This week CNN is reporting more details on the Obama Administration’s 2016 surveillance of people connected to the presidential campaign of the party out of power. It seems that once President Obama’s appointee to run the FBI, James Comey, had secured authorization for wiretapping, the bureau continued its surveillance into 2017. CNN reports:
US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe.
The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.
Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive.
This means the wiretapping was authorized more than ten months ago and perhaps more than a year ago. It was presumably a tough decision for a judge to issue a secret warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, enabling the administration to spy on someone connected with the presidential campaign of its political adversaries.
One would presumably only approve such an order if the request presented by the executive branch was highly compelling and likely to produce evidence that the subject of the wiretap was, in fact, working with Russia to disrupt U.S. elections. Roughly a year later, as the public still waits for such evidence, this column wonders how this judge is feeling now, especially now that CNN has reported that at least two of its three sources believe the resulting evidence is inconclusive.
One would also presume—or at least hope—that seeking to wiretap associates of the leader of the political opposition is not an everyday occurrence in any administration. At the very least, it seems highly unlikely that such a decision would be made by a mid-level official. CNN notes, “Such warrants require the approval of top Justice Department and FBI officials, and the FBI must provide the court with information showing suspicion that the subject of the warrant may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.”
It seems reasonable for the public to know exactly which officials made this decision and who else they consulted or informed of their surveillance plans. Was the President briefed on the details of this investigation?
And as for the information showing suspicion, where did the FBI come up with that? A September 7 column from the Journal’s Kim Strassel raises disturbing questions, based on recent events and a Washington Post story from last winter. Ms. Strassel writes:
The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation took a sharp and notable turn on Tuesday, as news broke that it had subpoenaed the FBI and the Justice Department for information relating to the infamous Trump “dossier.” That dossier, whose allegations appear to have been fabricated, was commissioned by the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS and then developed by a former British spook named Christopher Steele. ..
The Washington Post in February reported that Mr. Steele “was familiar” to the FBI, since he’d worked for the bureau before. The newspaper said Mr. Steele had reached out to a “friend” at the FBI about his Trump work as far back as July 2016. The Post even reported that Mr. Steele “reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him to continue his work.”
That’s true, although Mr. Trump’s argument may be getting stronger. And whatever Donald Trump’s tweets say, Americans deserve to know how our government came to spy on people associated with the presidential campaign of the party out of power.