Former NSA Head Lawyer Testifies: The Trump Team Was Subject to Political Surveillance

Former NSA Head Lawyer Testifies: The Trump Team Was Subject to Political Surveillance

This article is authored by Mitch Nemeth

The topic of Trump-Russia collusion has been promulgated by many in the legacy news media. Often, skeptics of this narrative are pushed by institutional news media towards conservative news outlets. In recent days, there has been a major revelation buried in a Lawfare article, a publication that is no ally of the right.

At Lawfare, former National Security Agency general counsel Stewart Baker wrote that he will be testifying before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (“PCLOB”) in regards to Russiagate. The PCLOB is an independent agency within the Executive Branch; its purpose is to act as a check on government surveillance after the establishment of the USA PATRIOT Act.  

After two notable national security crises (9/11 and Spygate), Baker has interjected himself into the debate. On September 8th, Baker published an article at Lawfare that hints to his testimony before the PCLOB. His testimony suggests that “Like It or Not, Trump Has a Point: FISA Reform and the Appearance of Partisanship in Intelligence Investigations.” 

The key points from Baker’s testimony are as follows:

  • Campaign Mudslinging: Baker contends that the Hillary Clinton campaign, in an attempt to deflect from the FBI investigation into her handling of the private email server, sought to tarnish the Trump campaign with an FBI investigation of its own. “The Clinton Campaign, like any other, had assembled opposition research files on Trump. Focusing some of that research on his disturbing affinity for Vladimir Putin was not an exactly original idea.”
  • Steele Dossier: The DNC’s general counsel, Mark Elias, paid Glenn Simpson’s firm, Fusion GPS, $60,000 per month of DNC funds for opposition research. DNC funds were used to pay Christopher Steele, a “free-lance former British intelligence officer with credibility at the FBI on Russian issues.” Elias then instructed Glenn Simpson to report his research only to Elias so as to be protected under attorney-client privilege. As part of Steele’s work, he recruited a Russian in Washington, D.C. as a sub source who in turn provided what the Senate Intelligence Committee referred to as part of “a Russian disinformation campaign.”
  • Steele Lobbied the National Security Agencies: After the FBI terminated its relationship with Christopher Steele over a leak, Steele used a backchannel through Bruce Ohr. Ohr, who was associate deputy attorney general at the FBI, laundered his information the FBI top-brass Andrew McCabe, the then Deputy Director of the FBI, who acted as an informal conduit for Steele to later provide more information.
  • The Carter Page FISA Application: The first FISA application on Carter Page relies on the Steele Dossier. “Fully a third of this section is based on Steele’s reports, and the dossier provides the only support for the central allegation of the application – that Russia hacked and leaked Clinton campaign emails as part of an agreement with members of the Trump campaign.” This allegation was never corroborated by the FBI or by Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel. Further, Baker alleges, “All these were grounded on false statements in a dossier paid for by the party in power and designed to discredit the party trying to unseat it.” 
  • Reverse Targeting with FISA: The Obama Administration understood that it could monitor Russian Ambassador Kislyak’s conversation with Trump Transition team member Michael Flynn if Kislyak was the “target of the surveillance.” This sort of monitoring coincides with the Obama Administrations’ 2015 wiretapping of Israeli officials that “offered a rich vein of political intelligence about where Republicans stood, what they were planning, and even whether they had the votes to overturn the administration’s policies.” As it turns out, the Israelis suspected that “they were being spied on.”
  • Targeting of Michael Flynn: Baker writes of the Michael Flynn conversations with the Russian Ambassador, “in all of the accounts of the meeting, there’s no sign any of the participants cared what the ambassador had said; as with the Israeli intercepts, it was the American side of the conversation that had the Obama White House exercised.” Further, the Logan Act implications of Flynn’s conversation is “preposterous,” as “it certainly doesn’t prevent an incoming administration from talking to foreign leaders before inauguration day.” The Obama Administration had a certain dislike of General Flynn. Baker writes, “President Obama himself raised questions at the meeting about whether intelligence should be withheld from the incoming team; Flynn was the only candidate for such an exclusion.”
  • Leaking FISA Contents: It is not unreasonable to conclude that the White House had not only encouraged a criminal investigation of Flynn under the Logan Act but had also leaked his exposure to the press – along with the contents of a wiretap.” Baker further notes that the leak of FISA wiretap contents “to attack an American was unprecedented,” and this inevitably ended Flynn’s career.

But don’t expect to see this widely reported anywhere else.

 

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