While Congress gears up for an investigation into Donald Trump’s allegations that the Obama administration had tapped lines at Trump Tower before the election, one former member of the House warns not to be too skeptical of the claim. Retired Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) told Bill O’Reilly last night that he discovered that a phone call with one of Moammar Qaddafi’s sons and himself got tapped and recorded, even though that violated the separation-of-powers doctrine. Kucinich even holds up redacted transcripts of the call as evidence that the intelligence community had gone beyond its boundaries on at least this occasion — which Kucinich only discovered after a recording of the call leaked to a media outlet:
“I had a resolution in the House to try to stop the war and [Saif el-Islam Qaddafi, a high-ranking official in Libya’s government and son of President Moammar Qaddafi] called me to talk about it,” Kucinich said.
“I cleared the discussion with House attorneys and a member of Congress is not supposed to be listened to by the executive branch,” he continued. “The Director of National Intelligence under President Obama was tracking my resolution and I didn’t find out until two years after I had left Congress.”
Kucinich revealed in a Friday FoxNews.com column that investigative reporters from the Washington Times contacted him after obtaining the tape to verify his voice on the recording.
“When I met them at a Chinese restaurant in Washington, they played back audio of a call I had taken in my D.C. congressional office four years earlier,” he told O’Reilly.
Kucinich tells O’Reilly that he’d never spoken about this openly until now, and was prompted to do so after some of his former colleagues scoffed at Trump’s allegations. “This is the time to explain to people that if a member of Congress can have his phone tapped on a policy matter, this can happen to anybody.”
Of course, this doesn’t constitute proof of wiretaps on Trump, which the administration wants Congress to find rather than offer it themselves. The House Intelligence Committee asked the Department of Justice to produce all records relating to any investigation of Trump, but the DoJ wants more time to look. The committee replied that they’re not going to wait long before trotting out some subpoenas:
The committee replied in a statement that it wanted a response by the time of a planned hearing on March 20, suggesting it would use a subpoena if that did not happen.
“If the committee does not receive a response by then, the committee will ask for this information during the March 20 hearing and may resort to a compulsory process if our questions continue to go unanswered,” a spokesman said.
To at least some extent, Kucinich’s example shows the presumed path of the exposure of Michael Flynn in late January. Intel services would have been tapping Saif el-Islam Qaddafi’s communications, and that would have led to the call between Qaddafi’s son and Kucinich, rather than tapping Kucinich directly, as Kucinich alleges. Kucinich may have been pushing a bill to stop action in Libya, but Kucinich was on the fringe of his own caucus, which was also in the minority at that time, and it’s difficult to buy that the Obama White House or the intel community was concerned about Kucinich’s effort. It’s much more likely that Kucinich got caught up in intel tracking of Qaddafi rather than the other way around.
However, what happened afterward is notable. Kucinich is correct that any conversation with a member of Congress that doesn’t involve a criminal investigation should have been off limits to intelligence operatives. They should have disconnected at that point and referred the matter to the DoJ, which could have discussed the contact directly with Kucinich if they felt it was important enough to investigate. Instead, not only did they stay on the line, they retained the recording, transcribed it, and archived it — and eventually leaked it to the media while identifying Kucinich. That is a swipe at the separation of powers and the concept of co-equal branches, treads dangerously close to political interference, and it closely resembles what happened to Flynn.
The lesson here is that broad powers of surveillance will get used broadly, and the risk of abuse for political purposes is high. Congress should investigate Kucinich’s allegations along with Trump’s to see whether those abuses have happened, who knew about them, and whether agents had permission or orders to conduct it from political appointees in their organizations.