Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Chairman Nunes: Recuse Thyself

As a former member of the Donald Trump transition team's executive committee, Rep. Devin Nunes briefed Trump and his team on intelligence matters, as he had done during the campaign.  He worked closely in that role with General Michael Flynn, who resigned in February because he lied about having conversations with the Russian ambassador.  Yet, despite the appearance of a conflict of interest, Chairman Nunes has been serving as Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating links between key Russians and the Trump campaign and transition.   

Questions about Chairman Nunes' ability to lead an objective investigation have increased because of his strange behavior since F.B.I. Director James Comey and the director of the N.S.A., Admiral Michael Rogers, appeared before his committee last week. Comey's sworn testimony was devastating for President Trump.  

Comey was asked to respond to a tweets Trump had sent to his followers accusing President Barack Obama of having him wiretapped.   Comey responded, "I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets."  Comey did confirm that the F.B.I. is investigating the Russian government's interference with the November election, and "that 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."   

Two days following Comey's testimony, Chairman Nunes announced that communications by members of President Trump's transition team were included in the "incidental collection" of foreign surveillance. At a Capitol Hill press conference he said he had learned this through a source, which he did not identify, and then headed to the White House to inform the president.  Subsequently, Chairman Nunes' spokesperson revealed, "Chairman Nunes met with his source at the White House grounds in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source."  The spokesperson added, "The chairman is extremely concerned about the improper masking of names of U.S. citizens."

Chairman Nunes has still not shared the information or the identity of its source with any other members of his committee.  Nor has he sufficiently explained why he couldn't have used a secure area on Capitol Hill.   But President Trump said last Wednesday he felt somewhat "vindicated" by the announcement.   It all appears to be a perfect Trump tactic; change the subject from his unhinged tweets, thanks to the cover provided him by his former transition team member, Chairman Nunes.  

Chairman Nunes then cancelled all House Intelligence hearings scheduled for this week.  He explained, "There are just questions that we have for Director Comey and Admiral Rogers probably that they just couldn't answer in a public setting but it's necessary to get both of them back down here before we can move on to other interviews."  He said that the cancellation had nothing to do with the documents he had viewed in the secure location at the White House.   But Chairman Nunes did announce that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had agreed to testify before the committee.  Manafort has come under new scrutiny because of his alleged ties to the Russian backed former president of Ukraine.  

Chairman Nunes is reported to believe that the documents he was shown suggest that the Obama administration may have been using its foreign intelligence powers to shadow the Trump campaign.  He has said he is concerned that the identities of Trump officials were "unmasked" and widely transmitted to people who had no need to see them, and had "little or no foreign intelligence value."

In January the Director of National Intelligence released a report that found that Russian President Vladimir Putin had tried to influence the outcome of the November election.  The report said, “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”  

The Comey revelation last week that the F.B.I. is investigating whether there was any coordination between the Russians and members of the Trump campaign has shaken Washington.  How did Trump advisor Roger Stone know in advance that Wikileaks would release damaging emails from Hillary Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta?   The torrent of embarrassing emails was devastating for the Clinton campaign.  

Chairman Nunes is clearly slow-walking his committee's investigation, he has cancelled important public hearings with key witnesses, and he has failed to share information with his committee members while keeping President Donald Trump fully informed.   Many in Washington, especially Democrats, have called on Chairman Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation.  Chairman Nunes refuses to do so, responding, "I'm not sure the Democrats do want me to quit because they know that I am quite effective at getting to the bottom."  But from all appearances, so far his leadership has been quite ineffective.  

Chairman Nunes, remember you are no longer serving Donald Trump, you are serving the American people.  You must recuse yourself.  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Is Trump Losing It?

"The best defense is a strong offense" is a centuries old military tactic that can lead to a strategic advantage.   But it is hard to understand how President Donald Trump will benefit from tweeting as a fact Saturday that President Barack Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped shortly before the November election.   The tweet left surprised White House aides scrambling for details, put the Democrats on attack mode, and led the head of the FBI to request the Justice Department publicly reject the claim.

Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended her boss but did not provide any supporting evidence on ABC's This Week Sunday.   "Look, I think he's going off of information that he has seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential," she said.  "And if it is, this would be the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that I think we have ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself."   In a statement Sunday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, "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."   He added that the president would not comment any further until such oversight is conducted.

A spokesperson for President Obama called Trump's accusation false.  He also noted that the president cannot order such a wiretap.   President Obama's Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, denied Sunday that Trump Tower was tapped.  Speaking on NBC's Meet The Press, Clapper said, "There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign."  Any such wiretap would have to have been authorized by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court Act (FISA) based upon some evidence.   Clapper was asked if such a FISA order existed.  He responded, "I can deny it."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi attacked President Trump for using wild accusations to deflect attention away from the growing investigations into his administration's ties to the Russians.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday on Meet The Press, "It's beneath the dignity of the presidency.  It is something that really hurts people's view of government."

Meanwhile, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton said Sunday they had seen no evidence to support Trump's claims.  Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said Saturday, "If the former president of the United States was able to obtain a warrant lawfully to monitor Trump's campaign for violating the law, that would be the biggest scandal since Watergate."  Republican Senator Ben Sasse said Saturday, "The president should ask that this full (FISA) application regarding surveillance of foreign operatives of operations be made available, ideally to the full public, and a bare minimum to the U.S. Senate."  And House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, a Trump loyalist, said Sunday his committee will include Trump's allegations in its current investigation into Russian meddling.  

Late Sunday the New York Times reported that FBI Director James Comey asked the Justice Department to "publicly reject President Trump's unsubstantiated claim that former President Barack Obama ordered his phones to be tapped."  This report was later confirmed by several news organizations, and is a remarkable action by an FBI chief .  Comey reportedly thinks the Trump claim suggests the FBI broke the law.  The Justice Department has so far not commented.  

President Trump has been dealing with a growing scandal involving past and present members of his administration and Russia.  U.S. intelligence agencies have already determined that Russia meddled in the U.S. elections to tilt the race toward Trump.  Despite repeated denials from Trump and his spokespersons, members of Trump's team had repeated contacts with Russian officials, even before the election.   In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. was quoted by a travel industry news website making comments about Russian investment in Trump businesses.   "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York."  He concluded, "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."   No wonder President Trump has never said anything bad about Russian President Vladimir Putin.  No wonder Trump wants the whole Russia issue to go away.  Da!

Of course, Americans could get a better understanding of Trump's complex business ties with the Russians if he released his tax returns.  During the campaign Trump said he could not release the returns because he is under audit, but promised he would do so when the audit is complete.  However, an audit does not preclude someone from releasing their tax returns to the public.   And Trump has refused to release a copy of the IRS audit letter.  The whole IRS audit claim may be a lie.  However, now his campaign says that Trump will never release his taxes because the American people elected him and they don't care.

The many investigations into Trump's Russian ties appear to be making progress, which may explain why he is tweeting unsubstantiated and outrageous charges about President Obama.  The man who once said "I alone can fix it!" is in a fix, and he is not going to be able to tweet his way out of it.   It appears that he may be losing it.  

There is now an urgent need to get to the truth about President Trump's latest allegations accusing a former U.S. president of illegal wiretapping.  And about the true nature of his ties to Russia.  It is also time for all members of Congress to demand Trump publicly release his taxes so that all potential conflicts of interest are disclosed.  

This is about putting America first--not Donald J. Trump!