Trump: I feel “somewhat” vindicated knowing that members of my transition team were incidentally surveilled

posted at 6:21 pm on March 22, 2017 by Allahpundit

I think he’s right to feel somewhat vindicated — but not on the core point, that Obama wiretapped him in Trump Tower.

John’s post about what Nunes said today is essential background here. Trump’s tweets back on March 4th were all aimed at the idea that Obama had spied on him deliberately for nefarious political reasons; Trump compared it to “McCarthyism” and to “Nixon/Watergate.” Nunes’s point today, though, was that the transition members were surveilled legally and incidentally — that is, they were recorded only because the feds were targeting other people for surveillance. That can happen to anyone. If a Russian agent inside the United States dials you up and orders a pizza from you, congratulations — you’re likely now an “incidental” part of a conversation recorded by the U.S. government. Unless I missed it, Nunes never claimed that Team Trump had been singled out or targeted in any way by the feds because of who they were. They ended up on tape because they were talking to people whom U.S. intelligence has an interest in. What’s the nefarious element in that? I’d be curious, in fact, to know how many Hillary Clinton staffers were incidentally recorded last year when chatting by phone with foreign acquaintances, of which a former Secretary of State probably has many. What made Trump’s charge against Obama explosive wasn’t the possibility of “incidental” surveillance, it was the suggestion of targeted surveillance, for political reasons. And Nunes says there’s nothing to that charge.

Where Trump should feel somewhat vindicated, if Nunes is telling the truth in all this, is in his chronic complaints about politically motivated leaks within the intelligence community. Yes, said Nunes, it’s true that the Trump transition team members were recorded legally — but when the transcripts of those calls were prepared, their identities weren’t redacted. The feds are supposed to “mask” information that might identity an American citizen whenever they’re recorded incidentally unless knowing their identity is essential to understanding the intelligence value of the call. Nunes claims that it wasn’t essential in the cases he’s seen, in which case why weren’t the identities redacted? In particular (and this was his most surprising revelation), he said that the recordings of Trump staffers weren’t made in connection with the Russia probe. Evidently they were talking to non-Russians who were under federal surveillance for whatever reason. The impression you get from listening to him is that some federal officials decided to circulate unredacted transcripts of calls that happened to involve Trump transition members for no better reason than mere prurience. That’s a gross violation of an American citizen’s privacy and something Trump would have every right to be angry about — if Nunes is right that there was no valid intelligence reason to unmask the names. That’s the next step in this drama: Will Adam Schiff, Nunes’s Democratic counterpart on the committee, provide some reason to believe that those names were unmasked for a good reason?

One other question here. What’s Nunes doing running over to the White House to brief Trump on this? He’s a member of a different branch’s intelligence committee; if Trump has questions about incidental recordings of his staff, he can have Dan Coats in his office within five minutes to discuss it. Also, most of the GOP’s time during the Comey hearing on Monday was spent making the point that leaks are bad, yet here’s Nunes leaking quite a bit of information that wasn’t publicly known — and according to reports, he didn’t bother briefing Schiff before he did. He took it upon himself to float this information to try to give Trump some political cover without so much as informing his committee first. And to make things stranger, he appears to be giving contradictory answers about whether Trump himself was recorded incidentally in all of this surveillance. At one point today he seemed to say yes, at another point he says he “could” have been. The whole thing is odd, and critics aren’t shy in pointing it out.

Update: Schiff just put out a statement criticizing Nunes for his “profound irregularity” in running to Trump and the press with this before briefing his own committee. Key bit:

So most of the names weren’t unmasked? Was there other identifying information left in the transcripts, maybe? E.g., “Hello, yes this is XXXXXX XXXXXXX. Yes I was just named Trump’s chief of staff.” And how widely were these transcripts circulated, anyway?

Update: Again, was it mere prurience that led to the transcripts being circulated?

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