The sequence of spin and dissimulation in the great Trump wiretapping affair has been a master class in…something. I’m not quite sure what yet. But it’s worth setting out for future generations. To get the ball rolling and remind everyone how this got started, here is Trump’s original tweet from a month ago:
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
There’s nothing true about this. Trump got it from a Breitbart piece that summarized a Mark Levin rant that relied on a British story about a brief FBI investigation of a server at Trump Tower that was communicating with a Russian bank. He couldn’t admit that, though, and thus began a long campaign that has sucked up the time of the White House, Republicans in Congress, and Fox News, all desperately trying to redefine this into a real story. Here’s how it went:
- Obama became some part of the executive branch.
- Wiretap became surveillance of some kind.
- Trump Tower became Trump.
- Trump became anyone associated with Trump.
- Surveillance became criminal investigation of Trump campaign team. Oops. Wrong turn. Let’s ditch that one.
- Second try: surveillance became routine monitoring of foreign officials that happened to include Trump officials on the other end.
- Routine monitoring became unmasking of Trump officials.
And now we have the latest version of this from Eli Lake:
White House lawyers last month discovered that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
….Rice’s requests to unmask the names of Trump transition officials does not vindicate Trump’s own tweets from March 4 in which he accused Obama of illegally tapping Trump Tower. There remains no evidence to support that claim….The standard for senior officials to learn the names of U.S. persons incidentally collected is that it must have some foreign intelligence value, a standard that can apply to almost anything. This suggests Rice’s unmasking requests were likely within the law.
Susan Rice, recall, was the National Security Advisor at the time, and most likely requested unmasking of names from intelligence reports all the time. Apparently some of those times included Trump transition officials. How many times? “Dozens.” How does that compare to her usual number of requests? There’s no telling. Does this have anything to do with Trump’s original tweet? No. Was it illegal or wrong in any way? Probably not.
But! Susan Rice is also a Republican bête noir, the villainess of Benghazi who LIED ON TV repeatedly and tried to get everyone to believe that the attacks were due to an INTERNET VIDEO when we knew all along they were really the work of RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISTS, a phrase that OBAMA WAS UNWILLING TO UTTER.
So it’s a big win to get Rice’s name back in the news. So far, though, it doesn’t advance the story in any way. Maybe it will eventually. As usual, we’ll just have to wait.