On Wednesday, The Hill posted an article about the scandal surrounding Russian influence during the 2016 presidential campaign and election.
The article reminds us of some recent events:
Senator Chuck Schumer and Congressman Adam Schiff have both castigated Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, for his handling of the inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. They should think twice. The issue that has recently seized Nunes is of vital importance to anyone who cares about fundamental civil liberties.
The trail that Nunes is following will inevitably lead back to a particularly significant leak. On Jan. 12, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported that “according to a senior U.S. government official, (General Mike) Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29.”
Remember–this case (or lack of it) is based on leaked information. The rights of a private American citizen were violated in the way the information about the Russian Ambassador’s phone call was distributed and leaked. What happened here is exactly what the Congressmen who opposed the Patriot Act feared would happen–the use of government apparatus to spy on political opponents. It’s here.
The article reports:
Regardless of how the government collected on Flynn, the leak was a felony and a violation of his civil rights. But it was also a severe breach of the public trust. When I worked as an NSC staffer in the White House, 2005-2007, I read dozens of NSA surveillance reports every day. On the basis of my familiarity with this system, I strongly suspect that someone in the Obama White House blew a hole in the thin wall that prevents the government from using information collected from surveillance to destroy the lives of the citizens whose privacy it is pledged to protect.
The leaking of Flynn’s name was part of what can only be described as a White House campaign to hype the Russian threat and, at the same time, to depict Trump as Vladimir Putin’s Manchurian candidate. On Dec. 29, Obama announced sanctions against Russia as retribution for its hacking activities. From that date until Trump’s inauguration, the White House aggressively pumped into the media two streams of information: one about Russian hacking; the other about Trump’s Russia connection. In the hands of sympathetic reporters, the two streams blended into one.
In late December there were reports of Russians hacking into the electricity grid of a Vermont utility. The hype of Russian intervention continued. It turned out later that the story was totally misreported–an employee had mistakenly loaded some information into the utility’s computer system.
The article concludes:
While the White House was hyping the Russia threat, elements of the press showed a sudden interest in the infamous Steele dossier, which claimed that Russian intelligence services had caught Trump in Moscow in highly compromising situations. The dossier was opposition research paid for by Trump’s political opponents, and it had circulated for months among reporters covering the election. Because it was based on anonymous sources and entirely unverifiable, however, no reputable news organization had dared to touch it.
With a little help from the Obama White House, the dossier became fair game for reporters. A government leak let it be known that the intelligence community had briefed Trump on the dossier. If the president-elect was discussing it with his intelligence briefers, so the reasoning went, perhaps there was something to it after all.
By turning the dossier into hard news, that leak weaponized malicious gossip. The same is true of the Flynn-Kislyak leak. Ignatius used the leak to deepen speculation about collusion between Putin and Trump: “What did Flynn say (to Kislyak),” Ignatius asked, “and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions?” The mere fact that Flynn’s conversations were being monitored deepened his appearance of guilt. If he was innocent, why was the government monitoring him?
It should not have been. He had the right to talk to in private — even to a Russian ambassador. Regardless of what one thinks about him or Trump or Putin, this leak should concern anyone who believes that we must erect a firewall between the national security state and our domestic politics. The system that allowed it to happen must be reformed. At stake is a core principle of our democracy: that elected representatives control the government, and not vice versa.
Laws were broken in releasing the transcripts of the conversations of General Flynn. It is time to get past the partisan divide and realize that this was a serious encroachment on the freedom of all Americans. Those responsible for spreading the information need to be dealt with severely.