Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America briefly grouse about D.C.area drivers in inclement weather before sipping their martinis. Then, they welcome the end of the Austin mail bombing horrors as the suspect apparently blows himself up as police close in on him. They also fume as the GOP-led Congress pursues yet another omnibus spending bill with virtually no fiscal restraint in sight, leading Jim to declare that “fiscal conservatism is dead.” And they sigh as President Trump defies his staff to congratulate Vladimir Putin on “winning” his election and because a disgruntled Trump staffer then leaked classified information to the media.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats announced a joint effort Friday, designed to track down and prosecute whoever is leaking classified information to the media, and former federal prosecutor Victoria Toensing says this problem can be addressed by putting the media on notice, limiting the number of people who see key documents and rooting out Obama holdovers from the National Security Council staff.
Toensing also urged caution before jumping to conclusions over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s assembling of a grand jury into the Russia, probe but she fears serious mission creep is afoot and wonders why there still isn’t a grand jury investigating Hillary Clinton over her email scandal or examining the actions of the Clinton Foundation.
The issue of leaks jumped to the forefront again this week, after the Washington Post published classified transcripts of President Trump’s conversations with other world leaders during the first days of his administration.
Toensing says there is clear-cut criminal activity involved.
“It is absolutely prosecutable. It is a leak of classified information. What the Washington Post is doing is effecting President Trump’s ability to do his job, because the Washington Post is absolutely committed to bringing down this presidency,” said Toensing.
“You know ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness,’ their new label, their new motto? Well, democracy dies in fake news in publishing classified information, which provides no news value. What did we learn in the publishing of that transcript? Nothing,” said Toensing.
Toensing says the most important thing to come out of the Sessions-Coats press conference is the warning that journalists will get subpoenaed if necessary to expose those responsible for the leaks. She says they don’t need to be prosecuted to assist an investigation.
“They don’t have to go that far. They can subpoena them and bring them before the grand jury, remember? Patrick Fitzgerald did that in the Scooter Libby-Valerie Plame situation and there hadn’t even been a crime there we all know,” said Toensing, referring to the investigation into the alleged leaking of the identity of a covert CIA operative.
No one was ever charged for the leak, which came from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Libby was charged with perjury and making false statements.
While bracing for cries of suppressing the free press, Toensing says using reporters to track down leakers is a far cry from how former Attorney General Eric Holder treated the media during the Obama administration.
“They went after 20 [Associated Press] reporters. There was hardly a peep. AP peeped a little but there was not any massive outcry in the press,” said Toensing. “They subpoenaed their phone records from Verizon. AP didn’t even have notice that these subpoenas had taken place,” said Toensing.
“Eric Holder’s people went after James Rosen from Fox News an called him a co-conspirator, a criminal, and he was a flight risk. Look what the Obama administration did without much of a murmur,” said Toensing.
But while that debate plays out, how can the Trump administration zero in those responsible for leaking classified information? Toensing says it starts with tightening the inner circle.
“The Post also said these are notes from staff people and that they are routinely shared with a number of people. I think that ‘routinely shared” has got to stop. They’re going to have to limit the number of people who get these kinds of documents,” said Toensing.
Toensing also urges a detailed numbering system for all classified documents, so that investigators can zero in on what seems to be getting leaked to the media. She says some reporters may go to jail rather than give up their sources, but the government needs to start applying pressure.
“I think the message has to go out there. I think they have to start intimidating some of these people who have just been blatant in providing and publishing classified information,” said Toensing.
She is also frustrated by reports than many staff from the Obama National Security Council are still working there.
“That’s the president’s fault. The president has been told, I know, whom to get rid of. He hasn’t done so and he only has himself to blame,” said Toensing.
But Toensing is also increasingly leery of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster given some of his recent decisions.
“He’s gotten rid of some very excellent NSC staff who seem to be more conservative, like hardliners against Iran, which I thought was a good idea. Evidently, McMaster doesn’t and he’s gotten rid of them,” said Toensing, who is also fuming over McMaster choosing to allow Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice to keep her national security clearance.
“That concerns me. If Susan Rice is talking, she’s lying. That has been her modus operandi throughout the whole Obama administration from Benghazi to Sgt. (Bowe) Bergdahl,” said Toensing. “I have not seen her take on any major issue that she did not provide false statements. So why he stuck up for her I have no idea.”
When it comes to the revelation that Mueller has convened a grand jury over the Russia probe, Toensing is less concerned at least for now. She says a leak may not even be responsible for this news.
“That could or could not be a leak because you could have a witness called before the grand jury or someone who was asked to provide documents who provided that information, and that is not a crime,” said Toensing.
But Toensing is bothered by some aspects, including how the Mueller investigation appears to be delving into areas far afield from the the original focus of the probe. She says the Justice Department should have avoided that problem at the outset.
“It should have been circumscribed by (Deputy Attorney General) Rod Rosenstein. He should have said, ‘For the purpose of investigating Russian collusion only.’ And if investigating only Russian collusion you come across a crime, well then that can be prosecuted. But expanding this to business dealings before Donald Trump even thought about running for president is certainly mission creep,” said Toensing.
Some Trump defenders are alarmed to see several top ranking FBI officials on the apparent witness list for the grand jury, asserting that they are allies of ousted FBI Director James Comey and thus unfair to the president.
“When I was a federal prosecutor, I would bring in federal agents all the time because they’re doing the investigation. We don’t know whether they’d be fact witnesses, which would be one thing, or whether they are coming in because they have done X,Y, and Z and they need to tell the grand jury about their investigation,” said Toensing.
Toensing says assembling a grand jury may be an appropriate move in this case, but she is still puzzled over the FBI’s failure to have one looking into the Hillary Clinton email scandal and for its unusual habit of offering immunity to key figures in exchange for documents.
She says it’s still a good time for a grand jury to look at all questionable activities by the Clintons.
“They should do so now because the foundation has not been examined. There are a lot of new emails now, acquired by Judicial Watch, showing that there was lots of play-for-play back and forth, (such as) million dollars coming in, can you get my friend an ambassadorship,” said Toensing.
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.
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.