How Trump’s Tantrum May Lead Trump Transition Official Devin Nunes to Delegitimize the Investigation

There are three developments in the wake of President Trump’s twitter rant claiming “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” yesterday.

James Clapper denies a wiretap on Trump or his campaign

First, James Clapper went on Meet the Press and denied there was FISA-authorized wiretap activity mounted against Trump or his campaign.

CHUCK TODD: Let me start with the President’s tweets yesterday, this idea that maybe President Obama ordered an illegal wiretap of his offices. If something like that happened, would this be something you would be aware of?

JAMES CLAPPER: I would certainly hope so. I can’t say– obviously, I’m not, I can’t speak officially anymore. But I will say that, for the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against– the president elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign. I can’t speak for other Title Three authorized entities in the government or a state or local entity.

CHUCK TODD: Yeah, I was just going to say, if the F.B.I., for instance, had a FISA court order of some sort for a surveillance, would that be information you would know or not know?

JAMES CLAPPER: Yes.

CHUCK TODD: You would be told this?

JAMES CLAPPER: I would know that.

CHUCK TODD: If there was a FISA court order–

JAMES CLAPPER: Yes.

CHUCK TODD: –on something like this.

JAMES CLAPPER: Something like this, absolutely.

CHUCK TODD: And at this point, you can’t confirm or deny whether that exists?

JAMES CLAPPER: I can deny it.

CHUCK TODD: There is no FISA court order?

JAMES CLAPPER: Not– not to know my knowledge.

CHUCK TODD: Of anything at Trump Tower?

JAMES CLAPPER: No.

As always with Clapper, it pays to look at what he denies: “wiretap activity” of Trump or his campaign and a FISA court order “of anything at Trump Tower.” That still leaves open wiretaps directed at people deemed not to to be tied to his campaign — would Paul Manafort count, for example, after he had purportedly left the campaign? It leaves open the possibility of other kinds of collection, such as financial transfers (which they have multiple other ways of getting, like SWIFT and Section 215 and SARs from banks) affecting Trump’s campaign. It also leaves open a whole range of targeting of Russians that happen to pick up Trump’s campaign officials.

Clapper also excludes, in his denial, Title III warrants. That’s important because of reporting that the investigation of Manafort started as a criminal investigation.

Note, Clapper goes on to state clearly that, at least as of the time he left, there was no evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russians. “[A]t the time [of the IC report], we had no evidence of such collusion,” though he allows such evidence could have “become available in the time since I left the government.”

Sean Spicer asks Congress to find out which Trump aides were wiretapped

Also this morning, Sean Spicer released a curious statement. It starts by stating that certain “reports” are “very troubling.”

Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling.

Not only does this attempt to absolve the President of his unhinged tweeting, but it backs my argument that Trump was responding to the Breitbart article which was itself based off misleading information.

Spicer then states the Trump “is requesting” that the intelligence committees “determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.”

President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.

White House Counsel Don McGahn reportedly spent yesterday trying to chase down a purported FISA warrant targeting Trump. Trump has the ability to do this himself (though it would be improper). Either McGahn learned there was nothing, or Trump wants to have the Intelligence Committees — led by Trump national security advisor Richard Burr and Trump transition official Devin Nunes — check into his claims.

And with that, Spicer says neither Trump nor anyone else will comment on Trump’s unhinged twitter rant until the intelligence committees are done.

Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted.

Let’s see whether Spicer can prevent Trump from going on another rant.

Devin Nunes takes up Trump’s request

Finally, Devin Nunes released a statement saying that the House Intelligence Committee would do what the President asked.

One of the focus points of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation is the U.S. government’s response to actions taken by Russian intelligence agents during the presidential campaign. As such, the Committee will make inquiries into whether the government was conducting surveillance activities on any political party’s campaign officials or surrogates, and we will continue to investigate this issue if the evidence warrants it.

In fact, that category “the U.S. government’s response” was supposed to be geared towards preventing a future attack; that bullet ended “what do we need to do to protect ourselves and our allies in the future?” in the scope of investigation agreed on with Adam Schiff just earlier this week.

Plus, what happened to the previously emphasized part of the HPSCI investigation, leaks?

What possible leaks of classified information took place related to the Intelligence Community Assessment of these matters?

After all, if Trump’s twitter rant yesterday had any basis in truth, he just told a bunch of people about a FISA wiretap.

 

But Nunes doesn’t appear to think Trump’s twitter rant did reveal classified information. Huh.

In any case, let’s review what has happened.

On Thursday, Jeff Sessions recused from the election-related parts of this investigation. In response, Trump went on a rant (inside the White House) reported to be as angry as any since he became President. The next morning, Trump responded to a Breitbart article alleging a coup by making accusations that suggest any wiretaps involved in this investigation would be improper. Having reframed wiretaps that would be targeted at Russian spies as illegitimate, Trump then invited Nunes to explore any surveillance of campaign officials, even that not directly tied to Trump himself.

And Nunes obliged.

If I’m someone tied to the Hillary campaign, here’s what I do: I immediately call on Devin Nunes to explain how a second set of Huma Abedin’s emails involving the Hillary server got targeted just days before the election. We still don’t know the circumstances of that discovery. And if Nunes is concerned about inappropriate surveillance, surely he’ll want to get to the bottom of that potentially election-altering surveillance.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

35 replies
  1. der says:

    Does Sessions lock out from the evidence briefings now leave Trump with no one to tell him which scent is being followed? Trump’s breakdown panic “Show me your cards before I put it all on Red and lose my shirt (intended)!” Having been sued more than once El Precedent knows how the game is played enlisting McGhan, Nunes & Burr as co-counsel before the bar to make a motion for a congressional pretrial discovery hearing.

    The hounds are getting closer.

  2. maybe ryan says:

    Chuck Todd ignores one of the basic premises of interviewing – leaving air space. He keeps spitting words at Clapper. So it’s hard to say exactly what Clapper is answering. It’s hard even to say what Clapper hears in the course of that interchange. If anything, I read that and find a broader denial from Clapper, because I find it hard to believe Clapper was parsing his answers to the exact wording of questions Todd was speaking over the top of their conversation. When you interview someone, particularly if you’re hoping to read into a careful analysis of exactly what they say, you have to let them say it.

    Still, we have to analyze what we have. I just wish Chuck Todd was better at this.

    Der, one point to what you’ve said – Trump wrote an Executive Order to change the order of succession at Justice. Someone must have foreseen this possibility, and wanted to make sure things didn’t follow the normal line of succession. The next in line is Dana Boente. I know that via Louise Mensch, with all the baggage EW mentioned yesterday. The conclusion I draw, Trump still has someone close and trusted, but not as close and trusted. The degree of confidence could make all the difference. So I’m not at all rejecting your point. Just trying to color it in a little.

    • Charles says:

      I know that via Louise Mensch, with all the baggage EW mentioned yesterday.

      Why rely on a source who Emptywheel described as “known for taking reasonable observations, injecting just a bit of whack, and turning them into fairly unhinged theories….writing unified theories of Russian spying that start from real nuggets and important observations, then spin loose from the actual supporting evidence.”?

      Surely there is a clean source, one that doesn’t lead to Wonderland?

      • maybe ryan says:

        I think I was wrong about Chuck Todd.  The transcription and its dashes made it look like he was interrupting and overtalking.  But having seen the video now, there were brief pauses in this tight interchange, so it seems more like Clapper was genuinely responding and possibly taking in the exact connotations of the question.  I withdraw that idea.

        Mensch isn’t wrong about Boente and succession.  The USA Today confirms it, as does whitehouse.gov.  Mensch has been aggressively pointing to the order, so it made sense for me to point to the person doing the most to make it known.

  3. john r says:

    Trump must have been counting on Sessions to control, and limit, any investigations. Losing him seems to have incensed Trump, which makes one wonder what Trump is afraid of…

  4. der says:

    Does Boente have Sessions power? I ask that while thinking back on Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation which seemed to be following a Libby-Karl Rove-David Addington-Cheney trail until AG Gonzales’ had a seemingly quiet visit with Fitz then the line to Rove ended and it was all Scooter’s mistake and Dick Armitrage’s big mouth. Does the AG’s power let them shut down an investigation?  Does that power transfer to a Deputy?

    • Avattoir says:

      Dana Boente is acting deputy. The actual appointment to that job is subject to Senate confirmation.

      AFAIK the swimsuit competition on the chosen opens before the Senate committee tomorrow morning, with this nominee https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_J._Rosenstein

      That sure doesn’t make this nominee out as any bog standard politico. So much about this POTUS is so silly is gets me thinking really silly things, like …

      I wonder if this dude being the Wharton’s wrangler had something to do with his nomination.

      Most Law 1’s typically have little to 0 exposure to Law 3’s, but there are institutions which tend exceptional in this, Review being typically the most – & this dude was a 3 during a previous preznit’s Law 1.

      He doesn’t come across as a flaming ideologue.

       

      • maybe ryan says:

        >Does Boente have Sessions power? I ask that while thinking back on Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation

        My understanding is that investigation and prosecution are interrelated but usually separate.

        EW will know a lot more about the federal system, and about the specifics of Fitz’s mandate.  But my understanding is that the primary investigation was complete when Fitz came in.

        I could be wrong.  And even if I’m right, it would just change your sentence to “Fitzgerald’s prosecution.”  Certainly prosecutors and investigators collaborate as a case develops.

        Part of my point is that Sessions and Boente might well derail a prosecution.  But their power to derail the investigation would be mediated in part by their relationship with Comey, and his judgment of the case.  If the Times is right about their article yesterday, he is not in lockstep with anyone at DOJ, and considers an independent arbiter.

  5. Karl Kolchak says:

    This is just more fiddling while America burns. Six months ago, I figured that by early 2017 Hillary be would in power continuing Obama’s horrid neoliberal domestic polices while executing an even more neoconservative foreign policy while the Republicans continued their insane political war against the White House. Instead we have Trump pursuing a somewhat different set of horrible domestic and foreign policies while it is the Democrats who have launched an insane political war against the White House. And all the while Wall Street is cheering a booming stock market being propped up by massive amounts of legalized corruption and the average American worker is treated with barely concealed contempt.

    A pox on all of them…there is not a one who wouldn’t be siting in a prison cell if our society had one remaining lick of common sense.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I wonder how eager Nunes would be if Trump had asked him NOT to investigate these issues? Or would that constitute obstruction?

    In any case, the rant is Trump’s basic form of speech; confusing misdirection results when he restrains a rant inside the form of a complete sentence. A rant from Trump indicates only that he has an interest in an issue. Reading meaning into his speech will require the skill and perseverance of a Kremlinologist, one of perhaps many ironies here.

  7. neal says:

    I am confused. Why does the state of things hate so much, and form some damned collective?

    I do not have a dog in this fight. I do have a family. And all this politics starts to promise or threaten.

    All I know is that I am old, and do not understand why deranged homonids yell and throw stuff.

    Collective snake oil. I guess that is the hatred that defines whoever is on top.

    I might have gone another way.

  8. Teddy says:

    Doesn’t Paul Manafort actually *live* at Trump Tower? — and wouldn’t, therefore, any wiretaps of him be “of anything at Trump Tower?”

  9. earlofhuntigdon says:

    OT, multiple sources report that Detroit’s GM and France’s PSA will announce in a few hours that they have reached agreement on the sale of GM’s Opel to the French car group, making PSA (Peugeot, Citroen) the second biggest manufacturer in Europe after global leader, VW. GM acquired the German firm Adam Opel in 1929.

    Opel is both GM Europe (including the UK’s Vauxhall) and was historically the heart of GM International (outside of China).  GM will presumably receive cash to keep its largely institutional shareholders at bay, to whom GM’s CEO has promised an aggressive 20% ROE.  Enhancing shareholder value and all that.

    • Charles says:

      From the most respected academic magazine on journalism, the Columbia Journalism Review:

       

      Our own study of over 1.25 million stories published online between April 1, 2015 and Election Day shows that a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world. This pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for the conservative media sphere, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton.

      Rather than “fake news” in the sense of wholly fabricated falsities, many of the most-shared stories can more accurately be understood as disinformation: the purposeful construction of true or partly true bits of information into a message that is, at its core, misleading. 

       

      Citing Breitbart to make a point is like citing Pope Paul V on whether the earth is the center of the universe.

  10. klynn says:

    Should Devin Nunes delegitimize the investigation, I would keep some critical national security concern in his face and never stop reminding him… So far, the following individuals have been uncovered to have had private contact with Russian officials during and after the election campaign……..
    Donald Trump
    Eric Trump
    Donald Trump Jr.
    Ivanka Trump
    Jared Kushner
    Paul Manafort
    Michael Flynn
    Rex Tillerson
    Jeff Sessions
    Roger Stone
    Felix Sater
    Carter Page
    J.D. Gordon
    Michael Cohen
    Wilbur Ross
    …..plus, anonymous Campaign Officials (as documented in classified transcripts of conversations recorded by U.S. Intelligence Agencies)

    Never in the history of the United States has one administration had so many individuals manage to have so many close personal dealings with a country whose main objective is to undermine U.S. credibility and stability.

    Should Nunes delegitimize the investigation, I would ask him publicly, “Should we be looking at whether your name belongs on the list?”

  11. wayoutwest says:

    It’s depressing to watch someone, who did such a stellar job uncovering crime in high places during the Plame scandal, running interference for Obama’s white house and their abuse of power.

    The Clintonite media reported on this surveillance in a number of stories that seemed to serve the Russian interference meme but now they’re trapped in a web of their own making.

    It’s time to drag out that very useful old prod of ‘What did he know and when did he know it’?

    • John Casper says:

      wayout, “it’s depressing to watch someone running interference for” the elites “and their abuse of power.”
      Breitbart “reported on this” and now Trump has “trapped” them “in a web of their own making.”
      If Trump’s claims are correct, did he leak classified information about a FISA warrant.?
      “It’s time to drag out that very useful old prod of ‘What did he know and when did he know it?'”

    • Avattoir says:

      This brings to my mind the image of how, and why, the GOP now lionizes MLK Jr.

      If one were to go back thru Ms. Wheeler’s archives on l’affaire Scooter et Miller, starting from the posts at The Next Hurrah, once they attracted mooks (such as you are now being), it took several years of consistently solid analysis, including several big eurekas, AND the jury verdicts, AND the feints at appeals, AND the presidential commutation of the penalties on sentencing, AND a numbers years passage before this New Mook take on it began showing up, in weak-ass efforts to game cred at reality-based sites.

      • wayoutwest says:

        It’s not nice to call people like JC names I think he has a chemical problem and you’ll just aggravate it.

        • John Casper says:

          “It’s not nice to call people like” wayoutwest  “names(sic) I think he has a chemical problem and you’ll just aggravate it.”

  12. Joseph Cannon says:

    What if it’s a trap?

    Less than an hour after Trump emitted that now-infamous tweetstorm, I offered the suggestion that this whole thing was part of a plot to frame Obama. Re-read this post with that theory in mind.

    Kind of gives you a sick feeling, dunnit?

  13. maybe ryan says:

    Confirmation of this piece comes from Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who on Good Morning America said that the investigation of Trump’s Obama claim should lie in the House Intelligence Committee.

    It’s interesting to me that Sanders, and presumably the administration, prefer Nunes’s committee to Burr’s.  Is there any constitutional reason the House should have priority here?  Or is this venue shopping?  And if so, are they afraid they’ve lost Burr, or his committee, or the Senate as a whole?  Certainly with Graham, McCain, Rubio and Collins all expressing skepticism, they’ve got trouble over there.

    • P J Evans says:

      Given that she’s quoting the stories that the WH created themselves, I wouldn’t trust anything she’s claiming.

      • jerryy says:

        Odd thing that, wanting to leave this ‘new’ investigation to a committee, when the President can instantly declassify any classified document(s).

        If there is any actual smoking gun on this claim, why has there been no release of documented evidence? D. Trump could have came out to the press briefing holding the papers in his hands with that one, but suddenly wants to leave it to the committee?

        (or was no one supposed to tell him he could do things like that?)

  14. maybe ryan says:

    You don’t trust Sanders to be giving the point of view of the administration? That’s a radical level of disbelief.

  15. lefty665 says:

    This was also in Clapper’s segment on Meet the Press. While I don’t think much of Clapper’s veracity, this certainly argues against wrongdoing by the Trump campaign or Administration.

    Seems like the chances are pretty good that this is all just a witch hunt.  Where is any evidence of actual wrongdoing to investigate? There has been none provided so far. It is like trial by dunking, survive and you’re a witch to be burned at the stake. Drown and you’re innocent.

    Joe McCarthy would love this anti-Russian hysteria, it is the kind of slop that he liked to roll in.

    “CHUCK TODD:

    Well, that’s an important revelation at this point. Let me ask you this. Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question, whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?

    JAMES CLAPPER:

    We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, “our,” that’s N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report.

    CHUCK TODD:

    I understand that. But does it exist?

    JAMES CLAPPER:

    Not to my knowledge.

    CHUCK TODD:

    If it existed, it would have been in this report?

    JAMES CLAPPER:

    This could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.”  Meet the Press 5 March 2017

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