campaign. This would also indicate that the surveillance was not to find out what the Trump campaign was up to.

Further, the surveillance of Paul Manafort was not the result of business-as-usual contacts with Russian diplomats. A FISA warrant was issued for Manafort because he was communicating with Russian agents. A FISA warrant is not proof of guilt, but it does require probable cause. The denial of the June 2016 warrant request is proof that warrants are not issued on a frivolous basis.

The investigation into Paul Manafort and the Russian interference in the 2016 campaign is not yet complete. In the weeks and months to come, we may learn exactly why Manafort was talking to the Russians and what was said. At this point, there is no smoking gun, but there are indications, such as the decision to threaten Manafort with indictment, that Special Counsel Mueller is building a strong case. Part of that case may be on incriminating evidence that resulted from surveillance under the FISA warrant.

Susan Rice Will Be No-Show For House Testimony, But Don’t Believe The Fake News

Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security advisor, was scheduled to testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in a closed-door session today. However, Fox News is reporting that Rice is no longer expected to make an appearance on Capitol Hill.

Rice was scheduled to testify in connection with the Obama Administration’s “unmasking” of Trump campaign members who appeared in intelligence reports. There were reports earlier this year that Trump campaign officials appeared in intelligence reports as “incidental” surveillance, meaning that they were not surveilled as a primary target. Intelligence may have been collected on Trump officials through interactions with the primary target of surveillance, such as meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak or Natalia Veselnitskaya.

When American citizens appear in intelligence reports, their identities are typically “masked” to protect their privacy. In the case of the Trump officials, Obama Administration officials, including Rice and UN Ambassador Samantha Power, allegedly ordered the unmasking of the Trump officials.

Rice was expected to face pointed questions about her role in the unmaskings. Last week, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said that he intended to ask, “Did you unmask the names and if so why?” Jordan also intended to ask Rice about her statements that an anti-Muslim video led to the attack on the Benghazi consulate in 2012.

Rice has denied any wrongdoing and told CNN last month that she testify before the intelligence committee. In May, she declined to appear before the House Judiciary Committee.

Fox News did not cite a reason for the schedule change.

Our sources report that the House asked for the reschedule, despite reports being spread that Rice asked for the delay. The reasoning is that Rice should testify the same day as Samantha Powers. Reports to the contrary are “fake news.”

At this point, there is no indication of when or if Rice’s testimony will be rescheduled. House committees do have the power to subpoena witnesses, but there is no indication that they are preparing to do so yet.

Lindsey Graham Says He Was Surveilled By Obama Administration

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.

What (Or Who) Is Bugging House Republicans?

President Trump has hinted that there are “tapes” of his conversations with James Comey, but the Oval Office apparently isn’t the only place in Washington that is bugged. Earlier this week, the Washington Post published an account of a June 2016 meeting of the House Republican leadership in which Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Cal.) joked about Donald Trump being on the Russian payroll. Now House leaders are concerned that there might be more revelations from past closed door sessions.

Axios reports that Republicans are scrambling to determine the source of the leak even as they wait for the next shoe to drop. “The unknown is frustrating,” said one GOP aide.

The Post story notes that the conversation occurred on the day after news broke that Russians were responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. The conversation reportedly took place shortly after McCarthy and Speaker Ryan had met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladimir Groysman, who had discussed Putin’s tactic of “financing people in our governments to undo our governments” and using “very sophisticated” propaganda throughout Europe.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: [Rep. Dana] Rohrabacher (R-Cal.) and Trump,” McCarthy joked. “Swear to God.” McCarthy also speculated that the hack of the DNC was to steal Democrat opposition research on Donald Trump.

The Post reports that the remark drew laughs before Speaker Paul Ryan interjected, “This is off the record,” and admonished those present, “No leaks…. This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

Rohrabacher, like Trump, has a reputation as a defender of the President Vladimir Putin and the current Russian regime. In November 2016, Politico profiled Rohrabacher as “Putin’s favorite congressman.”

Adam Entous, the author of the Post story, says that the article was based on both a written transcript and “a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post.” If Entous’s claims of a recording are accurate, it is possible that either someone at the meeting was recording the conversation or that a bug had been planted in the room.

There are two prime suspects for the source of the recording. One is that a bug was planted by a member of the Ukrainian delegation. The “Kiev, Ukraine” dateline of the Post story lends some credence to this possibility, but the Axios sources within the GOP say that it is unlikely since security teams regularly sweep the capitol for bugs and, to their knowledge, none has been found.

A more likely possibility, the sources say, is that the meeting was recorded by Evan McMullin, a leadership aide last June who became an independent presidential candidate. Jonathan Swan, author of the Axios story, says that his sources say that the Post denied that McMullin was the leaker and that there is no evidence that he was responsible. If McMullin was the leaker, it is unclear why he would wait to use the tapes now rather than during his presidential campaign.

Regardless of where the recording originated, Republican leaders are concerned about what leaks may come next. If the leaker was McMullin, he attended many private meetings and would have had the opportunity to record reams of sensitive information. If the bug is still active, it could be used to undermine GOP legislative strategies.

Leaks have become commonplace in Washington over the past few years. From the Russian leaks of Democratic emails to disaffected staffers leaking embarrassing information about Donald Trump to the president’s own leak of classified information to the Russians, it seems that no one in Washington can be counted on to keep a secret.

NEW: Carter Page Named As Surveillance Target While Congressmen Deny Nunes Claims

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.

Nunes Statement Does Not Confirm Trump Tweets

Comments made today by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R- Calif.) are being construed by many on the right to confirm President Trump’s tweets alleging that the Obama Administration wiretapped the Trump Tower during the campaign. In reality, Chairman Nunes’s statement falls short of substantiating Trump’s claims, but does allege misbehavior by the intelligence community.

“I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show that the president-elect and his team were, I guess, at least monitored,” Nunes said in Politico. “It looks to me like it was all legally collected, but it was essentially a lot of information on the president-elect and his transition team and what they were doing.”

Nunes described the surveillance as “incidental collection,” which Politico notes “can occur when a person inside the United States communicates with a foreign target of U.S. surveillance. In such cases, the identities of U.S. citizens are supposed to be kept secret — but can be ‘unmasked’ by intelligence officials under certain circumstances.”

Nunes’ statement does not seem to be a revelation. The story that Trump aides were under investigation for their ties to Russia broke before the election. The evidence of Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak came from FBI surveillance of the Russian official. This would fall under the category of “incidental collection.”

Nothing in Chairman Nunes statement indicates that there was any surveillance targeted at Mr. Trump or the Trump Tower. In fact, Nunes reiterated that he had no evidence that any surveillance was conducted in the Trump Tower.

Nunes identified four concerns about the new information. First, that information was “incidentally collected” about members of the Trump transition team. Second, details about members of the transition team “with little or no intelligence value” were widely disseminated in intelligence circles. Third, additional members of the transition were “unmasked” by the surveillance. Finally, Nunes said, “None of this surveillance was related to Russia or the investigation of Russian activities or the Trump team.”

Nunes said that the Intelligence Committee planned to investigate further to determine who was aware of the intelligence collection, why it was not reported to Congress, who requested the additional unmasking, whether there was any direction to focus on the Trump team and whether any laws were broken.

“Investigators are not supposed to ‘brief’ the folks being investigated,” retorted Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.).

On Monday, FBI Director James Comey acknowledged that members of the Trump campaign were under investigation for their ties to Russia, but, at the same time, said that he had “no information” to substantiate Trump’s wiretap claim. Comey also noted that “no individual in the United States can direct electronic surveillance of anyone.”

If Nunes had actually confirmed that President-elect Trump had been under surveillance, then Director Comey would have necessarily been lying. If Comey lied to Congress, especially on an issue in which he conflicted with President Trump, the president would have no choice but to fire him. The fact that Comey has not been dismissed is proof of the lack of evidence for Trump’s claim.

While President Trump told Fox News that he felt “vindicated” by Chairman Nunes’s statement, as commander-in-chief, Trump would have both the access and the authority to present evidence to substantiate his wiretapping claim if any such evidence existed. Numerous Republicans have urged the president to back up his claim with evidence, but nothing has been forthcoming.

Last week, Press Secretary Sean Spicer even attempted to soften the president’s accusations by saying on CNN, “The President used the word wiretaps in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities.” Spicer also said that Trump’s tweets referred to the Obama Administration as a whole rather than the former president individually, even though one tweet called Obama a “Bad (or sick) guy!” [The exclamation is present in the original tweet].

The entire brouhaha over the wiretapping tweet has followed the classic pattern that starts with Donald Trump making an outlandish claim. When asked to withdraw or back up his statement, Trump typically doubles down without providing evidence. At that point, pundits start twisting facts as well as the president’s words to make each match the other.

At this point, there are numerous loose ends to tie up. The FBI investigation of Russian meddling and links to Team Trump is still underway. The House investigation of intelligence dissemination of Team Trump is just getting started. There are many unknowns but one thing seems certain: Obama did not wiretap Trump Tower.

BREAKING: Nunes Says Trump Team Was Under Surveillance

Politico reports that House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes is claiming that Donald Trump’s transition team was indeed under surveillance by the Obama administration:

Members of the Donald Trump transition team, possibly including Trump himself, were under surveillance during the Obama administration following November’s election, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes told reporters Wednesday.

 

Nunes said the surveillance appears to have been legal, incidental collection and that it does not appear to have been related to concerns over collusion with Russia.

Exactly why Trump’s team would be the target of surveillance if not for the investigation over connections to Russia remains a mystery, but one would imagine that if anybody was in a position to know, it would be someone like Nunes.  It also seems unlikely that Nunes would make such a claim lightly, given the hissy fits pitched by the media over the supposed debunking of Trump’s claims that Trump Tower was being bugged by Obama.

This also flies in the face of testimony by FBI director James Comey that there was no evidence that Trump was being bugged, further muddying the waters on an already murky subject.  With any luck, we’ll get more clarity from Nunes soon.