National Review’s Andrew McCarthy has an interesting article this morning on the allegation that the Obama White House surveilled the Trump campaign and why the denials from the Obama camp this weekend are at best disingenuous:
Trump’s tweets on Saturday prompted some interesting “denials” from the Obama camp. These can be summarized in the statement put out by Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis:
A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.
This seems disingenuous on several levels.
First, as Obama officials well know, under the FISA process, it is technically the FISA court that “orders” surveillance. And by statute, it is the Justice Department, not the White House, that represents the government in proceedings before the FISA court. So, the issue is not whether Obama or some member of his White House staff “ordered” surveillance of Trump and his associates. The issues are (a) whether the Obama Justice Department sought such surveillance authorization from the FISA court, and (b) whether, if the Justice Department did that, the White House was aware of or complicit in the decision to do so. Personally, given the explosive and controversial nature of the surveillance request we are talking about – an application to wiretap the presidential candidate of the opposition party, and some of his associates, during the heat of the presidential campaign, based on the allegation that the candidate and his associates were acting as Russian agents – it seems to me that there is less than zero chance that could have happened without consultation between the Justice Department and the White House.
Second, the business about never ordering surveillance against American citizens is nonsense. Obama had American citizens killed in drone operations. Obviously, that was not done in the U.S. or through the FISA process; it was done overseas, under the president’s commander-in-chief and statutory authority during wartime. But the notion that Obama would never have an American subject to surveillance is absurd.
Third, that brings us to a related point: FISA national-security investigations are not like criminal investigations. They are more like covert intelligence operations – which presidents personally sign off on. The intention is not to build a criminal case; it is to gather information about what foreign powers are up, particularly on U.S. soil. One of the points in FISA proceedings’ being classified is that they remain secret – the idea is not to prejudice an American citizen with publication of the fact that he has been subjected to surveillance even though he is not alleged to have engaged in criminal wrongdoing.
He also adds this:
To be clear, there does not seem to be any evidence, at least that I know of, to suggest that any surveillance or requests to conduct surveillance against then-candidate Donald Trump was done outside the FISA process.
Nevertheless, whether done inside or outside the FISA process, it would be a scandal of Watergate dimension if a presidential administration sought to conduct, or did conduct, national-security surveillance against the presidential candidate of the opposition party. Unless there was some powerful evidence that the candidate was actually acting as an agent of a foreign power, such activity would amount to a pretextual use of national-security power for political purposes. That is the kind of abuse that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation in lieu of impeachment.
With all of the reporting it does seem that certain people that were affiliated with the Trump campaign at some point were surveilled by the Obama White House using a FISA warrant. Whether that included Trump remains to be seen.
But hey, Trump is the president of the United States and it would seem he could find out very quickly what happened and when. He doesn’t just have to rely on media reports, as it seems he’s done up to this point. In fact we expect when he does speak out on issues like this, he speaks from inside knowledge that he’s obtained, not just from media reporting.
Where this actually ends up, I don’t know. But Congress is saying they will investigate it so I guess at some point we’ll find out.