A few hours before the joint appearance by FBI Director, James Comey, and National Security Director, Admiral Mike Rogers, testifying to the House Intelligence Committee, the 45th President of the United States took to twitter. He called the reports of potential contact and collusion between his campaign and Russia “FAKE NEWS”. He said that “The Democrats made up” a story to cover up “as an excuse for running a terrible campaign” that resulted in losing the presidency to the Republican’s candidate. Wrong again, Mr. President, and while he tweets, the investigations burn.
FBI Director, James Comey, finally revealed during public testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on March 20, 2017, that,
“The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election.”
The thrust of the counterintelligence effort,
“Includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
Both Comey and Rogers confirmed that there was nothing to substantiate the new President’s twitter claims that the previous administration at any time had him or his Manhattan tower under surveillance.
In what may be a first ever real time tweet by a U.S. President during a Congressional hearing, the new President also falsely tweeted that,
“The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process.”
Responding to a question by the ranking Democratic member, Adam Schiff, Director Comey corrected the President saying,
“We’ve offered no opinion, have no view, have no information on potential impact because it’s never something that we’ve looked at.”
House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, (R-CA) in two press conferences said that the President might have been incidentally collected, along with members of the administration’s team, pursuant to legal FISA collection methods, having nothing to do with any Russian investigation.
Nunes said that,
“There are multiple FISA warrants out there.”
Nunes briefed the President, which is entirely improper in light of the revelations by FBI Director Comey that the President and his administration are under investigation.
The public revelations by Nunes came shortly after we learned about the $10 million yearly payments from 2006 through 2009 to the former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, coming from his work with Russian billionaire, Oleg Deripaska, supporting the interests of Vladimir Putin. This follows the news that broke in August, 2016, that Manafort had received cash payments totaling $12.7 million from 2007 through 2012, for his work in support of the pro-Russian Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych.
Whatever it was that Chairman Nunes says he saw which he called “disturbing” and which made him feel that he had a “duty” to rush over to the the White House to brief the President, was not shared with ranking member Schiff or with any other members of the Intelligence Committee. Congressman Schiff and others viewed the actions by Nunes as an attempt to justify the President’s continued insistence that he was “wiretapped” by President Obama, despite the evidence that this did not happen. Schiff said during press conference that,
“The chairman will either need to decide if he’s leading an investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House. Because he cannot do both.”
Since Chairman Nunes said that he was referencing incidental collections that did not relate to the investigation into the Russian intervention into our 2016 elections, it appears that he might have been referring to a 2013 investigation into suspected Russian mob boss, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, then a resident in the President’s Manhattan Tower.
The disclosures by Chairman Nunes of facts pertaining to an ongoing FBI investigation appear to be an attempt to circumvent confidentiality policy preventing the executive branch from obtaining information from the Department of Justice, in particular when the investigation pertains to the President, or to members of his administration, or to his transition team, or to his campaign. The Eric Holder memo limits these communications to the White House Counsel, the Deputy White House Counsel, the President, or the Vice President,
“When—but only when—it is important for the performance of the President’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.”
This public disclosure by Chairman Nunes appears to be an attempt to get around the attempts by the Administration rejected last month by the FBI to “knock down” the public reports of the administration’s possible collusion with Russia during the campaign. Let’s not forget that Chairman Nunes, a member of the administration’s transition team, along with the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman, Richard Burr (R-NC), were both encouraged by the administration last month to walk back the Russian collusion reports.
There is also the angle being played, without proof, by Chairman Nunes and other Republicans, that the unmasked reports within the US intelligence community identifying General Flynn, have improperly been leaked to the press. The reports that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI surfaced on February 14, 2017. and the reports of his telephone calls with the Russian Ambassador, came to light on January 23, 2017. None of these revelations directly referenced any internal intelligence community documents. Since the FBI was conducting a criminal investigation into activities of Paul Manafort, one or more of the FISA warrants for domestic counterintelligence surveillance now being referenced by Chairman Nunes, probably relate to Flynn’s interaction with foreign intelligence operatives. There is every reason to believe that the “unmasking” of General Flynn’s name within the intelligence community was authorized.
A strong possibility also exists that the original source of the information pertaining to General Flynn could be a foreign actor, such as Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier turned over to our intelligence community, revealed to the public on October 31, 2016. If true, this would mean that there has been no prosecutable leak by anyone connected to the US government owing a duty of confidentiality.
Congressman Nunes has thrown himself, and any credibility that he might have had as the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee leading the investigation into the administration’s Russian connections, under the bus. He obviously has no intention of following the facts wherever they might lead. Instead, he seems focused on running a misdirection campaign, hoping that we, the American people, will be distracted from the deluge of bad news for the new Administration. Like the President, Chairman Nunes is wrong and they are both the wrong men for their respective jobs. Meanwhile the President tweets, and while he tweets, the investigations burn.