Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America enjoy watching Nancy Pelosi get drowned out by amnesty activists who think she and Chuck Schumer are not doing enough for people who are in the U.S. illegally. They also discuss the revelation that the feds did in fact wiretap former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort before and after the 2016 election. And they have no problem with President Trump referring to Kim Jong-Un as “Rocket Man,” given that decades of professional diplomatic statements have achieved so little.
Hoekstra: Bring in the Whistleblowers
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.
Three Martini Lunch 3/20/17
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America begin by discussing the interesting circumstances surrounding the discovery of Tom Brady’s stolen Superbowl jersey, but then get to the real news. They are excited to see Neil Gorsuch begin his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. They also react to the heads of the FBI and NSA say they have no evidence suggesting Pres. Obama ordered surveillance on Trump Tower. And they shake their heads as only 43 percent of Americans can name one Supreme Court justice.
Ex-DOJ Official: Obama Would Have Known if Feds Got Trump FISA Warrant
A former Justice Department official with experience before Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, or FISA, courts says there are simple ways to determine whether President Trump is right about the government spying on him during the 2016 campaign, and she says President Obama would certainly have known about such actions by the Justice Department.
And she says it’s entirely plausible that Democratic political appointees who were later shifted to career positions in the intelligence community are working to undermine the Trump presidency.
Victoria Toensing served as deputy assistant attorney general and was also a federal prosecutor. In addition, she served as chief counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence while Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., was leading the committee.
The debate over whether the government conducted surveillance on the Trump campaign instantly caught fire Saturday after a series of early-morning tweets from Trump. The president ultimately compared Obama’s alleged actions to Watergate.
Later on Saturday, a spokesman for former President Obama issued a statement denying any involvement by Obama in any surveillance on Trump and his team.
“A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false,” the statement read.
Like other experts, Toensing noted the very careful language in the Obama statement that doesn’t appear to rule out other in the government from authorizing such activity, namely the Justice Department.
“Sounds like a non sequitur, doesn’t it?” said Toensing. “OK, you’ve never interfered, so if the attorney general said she was going to do this and gave you notice, you just said, ‘Go ahead.’ That’s not interfering. It’s a really carefully parsed statement. He’s gotten as good as Bill Clinton,” said Toensing.
Is it certain then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch would have informed Obama when taking such action?
“Oh yeah. I can’t imagine ordering surveillance of a political opponent in a political campaign (without informing the president). Loretta Lynch has shown that she’s been incompetent in many ways, but I don’t think communicating with the president is where’s she’s incompetent,” said Toensing.
Throughout the weekend, very different narratives were presented as fact, from former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper insisting that the no FISA warrant was ever issued in connection to Trump to conservatives highlighting a litany of liberal media outlets reporting on intercepts of key Trump officials for the past several weeks.
The New York Times has reported that the FISA court denied a request for a warrant back in June 2016 but approved one with a much narrower scope in October.
“What is this thing, ‘If it happened?’ There’s been reporting in the New York Times that the second time there was some computer in Trump Tower. Then, indeed, Trump was being electronically surveilled or wiretapped, depending on the technique that was used,” she said.
And Toensing says it is vital for lawmakers and reporters to consistently and repeatedly ask if wiretapping or electronic surveillance was used, since referring to one specific method could give witnesses unintended wiggle room.
Toensing fully supports the matter now going to the House and Senate intelligence committees. She says those panels, particularly on the Senate side, still enjoy a great deal of bipartisan cooperation and adds the key questions range from the existence of the FISA warrants to their scope and the length of time they were valid. She says FISA warrants are normally active for 90 days but can be extended to six months in some cases.
While FISA courts approve warrant requests in nearly all cases, Toensing says the rate is a bit misleading because the court does deny some efforts but then approves them after the government narrows the focus of the warrants.
Nonetheless, she says another good question for lawmakers to pursue is why the June request before the FISA court was rejected. And if reports of the second warrant request being granted is true, why Obama would allow such a thing to take place during the heat of a campaign.
“If it did involve Trump Tower or Trump people, I say what is a Democratic president of the United States doing even having anything to do with tapping Republican opposition during a political year? That just amazes me right there,” said Toensing.
The allegation from Trump and his allies is that partisan intelligence operatives sought to undermine his campaign and are now looking to bring down his presidency. Toensing says that argument is plausible, and point to recent events as evidence of a deep rift in intelligence circles.
“Do you remember when the Yemen raid took place and the [Navy SEAL] was killed? All of a sudden, a few days later, you saw headlines (reporting that) nothing came out of the Yemen raid. It was a loss. Then, about a week ago, I see hundreds of names were acquired during that Yemen raid,” said Toensing.
She says there are a lot of entrenched Democrats now serving in non-political positions.
“Democrats like to stay in government more than Republicans do. So Democrats tend to stay around after the political process goes. They’re given a job in what called a career position,” said Toensing.
She says one of the most controversial figures from the Obama administration is a good example of that transition.
“Lois Lerner, no better example than that,” said Toensing, referring to the former IRS official at the center of government harassment of conservative groups applying for non-profit status.
“She’s a political appointee and then they put her in career positions, where she could sit there and do all kinds of evil to opponents of President Obama,” said Toensing.
So while Toensing is unaware of any specific rogue elements of the intelligence community, she says the idea that some are working against their own president is not far-fetched.
“It would seem to me that the mechanism is there for the people to undermine President Trump. It would appear that that’s what’s happening,” said Toensing.