Remember Devin Nunes?
Yeah, so right up until Donald Trump decided to bomb Syria he was one of the most famous people in the developed world.
Nunes was the guy who, in his capacity as House Intelligence Committee Chairman, decided it was a good idea to make what amounted to a clandestine visit the White House to view secret documents just when the walls appeared to be closing in on Donald Trump with regard to his campaign’s ties to the Kremlin.
Essentially, Trump tried to deflect from that investigation (chaired by Nunes) with a now (in)famous tweet in which a sitting President implicitly cited an article that appeared on a media outlet that used to be run by his top advisor on the way to accusing a former President of tapping the phones at Trump Tower.
That was of course a lie, and the White House spent the next several weeks trying to explain it. When they couldn’t, they had an idea.
As it turns out, senior director for intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick (who has long-standing ties to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn) conducted a review in February of surveillance under the Obama administration and discovered that former National Security Advisor Susan Rice made multiple requests to unmask U.S. persons in intelligence reports that related to Trump transition activities. That ended up coming in pretty damn handy. Last month, I described what I thought likely happened as follows:
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: blaming Susan Rice for an errant Trump tweet.
Summed up in one video:
Since then, Nunes recused himself from the investigation under heavy pressure from Democrats and around 6 hours later (literally), Trump lobbed 59 Tomahawks at Syria and everyone forgot who he (Devin Nunes) was.
Well guess what? It turns out my assessment from a month ago was dead-on. Check this out from The New Yorker:
Recently, several members and staffers on the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia’s role in the Presidential election, visited the National Security Agency, in Fort Meade, Maryland. Inside the enormous black glass headquarters of America’s largest spy agency, the congressmen and their aides were shown a binder of two to three dozen pages of highly classified intercepts, mostly transcripts of conversations between foreign government officials that took place during the Presidential transition. These intercepts were not related to the heart of the committee’s Russia investigation. In fact, only one of the documents had anything to do with Russia, according to an official who reviewed them.
What the intercepts all had in common is that the people being spied on made references to Donald Trump or to Trump officials. That wasn’t even clear, though, from reading the transcripts. The names of any Americans were concealed, or “masked,” the intelligence community’s term for redacting references to Americans who are not the legal targets of surveillance when such intelligence reports are distributed to policy makers.
The binder of secret documents is at the center of the bizarre scandal created by what may be the most reckless lie President Trump has ever told. On March 4th, he tweeted, “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” The White House made several efforts to justify Trump’s claim, including using Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as a conduit for the documents, which allegedly offered some substantiation. A former Nunes staffer now working for the White House dug up the transcripts and shared them with Nunes. As Bloomberg View reported, earlier this month, Susan Rice, Obama’s national-security adviser, had used a process that allowed her to request that the masked names be revealed to her. Rice had to log her unmasking requests on a White House computer, which is how Trump’s aides knew about them. Nunes and the White House presented this as a major scandal. “I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story,” Trump told the Times, adding, while offering no evidence, that Rice may have committed a crime.
It is now clear that the scandal was not Rice’s normal review of the intelligence reports but the coördinated effort between the Trump Administration and Nunes to sift through classified information and computer logs that recorded Rice’s unmasking requests, and then leak a highly misleading characterization of those documents, all in an apparent effort to turn Rice, a longtime target of Republicans, into the face of alleged spying against Trump. It was a series of lies to manufacture a fake scandal. Last week, CNN was the first to report that both Democrats and Republicans who reviewed the Nunes material at the N.S.A. said that the documents provided “no evidence that Obama Administration officials did anything unusual or illegal.”
I spoke to two intelligence sources, one who read the entire binder of intercepts and one who was briefed on their contents. “There’s absolutely nothing there,” one source said. The Trump names remain masked in the documents, and Rice would not have been able to know in all cases that she was asking the N.S.A. to unmask the names of Trump officials.
Nunes is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee because, in talking about the documents, he may have leaked classified information. But this is like getting Al Capone for tax evasion. The bigger scandal is the coördinated effort to use the American intelligence services to manufacture an excuse for Trump’s original tweet.
The intelligence source told me that he knows, “from talking to people in the intelligence community,” that “the White House said, ‘We are going to mobilize to find something to justify the President’s tweet that he was being surveilled.’ They put out an all-points bulletin”—a call to sift through intelligence reports—“and said, ‘We need to find something that justifies the President’s crazy tweet about surveillance at Trump Tower.’ And I’m telling you there is no way you get that from those transcripts, which are about as plain vanilla as can be.” (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)
Goddammit, I told you so.
I wrote that story last month. In fact, the New Yorker article is just my post without the colloquial feel plus an intelligence source to confirm the narrative. Which is fine. To quote Trump, “I feel partially vindicated.”
Hell, I even did a cartoon break post about this. Remember? …
Now this story will surely get lost in the shuffle what with all the geopolitical turmoil unfolding from London to Paris to Damascus to Seoul. In the context of the crisis on the Korean Peninsula and the Assad drama, one might say that this political “bombshell” will invariably get lost in all the real-life “bombshells.”
And by the way, isn’t that convenient for the administration?