WASHINGTON – Lost in all the hubbub and furor over President Trump’s firing of James Comey is that the former FBI director never complied with key a request from the House Intelligence Committee.
A March 15 letter from Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., to the chiefs of the CIA, FBI and NSA essentially asks for any evidence that the Obama administration requested surveillance information on the Trump and/or Clinton presidential campaigns.
One agency did not respond: the FBI.
The bureau has thus far provided just a smattering of a response.
The letter asks questions about “unmasking,” the revealing of names within the intelligence community of U.S. citizens whose communications were monitored during foreign surveillance.
It asks the spy agencies who the administration was surveilling, who asked for and shared the information on those people, and why.
The letter includes requests for:
- The spy agencies’ policies and procedures on unmasking and sharing the identities of surveilled U.S. citizens within and outside the agencies, and the number of people who can approve an unmasking.
- The number of any U.S. citizens unmasked between June 2016 and January 2017.
- The names of any unmasked U.S. citizens whose identities were shared because of requests from intelligence community agencies, law enforcement or senior executive branch officials between June 2016 and January 2017, and who were associated with presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and their associates in 2016.
- The names of any intelligence community agencies, law enforcement agencies, and/or senior executive branch officials that requested and/or authorized the unmasking and sharing the identities of any U.S. citizens, and who received that information.
- The reasons given for the unmaskings of those identities.
Why didn’t the FBI respond to the letter?
It’s not a question anyone is asking, certainly not the establishment media.
Is there a cover-up by the FBI? Was Comey himself stonewalling Congress?
His agents appeared to think so.
In fact, rank-and-file members of the intelligence community were reportedly so outraged by the stonewalling that they went to the media with bombshell claims that surveillance had been done purely for “political purposes” to “hurt and embarrass (candidate) Trump and his team.”
They said the spying on the Trump team had nothing to do with the collection of foreign intelligence or an investigation into Russia election interference.
Their charges appear to be supported by a mounting pile of evidence.
As unpalatable as the thought of an FBI chief skirting the law may be, it may be a question worth asking, based on just what is known.
Consider the following facts:
- As WND reported, the Obama administration was using information obtained from wiretaps to investigate Trump aides, as evidenced by the Jan. 20, story in the New York Times with the print version headline “Wiretapped data used in inquiry of Trump aides. Examining Russian ties.”
- As WND also reported, the Senate Judiciary Committee has been looking into whether leaks of information on the targeting of the Trump team could have come from the FBI. That’s because the bureau had requested Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, warrants that led to the acquisition of the foreign surveillance that was leaked to the press.
- Comey hid the investigation, ostensibly into possible Trump-Russia ties, from Congress. Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee on March 20, that the FBI began that investigation in July 2016. He testified that he should have notified Congress of such an investigation in a quarterly report. But he further testified that he did not notify Congress of that investigation until March 2017, eight months later. He did not explain the delay, and no one thought to ask him.
Former Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., considered her time spent on the House Intelligence Committee the most important work of her career as an elected public servant, and she was known for her devotion to the panel and ensuring national security.
WND asked her if she thought Comey was stonewalling Congress.
“The FBI may not have been as independent as they portrayed themselves to be,” Bachmann replied.
President Trump has strongly suggested that the investigation into his associates’ alleged collusion with Russia was really a cover story to hide the fact the Obama administration spied on his campaign and transition team for political purposes.
Trump famously tweeted his accusation “that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory” on March 4.
But subsequent tweets received less coverage. On March 20, he portrayed the Russia story as a smokescreen: “James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus (president of the United States) colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!”
His next tweet on that day stated: “The real story that Congress, the FBI and all others should be looking into is the leaking of Classified information. Must find leaker now!”
That was followed by a tweet on April 2 that essentially leveled a direct accusation against the Obama administration: “The real story turns out to be SURVEILLANCE and LEAKING! Find the leakers.”
A tweet the next day clearly accused the Obama administration of plotting against him: “Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against us by @foxandfriends. “Spied on before nomination.” The real story.”
On Tuesday, the day before former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named as special counsel to manage the investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, the president tweeted: “I have been asking Director Comey & others, from the beginning of my administration, to find the LEAKERS in the intelligence community.”
On Thursday, the day after the appointment of the special prosecutor, Trump tweeted: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
He added a tweet that took dead aim at who he saw as the real culprit: “With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!”
“The scandal of scandals,” Bachmann told WND, “is the appearance that the Obama administration used unique, sophisticated tools only belonging to the federal government to spy on GOP rivals to Hillary.”
And, she warned: “Republicans need to stop being intimidated and find out and expose this gross abuse of power.”
Indeed, the FBI is a unique entity that straddles two worlds, with potentially conflicting missions. The bureau has dual tasks in that it collects intelligence, but it also investigates crime. If it were to commit a crime while collecting intelligence, such as the potential felony of illegally unmasking a surveillance subject or leaking intelligence to the press, it would be up to Congress to investigate, a task that would be all the more challenging were the FBI to have reason to stonewall.
“The FBI had a sad habit under the Obama administration of flagrantly thumbing its nose to requests from Congress,” Bachmann told WND.
She confirmed: “They played ‘hide the ball’ from lawmakers and their staffs. Requests for information or for production of documents often seemed to be treated as optional.
“In fact,” Bachmann charged, “the FBI allowed itself to be politicized by the Obama administration to an extent commensurate with the IRS, Justice Department and other federal agencies. Most worrisome is any hint of corruption within law enforcement.”
A timeline of publicly known developments in the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation indicates Comey was stonewalling requests for evidence of political spying by the Obama administration.
July 2016: FBI begins investigation
The FBI began its investigation into possible ties between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government. The FBI did not notify Congress of the investigation until eight months later.
Jan. 20, 2017: New York Times reveals spying on the Trump team
The Times reported: “American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communication and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation of possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump.”
Jan. 20, 2017: New York Times reveals Obama administration involved
The Times also revealed the spying information was shared with the Obama administration: “One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications have been provided to the White House.”
Jan. 23, 2017: FBI clears Flynn of wrongdoing
The Washington Post reported in January the FBI “in late December reviewed intercepts of communications between the Russian ambassador to the United States and retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn – national security adviser to then-President-elect Trump – but has not found any evidence of wrongdoing or illicit ties to the Russian government, U.S. officials said.”
Feb. 13, 2017: Trump fires Flynn
Trump said his national security adviser had done nothing wrong by speaking with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak after the election. The president also confirmed, as the FBI had previously concluded, that nothing was inappropriately discussed by the two men. Trump said he fired Flynn because, when asked, he did not tell Vice President Mike Pence everything about the discussions.
March 4, 2017: Trump accuses Obama of spying on him
Trump tweeted: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
And: “How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy.”
March 5, 2017: Justice Dept. refuses to deny Obama wiretapped Trump
Someone leaked to the New York Times that Comey “asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones.”
The Times cited “senior American officials” as its anonymous sources.
However, the Justice Department refused to reject Trump’s claim. The FBI had no comment.
March 5, 2017: White House points to media’s own proof of spying
With the press demanding proof of Trump’s wiretap claim, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pointed out that “multiple news outlets” already had reported it.
She told ABC News, “And all we’re asking is that we get the same level of look into the Obama administration and the potential that they had for a complete abuse of power that they’ve been claiming that we have done over the last six months.”
Two days later, Glenn Thrush, chief White House political correspondent for the New York Times, asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, “Have you seen any evidence yourself?”
WND then reported the Times appeared to be trying to discredit its own reporting, as the evidence for Trump’s contention was published by the newspaper on Jan. 20 in an article with a print-version headline “Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides.”
March 15, 2017: Congress asks spy agencies for unmasking info
On March 15, Nunes and Intelligence committee ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., sent a letter to the heads of the FBI, CIA and NSA asking for a full report on unmasking request by the Obama administration.
A full response would essentially reveal whether or not the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign and/or transition team.
March 20, 2017: White House implies Comey stonewalling
March 22, 2017: Nunes announces evidence of spying on Trump team
Nunes told the press he had learned that “on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.”
And he said details about those people “were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting” even though they had “little or no apparent foreign intelligence value.”
Nunes also confirmed that “additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked.”
“To be clear,” he emphasized, “none of this surveillance was related to Russia or any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.”
Nunes confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were “unmasked,” quite possibly in violation of the law, which the congressman said he found “alarming.”
Obama’s executive order putting classified intelligence in the hands of political operatives was one reason why Nunes declared: “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.”
March 22, 2017: FBI stonewalls Congress
Nunes said his March 15 letter had asked the directors of the FBI, NSA and CIA “to provide a full account of these surveillance activities.”
He said the NSA was cooperating, but the FBI was not.
Under Director Mike Pompeo, appointed by Trump, the CIA presumably was cooperating.
March 29, 2017: Obama official accidentally confirms spying on Trump
A little-noticed MSNBC interview on March 2, became widely reported when it was apparent that Evelyn Farkas, former deputy assistant secretary of defense under Obama, had not only confirmed that the previous administration was collecting intelligence on the Trump team, but was sharing it as far and wide as possible.
Farkas said, “We have very good intelligence on Russia,” and she was “very worried because not enough was coming out into the open.”
However, intelligence chiefs who had 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, said they had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump team and the Russian government.
That would 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.
March 31, 2017: Senate investigates FBI for leaks targeting Trump
Fox News reported the Senate Judiciary Committee was looking into whether leaks of information targeting the Trump team could have come from the FBI.
That was because the bureau had requested Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, warrants that led to the acquisition of some of the foreign surveillance.
March 31, 2017: Congress investigates FBI
The Senate Judiciary Committee began looking into whether the FBI wrongly included political opposition research from Trump’s opponents in its Russia investigation.
The panel also wanted to know whether or not the FBI paid a former British spy who wrote a sensational and discredited report alleging wild improprieties by Trump and his aides.
“When political opposition research becomes the basis for law enforcement or intelligence efforts, it raises substantial questions about the independence of law enforcement and intelligence from politics,” said committee chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
Additionally, a source told Fox News the FBI was refusing to cooperate with the House investigation.
March 31, 2017: Rank-and-file spies try to break stonewall
Rank-and-file members of the intelligence community made bombshell revelations to fight back against a stonewall by the leaders at the nation’s spy agencies, according to Fox News.
Sources in the intelligence community said the potentially illegal revealing of names, or unmasking, of people in the Trump camp who were under surveillance was done purely “for political purposes” to “hurt and embarrass (candidate) Trump and his team.”
Fox said the sources were “not Trump” people but were “frustrated with the politics that is taking place in these (intelligence) agencies.”
The rank-and-file sources told Fox News:
1) Surveillance targeting the Trump team during the Obama administration began months earlier, even before the president had become the GOP nominee in July.
2) The spying on the Trump team had nothing to do with the collection of foreign intelligence or an investigation into Russia election interference.
3) The spying was done purely “for political purposes” that “have nothing to do with national security and everything to do with hurting and embarrassing Trump and his team.”
4) The person who did the unmasking was someone “very well known, very high up, very senior in the intelligence world, and is not in the FBI.”
5) Congressional investigators know the name of at least one person who was unmasking names.
6) The initial surveillance on the Trump team led to “a number of names” being unmasked.
7) House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., had known about the unmasking since January.
8) Two sources in the intelligence community told Nunes who did the unmasking and told him at least one of the names of someone in the Trump team who was unmasked. The sources also gave Nunes the serial numbers of the classified reports that documented the unmasking.
9) It took Nunes a number of weeks to figure out how to see those intelligence reports because the intelligence agencies were stonewalling him, and not allowing the chairman or other people to see them.
April 3, 2017: Susan Rice revealed as unmasker
Multiple reports confirmed that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice was the Obama administration official who requested the unmasking of incoming Trump administration officials.
The White House Counsel’s office identified Rice as the person responsible for the unmasking after examining Rice’s document log requests.
Fox News reported the unmasked names of people associated with Donald Trump were sent widely to top officials in the Obama administration, a potential felony.
The unmasked names were reportedly sent to every member of the National Security Council, former Rice deputy Ben Rhodes, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, then-CIA Director John Brennan and some officials at the Defense Department.
Sources said Rice “requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign.”
One source said the reports “contained valuable political information on the Trump transition such as whom the Trump team was meeting, the views of Trump associates on foreign policy matters and plans for the incoming administration.”
Intelligence sources told Circa News that the logs indicated Rice began to show interest in NSA materials that included unmasked Americans’ identities last July when Trump became the GOP presidential nominee, then accelerated after he won the election in November.
Circa News also reported that “most if not all” of the surveillance information collected on the Trump team had nothing to do with any of the alleged election interference by Russia.
April 4, 2017: Rice tacitly admits unmasking and lying about it
Speaking to MSNBC, Rice did not deny unmasking the identities of the names of Donald Trump associates collected in foreign surveillance.
She implicitly acknowledged and explicitly defended the unmaskings by claiming: “It was not uncommon. It was necessary at times to make those requests.”
But speaking to PBS on March 22, Rice denied any knowledge of such unmasking after it was revealed by Nunes.
She had told PBS, “I know nothing about this,” and “I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today.”
By her own admission, Rice was not telling the truth on March 22, but she told MSNBC she had done nothing inappropriate and that had sometimes sought the names of people in intelligence reports as part of her job.
NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell did not ask Rice: If that was true, why did you not tell the truth to PBS on March 22?
In her defense, Rice merely asserted to Mitchell that she did not leak unmasked names to the press and that the unmasking wasn’t politically motivated.
However, it was the unmasking that made the leak possible. The leak could have been committed by any of the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of intelligence officials who could see the intelligence after Flynn’s name was unmasked. That was because of the executive order Obama issued in the waning days of his presidency relaxing the rules on the sharing of information within the intelligence community.
Rice told MSNBC the unmasking of any names of Trump associates in intelligence reports was not done to spy on them “for any political purposes.”
But former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy said that can’t be true.
“The national-security adviser is not an investigator,” he wrote. “She is a White House staffer. The president’s staff is a consumer of intelligence, not a generator or collector of it.”
Requesting the unmasking, according to McCarthy, could have had no purpose other than politics because she was not an investigator.
“The thing to bear in mind is that the White House does not do investigations. Not criminal investigations, not intelligence investigations,” he wrote.
May 3, 2017: Comey dodges questions on Trump spying
Comey refused to confirm under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee if the bureau was investigating whether the Obama administration spied on Trump’s election campaign and transition team.
He also wouldn’t confirm if the FBI was investigating whether information about the Trump team was leaked to the media.
The director replied he could not confirm that in public without authorization from the Justice Department, which, he said, would have initiated any such investigation.
Comey did say he had never been an anonymous source of leaks in the media on the investigation of Clinton and the Trump campaign, and that he had never authorized anyone in the FBI to do so.
The director also said he had never shared classified information related to those investigations with the media.
At one point, chairman Grassley admonished Comey: “It is frustrating when the FBI refuses to answer this committee’s questions, but leaks relevant information to the media. In other words, they don’t talk to us, but somebody talks to the media.”
May 10, 2017: Comey fired
Trump had been displeased with Comey over several issues, including his handling of the investigation into his election campaign and the Russian government, especially as even Democrats had said they had seen no evidence of collusion.
But the main reason Trump gave for firing Comey was his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and his usurping the authority of then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch on July 5, 2016, by announcing his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution, rather than simply presenting the FBI’s findings to the Justice Department.
May 17, 2017: Special Counsel appointed
Attorney General Jeff Sessions having recused himself, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel to investigate both Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and related matters.
Given the course of the House and Senate investigations, it appeared likely those “related matters” will include whether the Obama administration spied on the Trump team.
They could also include why Comey did not cooperate with congressional investigations.