February 5, 2018

INDEFENSIBLE:

After Embarrassing Memo Flop, Trump White House Goes Into Hiding (Tommy Christopher, February 4, 2018, Shareblue)

[T]here were conspicuously few White House officials willing to defend that view on Sunday.

Just days after Trump's first State of the Union address, not a single White House official was booked to appear on any of the five major Sunday news programs, a rarity for any weekend. Even rarer, though, is the fact that no other Cabinet official, agency representative, or spokesperson appeared on any of the shows.

The only appearance by a Trump official anywhere on cable news this weekend was Kellyanne Conway, who only ventured as far as the friendly turf of Fox & Friends Sunday, where she still managed to make a mess of her interview.

Devin Nunes tried to discredit the FBI. Instead, he proved it's onto something. (Asha Rangappa February 4, 2018, The Washington Post)

The point of the memo written by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and released Friday afternoon was supposed to be to expose corruption at the highest levels of the FBI. But what the memo actually did -- albeit surely not intentionally -- was exactly the opposite. In a brief 3½ pages, Nunes managed to confirm that the investigation into the Trump campaign's possible ties with Russia has a very solid basis and that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III must keep looking into the case.

As a former special agent for the FBI working on counterintelligence, I used to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants, so I'm familiar with the procedures Nunes implies the FBI abused in this case. To initiate surveillance on former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page in October 2016, the government would have had to demonstrate that Page was "knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of" Russia. Importantly, the "knowingly" requirement applies only to "U.S. persons" such as Page, not to foreign nationals -- which means the government had a slightly higher burden in his case. It takes months and even years to obtain enough relevant evidence for a FISA application, which can include details from physical surveillance, phone and financial records, items recovered from the target's trash and intelligence obtained from other sources. So the FISA application would probably have outlined the bureau's efforts going all the way back to 2013, when Page was approached by the FBI, which warned him, based on recordings of Russian intelligence officers, that he was being targeted for recruitment as a Russian spy. (That same year, Page also reportedly wrote in a letter to an academic publisher that he was an "informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin.") In counterintelligence investigations, this kind of interview would have been intended to "neutralize" the Russians: The idea is that anyone who was being unwittingly developed as a spy, as Page appeared to be, would be dismayed to realize what was happening and would immediately cease further contact with their intelligence contacts.

Posted by at February 5, 2018 3:42 AM

  

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