As they celebrate seven years of the Three Martini Lunch, Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America also applaud Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley for requesting testimony from the FBI informant behind the explosive reports of Russians engaging in bribes, kickbacks, and Clinton Foundation donations in order to get Hillary Clinton’s help in steering 20 percent of U.S. uranium to Russia. They also wonder just how deep the unmasking scandal goes, as former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power says she had nothing to do with the vast majority of the 260 unmasking requests done in her name. And they have fun with the absurd but viral contention among liberals on social media that someone else was pretending to be First Lady Melania Trump during a recent appearance with the president.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America are glad to see former UN Ambassador Samantha Power exposed for egregious “unmasking” of Americans detected on foreign surveillance, including a huge number just prior to President Trump’s inauguration. They also cast a skeptical eye upon North Korea’s threat to detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean, but note the troubling impact it would have on the area and the prospects for war. And they express disgust as former CIA operative and liberal media darling Valerie Plame tweets out a story blaming “America’s Jews” for America’s Wars and suggesting American Jews recuse themselves from Middle East policy and be identified as Jews when speaking on television. They also roll their eyes at her pathetic explanation and wonder how her attitude played into her controversy at the outset of the Iraq War.
A former federal prosecutor says it is highly unusual for anyone in a political position to request the “unmasking” of U.S. citizens and he says it is vital for congressional investigators to determine the full scope of the federal government’s incidental surveillance of Donald Trump and his associates during the campaign and the presidential transition.
On Tuesday, Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice admitted to requesting the intelligence community unmask Americans captured in communications with foreigners under legal surveillance. However, she insists there was nothing unusual about it and that she did not leak any of the classified information.
Andrew C. McCarthy was a federal prosecutor, most famous for leading the prosecution of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and his associates for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and their plots to attack other New York City landmarks. He’s written about the Rice revelations this week at National Review Online.
He says Rice’s actions were very unusual.
“We’re talking about what’s supposed to be incidental collection. It starts to look a whole lot less incidental if you’re doing the same thing again and again with respect to the same people or group of people,” said McCarthy.
“By the time someone like Susan Rice gets a finished intelligence product or report in her hands, the unmasking question has already been answered by the people who know it best, which is the collecting agency. It’s highly, highly unusual for consumers of intelligence to go to the collecting agencies and ask them to unmask the identities,” said McCarthy.
With Rice admitting to requesting the unmasking, the question now becomes what President Obama knew. McCarthy says every administration has safeguards in place to protect the president and give him plausible deniability in situations like this. But he says it was clear to the intelligence-gathering agencies (CIA, NSA, and FBI) who they were responding to.
“If you were the NSA and you got a call from Susan Rice, who says, ‘You know, I’d really like to see the identity of this American that you haven’t identified in your report,” when you hear that question, you’re not talking to just any government official. You’re talking to the president’s right hand,” said McCarthy, who says the NSA still should have denied the request.
He also believes it’s highly unlikely that Rice personally did any leaking. But he is beginning to connect the dots on how all of this played out.
“I think what happened here is you had very high people at the top who did the unmasking. You had this executive order by Obama which pushed this information out across the intelligence community. And then you have people like Evelyn Farkas, who tell us that the administration was putting pressure on members of Congress to ask the intelligence community for as much disclosure as possible,” said McCarthy.
“So what you did is you set up a situation where leaking of classified information, probably about Trump people, became inevitable. And what ended up happening over the last five months? There was lots of leaking,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy says his experience leads him to some simple conclusions.
“Where I come from, the best evidence of conspiracy is success. If what they were trying to do was create a situation where there would be a lot of leaking of classified information, there’s been a lot of success over the last five months,” said McCarthy.
While finding the actual leakers of the classified information is important, McCarthy says there ought to be higher priorities.
“It’s much less important that you figure out where people committed crimes here than to get to the bottom of whether there was a grotesque abuse of power,” he said.
He says answering that question definitively could determine the future security of the nation.
“The important thing here is that at the end of this year, all of these surveillance powers are up for reauthorization by Congress. If the American people are led to believe, because it’s true, that there’s been massive abuse of these powers, those powers are going to be curtailed. There’s going to be a scandal and there’ll be a lot of pressure on Congress to remove some of these surveillance authorities,” said McCarthy.
“If that happens, that will make our country much less safe, because all power can be used roguishly. But these powers are there because we actually need them to protect the country. I’m worried that this scandal puts the government in such disrepute, once we get to the bottom of it, that the public will not trust the government to use these powers responsibly,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy is not worried about the bickering in the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, suggesting it’s just like lawyers arguing vigorously on different sides of a case.
However, he does say it is up to Congress to find out what happened.
“Congress is the only game in town because this is all classified information. The intelligence committees are cleared to do this kind of investigation. So if we don’t have Congress do it, it’s probably not going to get done anytime soon,” said McCarthy.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America point out that even the liberal editorial board at USA Today is telling Democrats that filibustering Neil Gorsuch is a bad idea against an obviously qualified jurist. They also shudder as apparent terrorist attacks kill and injure metro passengers in St. Petersburg, Russia. And they react to former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice reportedly being the one to request the “unmasking” of Trump officials incidentally caught up in government surveillance.
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.