During a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian election interference, Chairman Adam Schiff rejected calls from House Republicans to step down after the Mueller investigation found no evidence of collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Radio America’s Christian Whittle reports.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America settle in for three schadenfreude martinis today, kicking things off with the news that attention-seeking lawyer Michael Avenatti is charged with attempting to extort Nike for $20 million and stealing the damages awarded to his clients. They also welcome the news that House Democrats will not be pursuing the impeachment of President Trump. And they blast former CIA director John Brennan for joining “the resistance” and damaging not only his reputation, but also the reputation of the intelligence community, by perpetuating the Russia collusion conspiracy.
A former high-ranking CIA official says President Trump’s refusal to stand by the U.S. intelligence community while on stage with Russia’s Vladimir Putin is “devastating” and believes Trump’s efforts to walk back those words on Tuesday was thoroughly meaningless.
Herbert E. Meyer served as special assistant to Reagan-era CIA Director William Casey and also as vice chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. He’s also an accomplished producer and author, most recently writing the booklet, “Why is the World So Dangerous.”
As a Trump voter, Meyer says the president’s inability to decide whether U.S. intelligence or Vladimir Putin is telling the truth about meddling in the 2016 campaign, is deeply disappointing.
“He’s done a lot of good things and I’m supporting him. What he said in Helsinki was appalling. There’s just no way around it. He can apologize. He can back off, but you cannot unring a bell. What he said, the entire world heard it. Sorry, that was devastating,” said Meyer.
Meyer says Trump’s logic in granting equal weight to multiple U.S. intelligence reports and Putin’s denials would be considered ludicrous in any era of U.S. history.
“If somebody got up and said, ‘I don’t know, some people say the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor, but I was talking with the Japanese Prime Minister and he says they didn’t do it. I have complete confidence in our military, but I’m not sure who attacked us at Pearl Harbor,’ we would say that man’s an idiot,” said Meyer.
In addition to the lack of confidence Trump’s comments inflict among the various intelligence agencies, Meyer says the president isn’t even consistent with his own allies in Congress.
“He trashed not only our intelligence community, but the committees in Congress, Devin Nunes’ committee for example, that issued an extensive report a month ago on what happened,” said Meyer.
Nunes, R-Calif., chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Meyer says a damage to morale is significant damage to any organization and the intelligence agencies are no exception, but he says the repercussions are far more broad.
“It’s devastating, not just to the intelligence community. It’s devastating to the United States. If you are an ally of our country now, you can’t pay any attention to what he says, because if it bounces badly he’ll just say something else,” said Meyer.
On Tuesday, Trump read a statement indicating he did accept the conclusions of intelligence professionals that there was meddling in the 2016 campaign. But Meyer says the clarification still carries two problems, starting with the fact that it comes too late.
“When he walks it back today, it’s meaningless. It’s like saying, ‘I think you’re a liar. Oh no, I don’t think you’re a liar.’ It just means that words don’t mean anything anymore,” said Meyer.
“Why should anybody pay attention to what he said (Tuesday)? He’s only issuing a clarification because it blew up in his face. I was just watching it on TV when you called me. He doesn’t believe a word he’s saying. He’s sort of mumbling it and reading it.
“He’s not only the country’s president, he’s the guy I voted for, and what he’s saying is just awful,” added Meyer.
Meyer is confident Putin is loving every minute of the controversy. Her doesn’t believe Putin is changing any major policy or plans based on his perceived diplomatic victory, but there’s little doubt that the Russian leader considers Trump’s comments a big win.
“Putin’s primary objective in office is to humiliate the United States. That’s what he wants to do. Now you and I can say that doesn’t make any sense, but that’s what he wants to do. If he could throw a banana peel under our feet, he would rather do that than have another one percent economic growth in Russia,” said Meyer.
Meyer says Trump is causing all sorts of trouble for himself by conflating Russian meddling with political collusion in his own campaign, when the two are distinctly separate issues.
“He folded the two of them together and made everything confused,” said Meyer.
So, is there an avenue for Trump to repair relations with our intelligence agencies? Meyer’s short answer is no.
“The president and I are the same age. Guys our age don’t change. Sorry, what you see is what you get. Words don’t mean anything. He could say anything. He can go out to Langley and give a speech and all that. It doesn’t mean anything. He stood on stage with the leader of Russia and trashed American intelligence,” said Meyer, who finds himself wincing as an American and as a Trump supporter.
“He’s wounded himself and that’s very bad for the United States, whether you’re Republican or Democrat. We have a president with a self-inflicted wound and that’s bad,” he said.
Politicians and media are salivating over Wednesday’s Senate testimony from the top figures in the intelligence community and the opening testimony expected Thursday from former FBI Director James Comey concerning the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, but a former House intelligence committee chairman says so far nothing has really changed.
On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein joined Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
While each of the men seemed reluctant to say there had been no prodding from the Trump administration on the Russia investigation, all of them rejected the idea that Trump or his team did anything inappropriate.
“In the three-plus years that I have been director of the National Security Agency, to the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate,” said Adm. Rogers. “And to the best of my collection, during that same period of service, I do not recall ever feeling pressured to do so.”
Former House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra says that is the most important takeaway from Wednesday.
“What the senators did learn is exactly what they needed to learn, that the heads of these agencies and these departments did not feel any pressure at all from the president or from the White House to stop their investigations of what Russia did in the 2016 election, said Hoekstra, who served 18 years in the House. He is now chairman of Hoekstra Global Strategies.
He says those hoping for a room full of smoking guns came up empty.
“It really ended up being all about nothing. I think there were people expecting that they’d hear more about conversations between President Trump and some of these individuals who work with him and that there might have been a revelation that said they felt pressure from the president. Really, nothing materialized today,” said Hoekstra.
However, Hoekstra says he is glad to see strong bipartisan cooperation from the Senate committee, a process he says ought to bring confidence to the American people that the investigation is being handled responsibly.
That’s also what Hoekstra expects to materialize on Thursday, when the immensely hyped Comey testimony takes place before the same Senate committee. On Wednesday, the committee released Comey’s opening statement for Thursday.
Both parties are already seizing on different passages. Trump critics cite Comey’s contention that Trump demanded loyalty from Comey and repeatedly asked Comey to find a way to ease up on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
At the same time, Comey seems to confirm that Trump himself was never personally under investigation and that Trump’s comments to him, while awkward and possibly inappropriate, did not constitute obstruction of justice or any other crime.
In the end Hoekstra suspects few minds will be changed.
“What the American people will probably see as a result is that the talking heads, for the next 24-48 hours, will both claim victory and some justification for their points of view. Then we’ll get to next week and something else will take over the headlines,” said Hoekstra, who says investigators should then focus on where the evidence is screaming for them to go.
“(Special Counsel Robert) Mueller’s got to focus on what the original intent of this investigation was: the Russians. What did the Russians do, not what did Trump do or what did Hillary do, what did their teams do or anything. What did the Russians do? That’s where the focus will hopefully now move to,” said Hoekstra.
Hoekstra says the American people will be the ultimate judges on whether the Democrats take their accusations too far. He admits Republicans would be fiercely critical if Comey had ever suggested President Obama had asked for his loyalty or to go easy on a political ally.
Still, he says Republicans could do themselves a world of political good by actually doing what they promised to do, rather than letting the Russia story suck all the oxygen out of Washington.
“They’d like to have better roads, better bridges, more income, more jobs and those sorts of things. They’re sick and tired of Washington,” said Hoekstra, who says there’s not reason for the GOP not to plow ahead on its legislative agenda.
As for the ongoing intelligence probe, Hoekstra says we also need to dig deeper into reports of extensive Obama administration surveillance on American citizens.
“I think there should be a lot of focus on the surveillance issue. This is an issue that I’m not totally comfortable with. I’d really like to better understand where NSA has evolved in terms of monitoring and unmasking Americans, where that has evolved to over the last seven to eight years since I’ve left the Hill,” said Hoekstra.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America react to reports – and audio – of Montana GOP House candidate Greg Gianforte getting physical with a reporter, who claims Gianforte body slammed him and broke his glasses. They also shake their heads as Manchester police stop sharing intelligence on Monday’s bombing with U.S. officials after several sensitive items were made public. And they groan as Washington Post columnist David Ignatius has already decided that the 2018 midterm elections will be all about whether to impeach Trump because he is just so very sure that Robert Mueller will recommend impeachment, Trump won’t resign and Republicans won’t pursue impeachment on their own.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America discuss reports that President Trump revealed very sensitive intelligence during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. They also get a kick out of a lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee, alleging staffers weren’t paid the current minimum wage for their work in 2016. And they have some fun with the news that a published photo of President Trump’s bodyguard revealed the personal cell phone number of Defense Sec. James Mattis.
The former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence says it would be highly unusual for any raw intelligence transcripts to reach the White House, and he says if any “incidental” surveillance that did go to political operatives, then lawmakers should actively encourage and protect whistleblowers for coming forward.
This week, the current chairman of the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., told President Trump and the media that he has seen evidence suggesting Trump associates and possibly even Trump himself were picked up communicating with foreign targets under U.S. surveillance.
Former Chairman Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., says the idea of transcripts from incidental surveillance ending up at the White House is stunning.
“My sources and what I gleaned from what Chairman Nunes said on Wednesday, it appears there was raw intelligence, actual transcripts of this incidental collection at the White House,” said Hoekstra, who notes that more corroboration needs to come forward to back up the claims from Nunes..
“It’s not that I was generally refused access to raw intelligence . I never saw it. I can’t remember one instance. I checked with my legal counsel this morning just to make sure I hadn’t and said, ‘Is it true I never saw raw intelligence?’ He said, ‘ That’s right. We never did,'” said Hoekstra.
Under normal circumstances, intelligence on American citizens uncovered by the intelligence community must meet very high standards to move anywhere along the government food chain.
“Number one, for it to see the light of day in any other agency, it has to reach a pretty high hurdle that says we’re going to share this information with other agencies but we’re going to mask the American presence,” said Hoekstra, referring to the practice of obscuring the identity of Americans involved with any foreign surveillance.
“The second thing then is to get those names unmasked. That’s another high hurdle, because while it’s not illegally collected intelligence, it’s inappropriately collected intelligence because it’s outside of their charter,” said Hoekstra.
Government agencies like the CIA and NSA are forbidden by law from directly ordering surveillance on American citizens.
But with Nunes discussing evidence he has seen but does not have and the top Democrat on the committee focusing on alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, Hoekstra says getting people with direct knowledge of the issue to come forward and testify is essential.
But there’s a problem.
“The intelligence community has some of the weakest whistleblower protections anywhere in the federal government,” he said.
Nonetheless, Hoekstra says Nunes needs to make it safe for intelligence professionals to tell what they know.
“I would open the doors and get on TV and in the hearings and all of that, saying ‘If there are people in the intelligence community who believe that there were things that were done wrong, please come to the committee, bypass the whistleblower steps in the intelligence committee, and bring materials immediately to this committee. We will protect you,'” said Hoekstra.
Hoekstra also hopes to see the intelligence committee put more heat on the key officials who addressed them this week.
“I would bring (NSA Director) Mike Rogers and I would bring (FBI Director) James Comey back. I’m glad they’re coming back and I would nail them for what I believe is incomplete testimony last week,” said Hoekstra.
“For that (raw intelligence) information to have found its way to the White House. I believe that James Comey and Mike Rogers of the NSA would both have known of that information being at the White House. They should have shared that with the committee. If anything, they led the committee in different directions,” said Hoekstra.
He points specifically to Comey denying evidence exists to support Trump’s tweet that Obama ordered him to be wiretapped. Hoekstra says that allowed Comey to dodge the broader issue.
“In the larger context, it is people working on behalf of the president under the authority of the former president may have directly or indirectly surveilled his transition team . Mr. Comey maybe should have been more open about that,” said Hoekstra.
The leaking of CIA methods and the ongoing debate over whether the intelligence community is trying to undermine President Trump have thrust a part of our government into the spotlight that greatly prefers to operate in the shadows.
In the first few weeks of the Trump administration, much attention has been paid to the litany of unnamed sources offering information to the media that casts the president in a negative light, possibly even in cahoots with Russia. In addition, Trump has accused President Obama of keeping him under surveillance during the campaign.
The latest headline material for the intelligence community centers on Wikileaks releasing CIA documents which reveal methods of spying on subjects, including the use of smart phones, televisions and other devices.
When it comes to the exposure of CIA secrets, there is the immediate and the long-term fallout.
“Our intelligence service may no longer be able to access information they need to prevent an attack. So that’s as serious as it gets,” said Herbert E. Meyer, who served as special assistant to then-CIA Director William Casey during the Reagan administration.
Meyer also served as vice chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. Most recently he’s founder of Storm King Press and the author of the updated booklet, “Why Is the World So Dangerous?”
The long-term damage of CIA secrets and methods being exposed is also sobering.
“This discredits the CIA and the intelligence service. We’re living in an age when rumors go all over the place and news is unchecked. You can never tell the difference between a fact and an allegation. So once again, the idea is out there that the CIA is spying on everybody,” said Meyer.
“That does an enormous amount of damage to our credibility as a country and to citizens. So it’s really very, very damaging, whatever the facts (in the Wikileaks case) turn out to be,” said Meyer, who says rooting out leakers at the CIA isn’t very difficult.
Meyer admits there are endless new ways to track people than when he was serving at the CIA, but he says the agency always adhered to strict privacy policies unless it had good reason for surveillance.
“There was obviously a clear line. We looked overseas. If it was something here in the United States, the FBI dealt with it, said Meyer. “So the line was a little thicker, a little brighter then. But in all fairness to everyone, it’s a different world now.”
But even worse than the leaking, according to Meyer, is the intelligence community’s obsession with simply gathering information.
“Since 9/11, our intelligence service has been making a fundamental mistake. They came to the conclusion that 9/11 happened because they didn’t have enough information. To some extent that was true, but you know, it’s never enough. It’s a trap. If you’re not careful, you try to know everything about everything and you wind up knowing nothing about nothing,” said Meyer.
Meyer likens that approach to constantly shopping for groceries to make a dinner but never actually making the dinner.
As for the intelligence community regularly leaking sensitive material to a media eager to paint the president in a bad light, Meyer says that happened all the time during the Reagan years.
“About twice a week,” said Meyer. “There’d be a conversation on the seventh floor of the CIA and the next day it would be in the Washington Post. Absolutely amazing (and) that’s nothing new,” said Meyer.
But while Meyer says there are certainly intelligence personnel who do not like the president, there is not a grand conspiracy to bring down the president.
“It’s not ‘deep state.’ That’s sort of an overdramatic version of it. The same thing is happening at the EPA. It happens at the agriculture department. The people like us don’t pay as much attention to that,” he said.
When it comes to whether the Obama administration spied on Trump or his campaign, Meyer is mystified by the drawn-out intrigue.
“This is a classic case of what’s wrong with Washington, D.C. You can never get to the bottom of anything. You can never get anything straight. It’s like trying to read a book while someone throws sand in your eyes,” said Meyer.
He says Trump could resolve this quickly.
“The president has access to every document in the executive branch. There’s nothing that you can keep from a president. So why doesn’t President Trump simply call the directors of the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA and say, ‘Get in here with everything you’ve got on this and let’s take a look,'” said Meyer.
“The president also has the absolute authority to declassify anything. If he wanted to, he could declassify the nuclear launch code. So why can’t we get our hands on this stuff? Why can’t we just see it? If there was a FISA request that was denied last spring, somebody wrote the requests, somebody signs it. The document exists. Let’s see it.
“If there was a FISA request that was approved in October, let’s see that. If anything was approved and there are tapes, recordings [or] transcripts, let’s see them,” said Meyer.
Meyer says he expected obfuscation from the Obama administration but Trump should handle this differently.
“We have a president who is, in effect, on our side as opposed to the last president. So why doesn’t he just get his hands on it and says, ‘Here’s what there was’ or ‘There was nothing.’ I don’t understand why this takes more than 10 minutes to get straight,” said Meyer.
“Remember, we never got to the bottom of Benghazi, but that’s because the people in the White House were trying to keep us from getting straight answers. Why can’t we get straight answers now? That’s what I don’t understand,” said Meyer.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America react to the IRS reportedly ignoring whether taxpayers failed to purchase health insurance in 2016. They also discuss the latest revelations surrounding Mike Flynn and the leaking to the media by career national security personnel. And they discuss the early speculation that Kid Rock may be recruited to run for U.S. Senate in Michigan.