Tag: Wiretapping

Tapping Trump

So this happened:

President Trump on Saturday angrily accused former president Barack Obama of orchestrating a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at his Trump Tower headquarters last fall in the run-up to the election.

While citing no evidence to support his explosive allegation, Trump said in a series of four tweets sent Saturday morning that Obama was “wire tapping” his New York offices before the election in a move he compared to McCarthyism. “Bad (or sick) guy!” he said of his predecessor, adding that the surveillance resulted in “nothing found.”

This appears to be a result of internet telephone. Last summer, Louise Mensch revealed that the FBI (not Obama) has sought a FISA warrant to investigate members of Trump’s team’s ties to the Russians (this was after it was discovered that a server in Trump tower was communicating with Russian banks). The FISA Court rejected the initial warrant, then granted one more narrowly focused on four members of the Trump team. These details have been reported on many times. A few days ago, Mark Levin did one of his connect-the-dots pieces alleging a conspiracy to derail Trump. It showed up today on Breitbart and thus went into Trump’s brain.

If that’s all there is to it, Trump is being incredibly stupid here because he is reminding the public that his campaign staff were under investigation for espionage owing to credible accusations that they were working with the Russians to enable Trump’s election. If there’s more, then Trump needs to provide the evidence because warrantless wiretapping by Obama would indeed be a gigantic political scandal.

The McConnell Taper Confesses

Is your jaw sitting a bit too high on your face? Or have you had trouble getting it open wide enough to eat? Well, then. Feast your eyes on this piece from the guy who recorded Mitch McConnell … gasp! … talking strategy about a possible Senate opponent. We discussed this before and it wasn’t clear whether the eavesdropper committed a crime.

The answer now appears to be Holy Fucking Shit Yes:

The front door to the office building [of McConnell’s campaign HQ] was unlocked, and there was no one behind the reception desk. Walking down the hall of the second floor, I recognized McConnell’s voice. He was talking about Sen. Rand Paul’s strategic use of the Tea Party in procuring his 2010 election.

The voices were coming from the other side of a nearby door, which had a window. I pulled out my Flip camera and started to record.

I don’t need to tell you what a weapon the pocket video camera has become. Bartender Scott Prouty changed the trajectory of the entire 2012 election when he captured Mitt Romney in his now classic “47 percent” speech. You just never knew when a politician was going to open his mouth and accidentally reveal his true agenda. And as I held my Flip up to the window, that’s what I was hoping for, but I soon realized that the video I was capturing was the back of a projection screen, and only the audio was of value. So I held the Flip closer to the door vent instead of the window, and began recording the 11:45 minutes of footage later released by Mother Jones.

I was sweating. My heart was racing. I tried to record backup audio on my phone, but my cheap replacement phone would only let me record voice memos of one minute in length. Every time the minute was up, the phone would beep, which was excruciating for the person crouching by a door vent. When a gentleman walked out of the campaign headquarters and into the hall, I put my Flip and phone back in my pocket, and headed to the elevator.

Shawn was already there. We made our escape.

That, my friends, is the description of a felony, not journalism. Journalism would be meeting with a politician and recording the interview. Journalism might even mean having a hidden microphone on a staffer. Journalism does not include breaking into the campaign quarters, hunting down the candidate and recording a private conversation to which you are not a party.

The whole op-ed is just bizarre. There is a smug “everything I did, I did for Kentucky” tone to it; as if Mitch McConnell’s views justified any tactic. He cites people who’ve claimed he didn’t do anything illegal ignoring that their support was predicated upon a very different version of events (the initial reports were that he happened to be walking by and heard the conversation clearly). He says he intends to go to law school but I’m not sure how once this is over.

I almost feel sorry for the guy. What the hell kind of a lawyer does he have who would let him write this? If I were the prosecutor, I’d present it to the jury and rest my case. He thinks his life was turned upside down before? Wait until he’s a convicted felon. I wish I could feel schadenfreude here but this is just sad.

(Ken at Popehat always says that the must frustrating thing about clients accused of crimes is when they won’t shut the hell up. Let this be an example to everyone. If you are accused of a crime, shut the hell up.)

The War on the Media

We’ve been covering the recent scandals with Benghazi and the investigation of the AP. Another scandal has emerged this week: the investigation of Jeffrey Rosen, a Fox News correspondent. The Administration tracked his movements in the State Department, tracked his calls and got a warrant for his e-mails. His alleged crime? Stephen Kim, a State Department Advisor, told Rosen that it was believed that North Korea would response to additional sanctions with more nuclear missile tests. Rosen then reported it. And the Feds are basically accusing him being a co-conspirator in a criminal leak case because he encouraged the source.

Read that last sentence again, because Obama’s defenders have been trying to muddy the waters. Obama did not just track Rosen to find out who the leaker was. He did it with the intention of bringing potential criminal charges against Rosen himself for being a co-conspirator.

There is an argument to be made that that the leak endangered a source (and that the AP leak did as well). If we want to have a debate about whether it is a good idea for journalists to acquire and leak classified information, I’m willing to have that. I tend to side against the government keeping secrets, but it’s a worthy debate.

But that’s not the important point here. The important point is whether our government should be investigating and possibly bringing criminal charges against journalists who publicize leaked info. Glenn Greenwald:

Under US law, it is not illegal to publish classified information. That fact, along with the First Amendment’s guarantee of press freedoms, is what has prevented the US government from ever prosecuting journalists for reporting on what the US government does in secret. This newfound theory of the Obama DOJ – that a journalist can be guilty of crimes for “soliciting” the disclosure of classified information – is a means for circumventing those safeguards and criminalizing the act of investigative journalism itself. These latest revelations show that this is not just a theory but one put into practice, as the Obama DOJ submitted court documents accusing a journalist of committing crimes by doing this.

This actually got its start with the prosecution of Wikileaks. While I’m no fan of Wikileaks (and especially not Julian Assange), the legal theory the Administration used to go after them was extremely broad. In fact, they admitted in court that the theory would have allowed them to prosecute the New York Times as well. But everyone ignored that ominous thundercloud because, well, it was Wikileaks. But now we’re seeing that theory extended into the mainstream media.

It is virtually impossible at this point to overstate the threat posed by the Obama DOJ to press freedoms. Back in 2006, Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales triggered a major controversy when he said that the New York Times could be prosecuted for having revealed the Top Secret information that the NSA was eavesdropping on the communications of Americans without warrants. That was at the same time that right-wing demagogues such Bill Bennett were calling for the prosecution of the NYT reporters who reported on the NSA program, as well as the Washington Post’s Dana Priest for having exposed the CIA black site network.

But despite those public threats, the Bush DOJ never went so far as to formally accuse journalists in court filings of committing crimes for reporting on classified information. Now the Obama DOJ has.

I have to give Greenwald credit, as always. Huge swathes of the Liberal Echosphere are either ignoring this story or siding with the government. Three acts in and they still have their head in the sand. I almost think that if Obama had Rachel Maddow dragged off the air in chains, a hundred liberals would spring up to defend the action.

The common thread that ties together the scandals on the AP wiretapping, Benghazi and the investigation of Jeffrey Rosen is the Obama Administration’s absolute obsession with message control. They have prosecuted more whistle blowers and leakers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. They have now opened up criminal investigations of journalists who revealed information they wanted kept secret. They not only process, clean and fillet every statement that comes out of their Administration, they want to do it for everyone else as well.

And really, can you blame them?

The press-punishing, speech-chilling, and unabashedly overreaching actions by the Obama administration against the Associated Press and Fox News Channel’s James Rosen lay bare the essential dynamic between any president and a press that is always more prone to being lapdogs than watchdogs: the president feeds or punishes them as he sees fit, while chanting a bogus rosary about “national security.”

Because they tend to share his broad outlook on politics, too many journalists for too long have been in the tank for Obama, explaining away or minimizing his policy failures and reversals. Remember Obama’s heartfelt insistence that he would run the most transparent administration ever? Take a look at this document about warrantless searches of text messages that his administration finally coughed up to the ACLU and get back to me. It’s 15 pages of completely redacted prose. Such a document would be funny if it wasn’t coming from a secrecy-obsessed administration that has put the brakes on fulfilling FOIA requests and has charged a record number of people under the Espionage Act.

Many of the media are still in the tank, trying to explain away or rationalize Obama’s behavior. But I expect with each revelation that comes out — and you know there’s more coming — that this refusal to engage will be chipped away at. Eventually, people are going to realize that when the President feels like he can investigate anyone, no one is safe.

Let me be clear: the President has a duty to protect classified information, especially when that information is critical to national security. But his duty is to find and plug leaks within the government. When he extends that authority to investigating and prosecuting journalists, he is endangering our most basic freedoms.

IRS and AP Scandal Updates

Scandal week continues. And it keeps getting more interesting.

One of the pieces of pravda handed down by this Administration was the the AP wiretap was put in place because of a leak that endangered national security. Um, maybe not:

For five days, reporters at the Associated Press had been sitting on a big scoop about a foiled al-Qaeda plot at the request of CIA officials. Then, in a hastily scheduled Monday morning meeting, the journalists were asked by agency officials to hold off on publishing the story for just one more day.

The CIA officials, who had initially cited national security concerns in an attempt to delay publication, no longer had those worries, according to individuals familiar with the exchange. Instead, the Obama administration was planning to announce the successful counterterrorism operation that Tuesday.

The AP balked and ran the story anyway. And then the investigation was begun. I could be generous and say that this was just a bureaucratic mixup. But I’m not feeling generous. This feels more like two things: a petty way to get back at the AP for stealing Obama’s thunder and a fishing expedition to see if they could find any government sources talking to the AP. Neither justifies obtaining two months worth of phone records.

Meanwhile, more details continue to emerge from the IRS scandal including details of just how invasive the questions were and allegations (unconfirmed) that a pro-Life group was told they couldn’t protest at Planned Parenthood Organizations.

But at least the people responsible are being … oh:

The Internal Revenue Service official in charge of the tax-exempt organizations at the time when the unit targeted tea party groups now runs the IRS office responsible for the health care legislation.

Sarah Hall Ingram served as commissioner of the office responsible for tax-exempt organizations between 2009 and 2012. But Ingram has since left that part of the IRS and is now the director of the IRS’ Affordable Care Act office, the IRS confirmed to ABC News today.

Her successor, Joseph Grant, is taking the fall for misdeeds at the scandal-plagued unit between 2010 and 2012. During at least part of that time, Grant served as deputy commissioner of the tax-exempt unit.

Well, at least the liberals are going to … oh:

Democrats can’t say it; Barack Obama can’t say it; and the IRS certainly can’t say it, so here goes: The only real sin the IRS committed in its ostensible targeting of conservatives is the sin of political incorrectness—that is, of not pretending it needed to vet all the new groups that wanted tax-exempt status, even though it mostly just needed to vet right-wing groups.

The gist of this appalling defense of the IRS’s action by Noam Schieber is that those dumb Tea Party groups provoked the IRS by filing tax forms. Seriously:

It turns out that the applications the conservative groups submitted to the IRS—the ones the agency subsequently combed over, provoking nonstop howling—were unnecessary. The IRS doesn’t require so-called 501c4 organizations to apply for tax-exempt status. If anyone wants to start a social welfare group, they can just do it, then submit the corresponding tax return (form 990) at the end of the year. To be sure, the IRS certainly allows groups to apply for tax-exempt status if they want to make their status official. But the application is completely voluntary, making it a strange basis for an alleged witch hunt.

This is ridiculous. No one — certainly not anyone who is temperamentally suspicious of the government and the IRS — would wait before confirming their tax status.

Moreover, the IRS has admitted that they selected organizations based on their names and their stated purpose. There is evidence that “provocative” applications from left-wing groups sailed through just fine. In fact, one group had their application approved almost instantly when they changed their name to “Greenhouse Solutions.”

No matter how much the defenders wriggle, these are serious issues. Probably not “impeach the President” issues — Obama is currently wearing a fake moustache and claiming it was all Bush’s fault. But certainly serious enough to warrant investigations, resignations and, in the IRS scandal case, possibly criminal charges.

Sorry, Obama defenders. This is real.

Update: Jon Stewart nails it: