Trump is vindicated!
In that way you’re vindicated when your team gets caught talking to
Russians foreign entities about matters that may pertain to national security after those same Russians hacked an election.
Let me ask you a question (and this need not apply if you have recently checked your microwave for CIA cameras): have you ever worried that maybe you might have been swept up in a probe involving monitored conversations between yourself and foreign officials discussing a Presidential transition? No? Do you know why? Well let me tell you why. It’s because you haven’t been conspiring with foreign officials.
See how that works?
Apparently Susan Rice, who the other day rather unfortunately told “PBS NewsHour” that she “knows nothing about” Trump officials being swept up in incidental intelligence gathering, does in fact “know something about” it. And not just “something.” Quite a lot. A lot like, to quote Bloomberg, “requesting the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign.”
So a couple of things to note here. First, Rice probably made those type of requests all the time, right? I mean, she was National Security advisor. So you know, what would you do? I guess this sounds bad if you’re one of these folks that thinks the CIA is hiding in your iPhone, but if you were National Security Advisor and you were monitoring conversations between foreign persons/ spies / officials / entities, or whatever, and “US Person #1” started talking, and then before you knew it there was “US Person #2” and then maybe “US Person #3” and so on and so forth, I’d imagine you’d probably be curious to know who those “US Persons” were. Especially if you thought they might be officials tied to a campaign that just won an election that the entire US intelligence community said was hacked. But you know, maybe that’s just me.
Here’s what Bloomberg wrote this morning:
The National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, was conducting the review, according to two U.S. officials who spoke with Bloomberg View on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. In February Cohen-Watnick discovered Rice’s multiple requests to unmask U.S. persons in intelligence reports that related to Trump transition activities. He brought this to the attention of the White House General Counsel’s office, who reviewed more of Rice’s requests and instructed him to end his own research into the unmasking policy.
The intelligence reports were summaries of monitored conversations — primarily between foreign officials discussing the Trump transition, but also in some cases direct contact between members of the Trump team and monitored foreign officials. One U.S. official familiar with the reports said they contained valuable political information on the Trump transition such as whom the Trump team was meeting, the views of Trump associates on foreign policy matters and plans for the incoming administration.
Ok, got it. So when you combine that with the PBS quote above and with what we know about Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Nunes and the timing of all this, it’s pretty clear what happened.
Ezra Cohen-Watnick was a’lookin’ for some stuff in February. More specifically, he was a’lookin’ at “the government’s policy on ‘unmasking’ the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally.” Which makes sense, because after all, Mike Flynn hired him.
Then, a couple of weeks later, Trump woke up early one Saturday morning and regurgitated (in a tweet) a Breitbart article based on a Right-wing radio rant.
No one at the White House had any idea what he was talking about and before anyone could decipher the craziness, Democrats were asking for answers.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and Ezra Cohen-Watnick said something like this: “sh*t, I know what we can do, let’s use that stuff I found out about Susan Rice and try to make that look like evidence for that stupid ass tweet.”
The next step was to figure out how to do that, and the situation became more urgent after the FBI Director disclosed a probe into the Trump campaign and Russia. So they dragged poor Devin Nunes to the White House and said something on the order of: “look Devin, we hate to do this to you but you’re going to read this stuff on Susan Rice and then you’re going to go and give a press conference where you’ll kind-of-sort-of say that you’ve seen evidence to support Trump’s claims, but if anyone asks you point-blank whether Trump Tower was bugged, you’ll of course have to say ‘no’ because let’s face it, we all know that’s crazy.”
Then Nunes did what Nunes did – sweating, stammering, canceling public hearings and all – and here we are today. And what have we learned? Well, nothing actually. Because after all, The New York Times (and countless other media outlets) said the same thing last month. To wit:
A pair of White House officials helped provide Representative Devin Nunes of California, a Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with the intelligence reports that showed that President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.
Right. So we already knew that. Indeed, that’s what this whole story is about.
Now we know that Susan Rice wanted to know the names of the folks who were swept up in that surveillance. We also now know she was pretty insistent on it. Like 12 times insistent. And then finally, it looks like she might have lied about it to PBS, which would make sense since apparently she wasn’t supposed to be doing that, or at least, it wasn’t entirely kosher. Or maybe it was. Maybe it’s only concerning if you’re prone to being paranoid. Here’s Bloomberg again:
But Rice’s multiple requests to learn the identities of Trump officials discussed in intelligence reports during the transition period does highlight a longstanding concern for civil liberties advocates about U.S. surveillance programs. The standard for senior officials to learn the names of U.S. persons incidentally collected is that it must have some foreign intelligence value, a standard that can apply to almost anything. This suggests Rice’s unmasking requests were likely within the law.
So sure, if you’re accidentally swept up in surveillance while the government is monitoring possible shenanigans and the government wants to know who you are, chances are they can find an excuse to “unmask” you. Surprise! [Sarcasm]
In the end, I’m not entirely sure how this changes the story about Trump and Russia. All we know now that we didn’t know two days ago is the name of the person who sought to do the “unmasking” (Susan Rice) and that if Susan Rice is ever National Security Advisor again (is there a term limit on that position?), it would be in your best interest not to find yourself talking to Russians.
Well, Susan Rice isn’t National Security Advisor anymore, I’m not talking to Russians, and neither are you, right? Right. See what I’m saying?
Anyway, here’s a handy summary of how this has played out from Mother Jones (FAKE NEWS!!!!):
- Obama became some part of the executive branch.
- Wiretap became surveillance of some kind.
- Trump Tower became Trump.
- Trump became anyone associated with Trump.
- Surveillance became criminal investigation of Trump campaign team. Oops. Wrong turn. Let’s ditch that one.
- Second try: surveillance became routine monitoring of foreign officials that happened to include Trump officials on the other end.
- Routine monitoring became unmasking of Trump officials.