April 6, 2017

‘Nothing to Do With Russia’ Element of Rice Unmasking Being Ignored

The move-the-goalposts crowd now defending the Obama administration’s pre- and post-election surveillance of Donald Trump and his associates continues to cling to the notion that it was all done in connection with possible Russian influence during the presidential election campaign and that nation’s alleged subsequent attempts to influence the new administration during its transition. If that’s the case, then why has Fox News reported at least twice in the past week that reports resulting from this surveillance often had “nothing to do with national security or an investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election” (Friday, via the network’s Adam Housley and Malia Zimmerman) and were “not related to Moscow” (Wednesday, via Catherine Herridge and Pamela K. Browne)?

A discussion involving hard-leftist Bill Press and GOP Senator Rand Paul provided a perfect example of the failure to recognize this damning (if ultimately true) reported element of the now-admitted surveillance during Tuesday’s Morning Joe show on MSNBC:

Transcript (bolds are mine throughout this post):

BILL PRESS: The other thing I’d like to point out to Senator Paul is, again, they were not spying on these Americans. I’ve got a problem with all of the blanket NSA spying too.

They were listening to conversations by foreign nationals and foreign adversaries from Russia who are in this country. We spy on them. They spy on us. That’s the way it works, and in those conversations, they picked up all these Trump people that were talking to them.

MIKE BRZEZINSKI: Senator Paul?

RAND PAUL: The objections that civil libertarians have had in this program is that you’ve lowered the standard. We’ll spy on foreigners at a drop of a hat. We have no standard in the Fourth Amendment at all, and some of that I can agree to.

But by rebound, we’re collecting millions of conversations of Americans. Those should be protected by the Fourth Amendment.

And frankly, I think Bill sounds a little bit more like an apologist for the Democrats here than he does about someone who’s concerned about the Fourth Amendment and Americans’ privacy.

Press’s presumption is that “they were not spying on these Americans” because “They were listening to conversations by foreign nationals and foreign adversaries from Russia.” In a previous statement during the segment, Press harped on the idea that the info collected on American citizens was “incidental.”

Paul should have challenged Press on all of that, but, because only Fox News reporters have refuted the essence of press’s claim — now at least twice, but while the rest of the Press has blacked out this critical allegation — perhaps he didn’t know.

The Friday report from Housley and Zimmerman had been out for almost four days at that point, and reported the following items pertinent to the Press-Paul exchange. Recall that this report came out before the identity of any high-up Obama administration official who had requested the unmasking of private citizens was known:

The U.S. intelligence official who “unmasked,” or exposed, the names of multiple private citizens affiliated with the Trump team is someone “very well known, very high up, very senior in the intelligence world,” a source told Fox News on Friday.

“The main issue in this case, is not only the unmasking of these names of private citizens, but the spreading of these names for political purposes that have nothing to do with national security or an investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election,” a congressional source close to the investigation told Fox News.

The unmasking of Americans whose communications apparently were caught up in surveillance under the Obama administration is a key part of an investigation being led by Nunes, who has come under fire from Democrats for focusing on that aspect.

Nunes has known about the unmasking controversy since January, when two sources in the intelligence community approached him. The sources told Nunes who was responsible and at least one of the Trump team names that was unmasked. They also gave him serial numbers of reports that documented the activity.

This was long before Trump sent out his now-infamous March 4 tweets claiming then-President Barack Obama “wiretapped” Trump Tower during the 2016 election.

Herridge’s and Brown’s Wednesday report reiterated the point that the surveillance wasn’t always — and perhaps wasn’t even typically — Russia-focused:

Reports in unmasking controversy were detailed, had info about ‘everyday lives’

The intelligence reports at the center of the Susan Rice unmasking controversy were detailed, and almost resembled a private investigator’s file, according to a Republican congressman familiar with the documents.

“This is information about their everyday lives,” Rep. Peter King of New York, a member of the House Intelligence committee said. …

Nunes has consistently stated that the files caused him deep concern because the unmasking went beyond the former national security adviser Mike Flynn, and the information was not related to Moscow.

… Former National Security Adviser Rice is under scrutiny after allegations she sought to unmask the identities of Trump associates caught up in surveillance – such as phone calls between foreign intelligence targets. Rice denies ever having sought such information for political purposes and has defended her requests as routine.

Rice told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell that the reports were requested by the Obama administration, which announced a probe into the Russian election hacking in early December.

Readers should recall that there was only one person who was in a higher position than Susan Rice in the previous administration’s Executive Office of the President during its final four years. That was President Barack Obama.

So there’s only one person could have “requested” reports in this mysterious entity known as “the Obama administration” whose orders Rice was obligated to obey — and his name is Barack Obama. (Others, like Valerie Jarrett, could have made such a request on the President’s behalf, but in a matter as serious as this, it would seem that Rice was obligated to know for a fact that Obama himself had made the request, and that people under him weren’t freelancing and pretending to have his permission.)

Paul’s point about Press’s double standard could not be more correct. If a Republican or conservative White House was collecting and disseminating information about U.S. citizens daily lives without basis, as is being alleged here, Press, the ACLU and the rest of the civil-liberties crowd would be going nuclear. Instead, what we’re getting is defensiveness, occasional ridicule, and quite a bit of silence.

Why, it’s almost as if they believe — but won’t dare directly admit — that only people sharing their mindset are entitled to civil liberties, and no one else is.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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