The GOP to smear Susan Rice to distract from Trump lies

I’ve posted about this previously, but it bears repeating: A review of the surveillance material flagged by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes shows no inappropriate action by Susan Rice or any other Obama administration official, Republican and Democratic Congressional aides who have been briefed on the matter told NBC News. Susan Rice Did Nothing Wrong, Say Both Dems and Republicans:

Members of the House and Senate intelligence committees from both parties have traveled to NSA headquarters to review the relevant intelligence reports.

“I saw no evidence of any wrongdoing,” said one U.S. official who reviewed the documents, who would not agree to be identified further. “It was all completely normal.”

His assessment was shared by a senior Republican aide who had been briefed on the matter but declined to speak on the record.

The finding by lawmakers of both parties was first reported by CNN.

It was a fake “scandal” manufactured by the Trump White House to create a distraction in which House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes was a complicit participant. Ryan Lizza writes at the New Yorker, The Continuing Fallout From Trump and Nunes’s Fake Scandal:

Recently, several members and staffers on the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia’s role in the Presidential election, visited the National Security Agency, in Fort Meade, Maryland. Inside the enormous black glass headquarters of America’s largest spy agency, the congressmen and their aides were shown a binder of two to three dozen pages of highly classified intercepts, mostly transcripts of conversations between foreign government officials that took place during the Presidential transition. These intercepts were not related to the heart of the committee’s Russia investigation. In fact, only one of the documents had anything to do with Russia, according to an official who reviewed them.

The binder of secret documents is at the center of the bizarre scandal created by what may be the most reckless lie President Trump has ever told. On March 4th, he tweeted, “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” The White House made several efforts to justify Trump’s claim, including using Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as a conduit for the documents, which allegedly offered some substantiation. A former Nunes staffer now working for the White House dug up the transcripts and shared them with Nunes. As Bloomberg View reported, earlier this month, Susan Rice, Obama’s national-security adviser, had used a process that allowed her to request that the masked names be revealed to her. Rice had to log her unmasking requests on a White House computer, which is how Trump’s aides knew about them. Nunes and the White House presented this as a major scandal. “I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story,” Trump told the Times, adding, while offering no evidence, that Rice may have committed a crime.

It is now clear that the scandal was not Rice’s normal review of the intelligence reports but the coördinated effort between the Trump Administration and Nunes to sift through classified information and computer logs that recorded Rice’s unmasking requests, and then leak a highly misleading characterization of those documents, all in an apparent effort to turn Rice, a longtime target of Republicans, into the face of alleged spying against Trump. It was a series of lies to manufacture a fake scandal. Last week, CNN was the first to report that both Democrats and Republicans who reviewed the Nunes material at the N.S.A. said that the documents provided “no evidence that Obama Administration officials did anything unusual or illegal.”

I spoke to two intelligence sources, one who read the entire binder of intercepts and one who was briefed on their contents. “There’s absolutely nothing there,” one source said. The Trump names remain masked in the documents, and Rice would not have been able to know in all cases that she was asking the N.S.A. to unmask the names of Trump officials.

Nunes is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee because, in talking about the documents, he may have leaked classified information. But this is like getting Al Capone for tax evasion. The bigger scandal is the coördinated effort to use the American intelligence services to manufacture an excuse for Trump’s original tweet.

The intelligence source told me that he knows, “from talking to people in the intelligence community,” that “the White House said, ‘We are going to mobilize to find something to justify the President’s tweet that he was being surveilled.’ They put out an all-points bulletin”—a call to sift through intelligence reports—“and said, ‘We need to find something that justifies the President’s crazy tweet about surveillance at Trump Tower.’ And I’m telling you there is no way you get that from those transcripts, which are about as plain vanilla as can be.” (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)

The fallout from Trump’s tweet could have grave consequences for national security. The law governing the N.S.A.’s collection of the content of communications of foreign targets is up for renewal this summer. Known as Section 702, part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it is perhaps the most important intelligence tool that America’s spy agencies have to gather information about potential terrorist attacks and about the intentions of regimes around the world. There are legitimate privacy concerns about allowing the N.S.A. to vacuum up such an enormous amount of communications. A report from 2014 by the Obama Administration’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board identified several areas that might be changed to increase the privacy protections for Americans, but the board also “found no evidence of intentional abuse” of the program.

Some American intelligence officials are now concerned that Trump and Nunes’s wild claims about intercepts and Rice have made Section 702 look like a rogue program that can be easily abused for political purposes. The intelligence source said, “In defense of the President, Devin Nunes and some other partisans have created a huge political problem by casting doubt, in the service of Donald Trump, on these intercepts.” Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, a leading critic of Section 702, has been using the episode to rally libertarians. He recently tweeted, “Smoking gun found! Obama pal and noted dissembler Susan Rice said to have been spying on Trump campaign.” Democratic critics of Section 702 have also been emboldened. “Section 702 of FISA allows warrantless searches on Americans. That’s unconstitutional & must be changed,” Representative Ted Lieu, the Democrat from California, tweeted last month, during the controversy.

“They manufactured a scandal to distract from a serious investigation,” Eric Swalwell, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, who would not comment on the N.S.A. documents, said. “And the collateral damage is the public confidence in our intelligence community when we need to count on them now more than ever. Considering the threats we are facing right now from North Korea and isis, it’s a pretty dangerous time to undermine the I.C.’s credibility to make a five-yard sack in the Russia investigation.”

Even though there is now some bipartisan agreement that Nunes’s description of the intercepts was wildly inaccurate, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are still preparing to focus on Obama’s national-security team, rather than on Vladimir Putin’s. Last week, Democrats and Republicans finalized their witness lists, and the names tell a tale of two separate investigations. The intelligence source said, “The Democratic list involves all of the characters that you would think it would: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Carter Page,” speaking of the three Trump campaign officials who have been most closely tied to the Russia investigation. “The Republican list is almost entirely people from the Obama Administration.”

The fake scandal created by Trump and Nunes is not over yet. The first name on the Republican list is Susan Rice.

A fake scandal manufactured by the Trump White House exposed, nevertheless, the evil GOP bastards will persist. Sarah Posner explains at the Washington Post, The White House’s game on Russia has now been fully exposed:

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said today that the Committee’s investigation of Russian election interference and possible Trump campaign collusion with it is “back on track” after its controversial chairman, California Republican Devin Nunes, recused himself from the probe. Schiff’s remarks are a hopeful sign that the Committee will finally be able to constructively take on its oversight role.

But there are now new reasons to worry that, if anything, Republicans are even more determined to make sure it doesn’t turn up anything at all. That’s troubling, because Republicans may be successful at subverting the possibility of getting to the bottom of the scandal — which they are now clearly trying to do, by creating a distraction aimed at diverting public attention away from story and instead towards conspiracy theories involving the Obama administration.

Ryan Lizza has a new report in the New Yorker that reveals fresh details about the GOP game plan. The aim is to cast the Russia investigation as another Benghazi — by turning former National Security Advisor Susan Rice into the villain of the story, and fixing the focus of the hearings on her.

That bringing Rice into the investigation is still being contemplated is further evidence of the bad faith of the White House’s approach to this whole tale. All of Trump’s efforts to smear his predecessor, including accusing former President Obama of ordering surveillance of Trump Tower, and claiming that Rice had committed a crime, have been proven false — something Trump and his allies refuse to even acknowledge.

Trump instigated this maelstrom as a result of his March 4 tweet in which he falsely claimed that former president Obama had his Trump Tower “wires tapped.” But rather than retract his baseless tweet, Trump and his allies latched onto it, spinning implausible theories in an effort to drum up even a sliver of evidence for it after the fact. And it’s even worse than what has until know been publicly known: according to Lizza’s reporting, the White House “put out an all-points bulletin” to “find something that justifies the President’s crazy tweet about surveillance at Trump Tower.”

What followed was a sequence of events in which Nunes appeared to collaborate with the White House to review cherry-picked classified intelligence and leak it to the media to craft a false narrative that the Obama administration had somehow surveilled the Trump team. After that claim was confirmed to be false by intelligence officials, the White House moved on to the Rice deflection: arguing that Rice, as Obama’s National Security Advisor, had reviewed the intercepts of phone calls between Russian government officials and requested that the identities of the Americans subject to what is known as “incidental collection” be “unmasked.”

Trump himself even joined the fray, asserting — without any evidence — that Rice had committed a crime. But this, again, has been proven false. As CNN reported last week, both Democrats and Republicans who reviewed the relevant classified documents at the National Security Agency headquarters agreed that they contained no evidence of wrongdoing by Obama administration officials, including Rice. Intelligence sources emphasized to CNN that Rice’s requests were “normal and appropriate” and there was nothing in the documents substantiating Trump’s baseless charge that Rice done anything wrong, much less committed a crime.

Nunes’ clumsy handling of the affair, of course, is what led to his recusal from the Committee’s Russia investigation. But that hasn’t apparently diminished Republican interest in keeping Rice front and center. Lizza reports: “Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are still preparing to focus on Obama’s national-security team, rather than on Vladimir Putin’s.” Rice, he notes, is the first person on their witness list.

* * *

One thing to watch for now is the role the conservative media — allied with Trump — will likely play in shifting the focus to Rice. Primed by another spurious, politicized GOP investigation involving Rice (Benghazi), conservative pundits are eager to portray Rice as a devious figure in this new narrative. For example, Sharyl Attkisson of the Sinclair Broadcast Group prefaced a segment this week with this teaser:

Hearings are being planned to find out more about whether Obama political officials obtained intelligence to use against Trump associates. News reports recently alleged President Barack Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice asked to see names of U.S. citizens captured incidentally in surveillance, names normally strictly masked for privacy reasons.

That cued up Attkisson’s interview of South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, who pronounced himself “uncomfortable” with what Rice had done. He pledged there would be a Senate hearing at which he would ask intelligence community officials whether Rice had asked for any “unmasking” — even though, as noted above, a bipartisan group from the House determined that this was in the ordinary course of Rice’s job.

It’s reassuring that a bipartisan group of House members has acknowledged they reviewed the NSA materials and concluded that Rice had done nothing wrong. But it now looks as if the House Intelligence Committee will try to embroil Rice in the Russia hearings, anyway. If so, it will show just how far the Committee’s Republicans are willing to go to prop up Trump’s lies — and to distract from efforts to get to the bottom of Russian meddling, as well as any possible Trump campaign collusion with it.

Party before country. Control of power over pursuit of the truth. You don’t need traitors when people are willing to do this.

One Response to The GOP to smear Susan Rice to distract from Trump lies

  1. For Sure Not Tom

    Accusing other people of crimes to distract from their own crimes is all the GOP’s been doing for the last two decades.

    You never hear a Republican say “character matters” anymore, because they have none themselves. The proof is in the Oval Office.