WASHINGTON – A former Obama official appears to have inadvertently confirmed the former president’s administration spied on then President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team for political purposes.
Speaking on MSNBC Tuesday, Evelyn Farkas, deputy assistant secretary of defense under Obama, confirmed that not only was the previous administration collecting intelligence on the Trump team, it was attempting to share it as far and wide as possible.
Farkas said the reason for that was, “We have very good intelligence on Russia,” and she “very worried because not enough was coming out into the open.”
However, intelligence chiefs who have seen the classified information in question, including Obama’s own former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as well as former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, have said they have seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump team and the Russian government.
That would appear to indicate the real reason the Obama administration was feverishly collecting and sharing the classified information was not for national security purposes, but for political reasons.
On “Meet the Press” on March 5, host Chuck Todd asked Clapper, “Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question, whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?”
Citing a report compiled by the “NSA, FBI and CIA, with my office, the Director of National Intelligence,” Clapper answered, “There was no evidence of that included in our report.”
Did any such evidence exist, asked Todd?
“Not to my knowledge,” replied Clapper.
On March 16, Hillary Clinton supporter and severe Trump critic Michael Morell, the former acting CIA director under Obama, said, “On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all.”
“And there’s a lot of people looking for it,” he added.
Morrell also cited “a pretty strong statement by General Clapper.”
So what was in the intelligence information that Farkas sought to spread far and wide?
It apparently had no foreign intelligence value and no evidence of Russian collusion with the Trump team.
On March 22, House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif, announced he had seen classified information collected by the Obama administration that consisted of:
“Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration – details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value – (which) were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting.
“I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked (revealed.)
“To be clear, none of this surveillance was related to Russia or any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.”
Now compare what Nunes described with the details of what Farkas said.
She encouraged not just administration members, but also lawmakers (and apparently their staffs), to collect as much information on the Trump team and Russia as possible:
“I was urging my former colleagues and, frankly speaking, the people on the Hill, it was more actually aimed at telling the Hill people, get as much information as you can, get as much intelligence as you can, before President Obama leaves the administration.”
She insisted the intelligence concerned collusion between Trump staff and Russians, despite statements to the contrary by Clapper and Morrell:
“Because I had a fear that somehow that information would disappear with the senior [Obama] people who left, so it would be hidden away in the bureaucracy … that the Trump folks – if they found out how we knew what we knew about their … the Trump staff dealing with Russians – that they would try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we no longer have access to that intelligence.”
She admitted trying to share classified information as far and wide as possible:
“So I became very worried because not enough was coming out into the open, and I knew that there was more. We have very good intelligence on Russia,” she said. “So then I had talked to some of my former colleagues and I knew that they were trying to also help get information to the Hill.”
That would appear to raise serious questions about the legality of sharing classified information so widely, as well as whether she was, in effect, facilitating the illegal leaking of classified information.
There is also the question of how Farkas, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, was able to see classified information on the Trump team.
That may have been answered Wednesday when CIRCA reported that an executive order signed by Obama during the end of his tenure allowing 16 agencies, in addition to the CIA, NSA and FBI, to view classified material resulted in top Obama aides “routinely” reviewing “intelligence reports gleaned from the National Security Agency’s incidental intercepts of Americans abroad.”
The paper also said the rule changes allowed “NSA intercepts of Americans to reach political hands.”
Here’s how talk-radio king Rush Limbaugh described the significance of the CIRCA story on his show Wednesday:
“What this story is about is how Obama changed the rules on incidental wiretapping. In other words, if NSA, CIA are targeting foreign actors, and that surveillance picks up Americans, such as (former National Security Adviser Gen. Michael) Mike Flynn, Obama changed the rules to share the transcripts of that intel with his political people.
“(Former National Security Adviser) Susan Rice, (top Obama adviser) Valerie Jarrett, John Brennan, opening, or I should say expanding, the universe of possible leakers to the media about what was going on.
“So an Obama late rules change, two now, sharing intel with 16 different intel agencies, including foreign governments, and now opening the door for NSA intercepted intelligence of Americans to reach the political operatives in his administration.”
Obama’s executive order putting classified intelligence in the hands of political operatives is one reason why Nunes declared on March 22:
“The House Intelligence Committee will thoroughly investigate this surveillance (by the Obama administration) and its subsequent dissemination to determine:
- “Who was aware of it,
- “Why it was not disclosed to Congress,
- “Who requested and authorized the additional unmasking (revealing of names),
- “Whether anyone directed the intelligence community to focus on Trump associates, and
- “Whether any laws, regulations, or procedures were violated.”
In another twist to the Russia saga, Democrats are not pleased that Nunes has turned the focus of the investigation from whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to whether the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign, as the president has alleged.
And now that Nunes has said he has seen proof that the Obama administration did spy on the Trump team, Democrats appear particularly desperate to get rid of the chairman.
For weeks, reporters have demanded to know: Where is the evidence to back up President Trump’s claim that the Obama administration spied on him?
But now that Nunes has said he has evidence to confirm the spying, the media are in an uproar, demanding to know how he got such information.
Nunes said he got the information from sources in the intelligence community.
On Monday, NBC’s Hallie Jackson asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, “Why is this leak OK, but other leaks are not?”
Because, he replied by pointing out the obvious, the chairman of the intelligence committee is cleared to see classified material. Reporters are not.
Then reporters demanding to know details about how Nunes got the intelligence information showing the Obama administration spied on the Trump team and where he got it.
Nunes said he went to the White House to meet a source and review dozens of intelligence reports on the Trump transition team acquired via government spying.
He explained it was not to meet with members of the Trump administration, but that the White House was simply the most convenient secure location that had a computer connected to the system that housed the reports.
The chairman told Bloomberg News, “We don’t have networked access to these kinds of reports in Congress.”
Still, reporters demanded to know during Monday’s White House press briefing if the information had been leaked to Nunes by the Trump administration.
However, Nunes had said earlier that day that his source was an intelligence official and not a member of the White House staff.
He also made it clear that the information he obtained, although circulated “widely through the executive branch,” was done so during the Obama administration, not the Trump administration, because the documents were from November, December and January.
Nonetheless, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking member on the intelligence committee, along with a growing number of Democrats, have accused Nunes of colluding with the Trump administration and are demanding the chairman recuse himself from leading the investigation.
“I’m sure that the Democrats do want me to quit because they know that I am quite effective at getting to the bottom of things,” Nunes said Monday night on Fox News.
When asked if he should recuse himself, the chairman replied, “Why should I?”
The bad news for the Democrats may be just beginning.
President Trump is now asking the Intelligence committee to investigate lucrative Russian ties to Hillary and former President Bill Clinton.
A deal between a Russian state-owned energy company and a Canadian-owned mining company closely tied to the Clinton Foundation led to Russian control over one-fifth of U.S. uranium interests.
After then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved the deal, her husband, Bill, was paid $500,000 for giving a speech in Moscow.
President Trump also wants Congress to investigate business ties between Hillary campaign manager John Podesta and Russian business interests.