The Other Trump Scandal—the Effort to Justify Trump’s Tweets by Manufacturing Evidence

by Mark Sumner –

What caused Devin Nunes to run around in a way that makes chicken sans head seem like a model of control? According to Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker, nothing at all.

The congressmen and their aides were shown a binder of two to three dozen pages of highly classified intercepts, mostly transcripts of conversations between foreign government officials that took place during the Presidential transition. These intercepts were not related to the heart of the committee’s Russia investigation. In fact, only one of the documents had anything to do with Russia, according to an official who reviewed them.

What the intercepts all had in common is that the people being spied on made references to Donald Trump or to Trump officials. That wasn’t even clear, though, from reading the transcripts. The names of any Americans were concealed, or “masked,” the intelligence community’s term for redacting references to Americans who are not the legal targets of surveillance when such intelligence reports are distributed to policy makers.

The intercepts were ordinary FBI observations of foreign officials. Those officials mentioned Trump or Trump associates—and even those mentions were hidden behind code names. This is what set Nunes hair on fire? This is a nothing burger too small to feed a nothing Smurf. What a glimpse at the documents has demonstrated is that there’s not the slightest hint that President Obama, or any official working for him, did the slightest thing wrong. But it has revealed the real scandal.

The binder of secret documents is at the center of the bizarre scandal created by what may be the most reckless lie President Trump has ever told. On March 4th, he tweeted, “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

That tweet may have begun as a distraction, but trying to support that claim is turning into … a destruction.

The attempt to find something—anything—to back up Trump’s statements has turned into a Republican closet industry. Nunes Night of Circular Briefings wasn’t about Russia. It wasn’t about unmasking. It was about trying to find some way to say “Trump isn’t a massive, unprincipled liar.” And the problem with that, of course, it that it’s also a lie.

As CNN has reported.

After a review of the same intelligence reports brought to light by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal, multiple sources in both parties tell CNN.

Barack Obama did nothing wrong. Susan Rice did nothing wrong. However, Devin Nunes and Donald Trump can’t make that claim.

Donald Trump recklessly issued a charge that presents an enormous, just-short-of-extensional level of threat to the ability of the government to carry out its role, both in intelligence collection and in how it polices. And then the Trump White House worked with Devin Nunes to try to find some justification for this charge, even if that justification had to be manufactured through innuendo and slander.

It is now clear that the scandal was not Rice’s normal review of the intelligence reports but the coördinated effort between the Trump Administration and Nunes to sift through classified information and computer logs that recorded Rice’s unmasking requests, and then leak a highly misleading characterization of those documents, all in an apparent effort to turn Rice, a longtime target of Republicans, into the face of alleged spying against Trump. 

But … don’t expect it to be presented that way by Republicans. In fact, don’t expect Republicans to mention the whole affair again.

They’ve accomplished what they wanted. They’ve thrown Rice to their base as the villain. They’ve pretended that Trump was justified. They’re completely ready to move on.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos