by Terry H. Schwadron
And so, the disclosures about ties between Team Trump and Russia, and about “wiretaps” keeping dripping away, some far stranger than we would make up.
The AP reported that Paul Manaford, who was the Trump campaign manager for a few months, worked “secretly” 10 years ago for a Russian oligarch, who was close to Vladimir Putin, to promote Russian interests. Manaford acknowledged working for the Russian, but said that had ended before working for the campaign. Previously Manaford had been linked to Ukrainian interests and, in some instances, did not fully disclose interests and payments from Ukraine.
The White House, meanwhile, basically again distanced itself from Manaford altogether, and downplayed his role in the Trump campaign.
Details aside, what we have learned is that there are yet more avenues to be pursued by an “independent” inquiry in Congress led by Republican majorities intent on providing cover for the President’s campaign.
Why, one might ask, are reporters from several news organizations seemingly better equipped to find out more about contact with Russians than members of Congress? Why didn’t candidate Trump find out about his campaign manager before press reports came out?
How many more surprises will we endure? This Russian-ties investigation will go on for months, no matter what we think. The White House will be operating under a cloud of suspicion of sorts, seemingly protected by congressional investigations that won’t pull a trigger.
Meanwhile, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes said that U.S. intelligence had collected multiple conversations involving Team Trump members, including the President, after the election. Nunes said the intercepts he has seen appear to be legal and not targeted at the transition team or related to Russia. He would not identify the subject matter, and just said they were part of a larger cache that have been requested.
Nunes said he was presented dozens of intercept transcripts, which troubled him. He described it as arising from unrelated foreign surveillance, and said he still is bothered by the fact that names of those swept up were made public. “I’m actually alarmed by it,” said Nunes, adding, “Details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in an intelligence community report.” He said he didn’t know if Trump’s “own communications were intercepted.”
Just the day before, FBI Director James B. Comey testified that he had no information that would back up President Trump’s assertion that he had been “wiretapped” through the campaign. Nunes said that the NSA and CIA have cooperated with the Intelligence Committee, but not the FBI.
Why not? If the overseers cannot find things out, what’s the use of having the oversight powers?
Now in making clear that there is more information out there needing review, Nunes seems to be sowing more confusion and suspicion than he did to create any light.
If it all was legit surveillance that just happened to pick up the names of Team Trump members, why are we discussing it? If it has nothing to do with Russia, why do we care? If there is a FISA court warrant for surveillance that picked up voices of Team Trump, what was the nature of the probable cause and the criminal (or not?) activity that the surveillance was ordered to pursue.
From Nunes’ remarks, it seemed clear only that there are more examples here of people whose conversations are included in surveillance who perhaps should not have been identified by names on transcripts of surveillance that was not supposed to be released.
Remember, Nunes’ job is to oversee intelligence work, not to tattle to the President on whatever he happens to find.
Secondly, he said the information came to light as part of ordinary non-Russia surveillance, and presented in a way that would appear to give the President cover for his “wiretap” charge against former President Obama. Indeed, the President responded by saying it partly vindicated his original tweet.
Thirdly, Nunes had time to tell Speaker Paul Ryan, vote, talk to the press twice, and go to the White House but no time to share the new information with his Democratic colleague, Adam Schiff. So much for any notion of an “independent” review. Schiff said that Nunes “will need to decide if he is the chairman of an independent investigation or if he’s a surrogate for the White House.”
Odd doesn’t even begin to cover it. Even Sen. John McCain said the situation was “bizarre” and called for a select committee to take over the investigation.
So, what we have is a continuing mess that merely guarantees that we will have endless talk about the in’s and out’s about listening in on conversations with foreign targets of some kind of surveillance with little resolution in sight.
Sounds like everyone but Vladimir Putin is a loser here.