Posts Tagged ‘House Select Committee on Intelligence’

Devin Nunes, Washington’s Public Enemy No. 1

July 28, 2018

What did the FBI do in the 2016 campaign? The head of the House inquiry on what he has found—and questions still unanswered.

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Tulare, Calif.

It’s 105 degrees as I stand with Rep. Devin Nunes on his family’s dairy farm. Mr. Nunes has been feeling even more heat in Washington, where as chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence he has labored to unearth the truth about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s activities during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. Thanks in large part to his work, we now know that the FBI used informants against Donald Trump’s campaign, that it obtained surveillance warrants based on opposition research conducted for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and that after the election Obama administration officials “unmasked” and monitored the incoming team.

Mr. Nunes’s efforts have provoked extraordinary partisan and institutional fury in Washington—across the aisle, in the FBI and other law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, in the media. “On any given day there are dozens of attacks, each one wilder in its claims,” he says. Why does he keep at it? “First of all, because it’s my job. This is a basic congressional investigation, and we follow the facts,” he says. The “bigger picture,” he adds, is that in “a lot of the bad and problematic countries” that Intelligence Committee members investigate, “this is what they do there. There is a political party that controls the intelligence agencies, controls the media, all to ensure that party stays in power. If we get to that here, we no longer have a functioning republic. We can’t let that happen.”

Mr. Nunes, 44, was elected to Congress in 2002 from Central California. He joined the Intelligence Committee in 2011 and delved into the statutes, standards and norms that underpin U.S. spying. That taught him to look for “red flags,” information or events that don’t feel right and indicate a deeper problem. He noticed some soon after the 2016 election.

The first: Immediately after joining the Trump transition team, Mr. Nunes faced an onslaught of left-wing claims that he might be in cahoots with Vladimir Putin. It started on social media, though within months outlets such as MSNBC were openly asking if he was a “Russian agent.” “I’ve been a Russia hawk going way back,” he says. “I was the one who only six months earlier had called the Obama administration’s failure to understand Putin’s plans and intentions the largest intelligence failure since 9/11. So these attacks, surreal—big red flag.”

Mr. Nunes would later come to believe the accusations marked the beginning of a deliberate campaign by Obama officials and the intelligence community to discredit him and sideline him from any oversight effort. “This was November. We, Republicans, still didn’t know about the FBI’s Trump investigation. But they did,” he says. “There was concern I’d figure it out, so they had to get rid of me.”

A second red flag: the sudden rush by a small group of Obama officials to produce a new intelligence assessment two weeks before President Trump’s inauguration, claiming the Russians had acted in 2016 specifically to elect Mr. Trump. “Nobody disagrees the Russians were trying to muddy up Hillary Clinton. Because everyone on the planet believed—including the Russians—she was going to win,” Mr. Nunes says. So it “made no sense” that the Obama administration was “working so hard to make the flip argument—to say ‘Oh, no, no: This was all about electing Trump.’ ” The effort began to make more sense once that rushed intelligence assessment grew into a central premise behind the theory that Mr. Trump’s campaign had colluded with the Russians.

Image result for James Comey, photos

January 2017 also brought then-FBI Director James Comey’s acknowledgment to Congress—the public found out later—that the bureau had been conducting a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign since the previous summer, and that Mr. Comey had actively concealed the probe from Congress. Months earlier, when Mr. Nunes had seen media stories alluding to a Trump investigation, he’d dismissed them. “We’re supposed to get briefed,” he says. “Plus, I was thinking: ‘Comey, FBI, they’re good people and would never do this in an election. Nah.’ ”

When the facts came out, Mr. Nunes was stunned by the form the investigation took. For years he had been central in updating the laws governing surveillance, metadata collection and so forth. “I would never have conceived of FBI using our counterintelligence capabilities to target a political campaign. If it had crossed any of our minds, I can guarantee we’d have specifically written, ‘Don’t do that,’ ” when crafting legislation, he says. “Counterintelligence is looking at people trying to steal our nation’s secrets or working with terrorists. This if anything would be a criminal matter.”

Then there was the Christopher Steele dossier, prepared for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign by the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS. Top congressional Republicans got a January 2017 briefing about the document, which Mr. Comey later described as “salacious and unverified.” Mr. Nunes remembers Mr. Comey making one other claim. “He said Republicans paid for it. Not true.” Mr. Nunes recalls. “If they had informed us Hillary Clinton and Democrats paid for that dossier, I can guarantee you that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would have laughed and walked out of that meeting.” The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website funded by hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, had earlier hired Fusion GPS to do research on Mr. Trump, but the Beacon’s editors have said that assignment did not overlap with the dossier.

All these red flags were more than enough to justify a congressional investigation, yet Mr. Nunes says his sleuthing triggered a new effort to prevent one. He had been troubled in January 2017 when newspapers published leaked conversations between Mike Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, and the Russian ambassador. The leak, Mr. Nunes says, involved “very technical collection, nearly the exact readouts.” It violated strict statutory rules against “unmasking”—revealing the identities of Americans who are picked up talking to foreigners who are under U.S. intelligence surveillance.

Around the time of the Flynn leak, Mr. Nunes received tips that far more unmasking had taken place. His sources gave him specific document numbers to prove it. Viewing them required Mr. Nunes to travel in March to a secure reading room on White House grounds, a visit his critics would then spin into a false claim that he was secretly working with Mr. Trump’s inner circle. They also asserted that his unmasking revelations amounted to an unlawful disclosure of classified information.

That prompted a House Ethics Committee investigation. In April 2017, Mr. Nunes stepped aside temporarily from the Russia-collusion piece of his inquiry, conveniently for those who wished to forestall its progress. Not until December did the Ethics Committee clear Mr. Nunes. “We found out later,” he says, “that four of the five Democrats on that committee had called for me to be removed before this even got rolling.”

Meantime, the Intelligence Committee continued the Russia-collusion probe without Mr. Nunes. In October 2017 news finally became public that the Steele dossier had been paid for by the Clinton campaign. This raised the question of how much the FBI had relied on opposition research for its warrant applications, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, to spy on onetime Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Throughout the fall, the Justice Department refused to comply with Intel Committee subpoenas for key dossier and FISA documents.

By the end of the year, Mr. Nunes was facing off with the Justice Department, which was given a Jan. 3, 2018, deadline to comply with Congress’s demands for information. The New York Times quoted unnamed government officials who claimed the Russia investigation had hinged not on the dossier but on a conversation with another low-level Trump aide, George Papadopoulos. The next day, the Washington Post ran a story asserting—falsely, Mr. Nunes insists—that even his Republican colleagues had lost confidence in him. “So, a leak about how the dossier doesn’t matter after all, and another saying I’m out there alone,” he says. “And right then DOJ and FBI suddenly demand a private meeting with the speaker, where they try to convince him to make me stand down. All this is not a coincidence.”

But Mr. Ryan backed Mr. Nunes, and the Justice Department produced the documents. The result was the Nunes memo, released to the public in February, which reported that the Steele dossier had in fact “formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application”—and that the FBI had failed to inform the FISA court of the document’s partisan provenance. “We kept the memo to four pages,” Mr. Nunes says. “We wanted it clean. And we thought: That’s it, it’s over. The American public now knows that they were using dirt to investigate a political campaign, a U.S. citizen, and everyone will acknowledge the scandal.” That isn’t what happened. Instead, “Democrats put out their own memo, the media attacked us more, and the FBI and DOJ continue to obfuscate.”

It got worse. This spring Mr. Nunes obtained information showing the FBI had used informants to gather intelligence on the Trump camp. The Justice Department is still playing hide-and-seek with documents. “We still don’t know how many informants were run before July 31, 2016”—the official open of the counterintelligence investigation—“and how much they were paid. That’s the big outstanding question,” he says. Mr. Nunes adds that the department and the FBI haven’t done anything about the unmaskings or taken action against the Flynn leakers—because, in his view, “they are too busy working with Democrats to cover all this up.”

He and his committee colleagues in June sent a letter asking Mr. Trump to declassify at least 20 pages of the FISA application. Mr. Nunes says they are critical: “If people think using the Clinton dirt to get a FISA is bad, what else that’s in that application is even worse.”

Mr. Nunes has harsh words for his adversaries. How, he asks, can his committee’s Democrats, who spent years “worrying about privacy and civil liberties,” be so blasé about unmaskings, surveillance of U.S. citizens, and intelligence leaks? On the FBI: “I’m not the one that used an unverified dossier to get a FISA warrant,” Mr. Nunes says. “I’m not the one who obstructed a congressional investigation. I’m not the one who lied and said Republicans paid for the dossier. I’m just one of a few people in a position to get to the bottom of it.” And on the press: “Today’s media is corrupt. It’s chosen a side. But it’s also making itself irrelevant. The sooner Republicans understand that, the better.”

His big worry is that Republicans are running out of time before the midterm elections, yet there are dozens of witnesses still to interview. “But this was always the DO/FBI plan,” he says. “They are slow-rolling, because they are wishing and betting the Republicans lose the House.”

Still, he believes the probe has yielded enough information to chart a path for reform: “We need more restrictions on what you can use FISAs for, and more restrictions on unmaskings. And we need real penalties for those who violate the rules.” He says his investigation has also illuminated “the flaws in the powers of oversight, which Congress need to reinstate for itself.”

Mostly, Mr. Nunes feels it has been important to tell the story. “There are going to be two histories written here. The fiction version will come from an entire party, and former and even current intelligence heads, and the media, who will continue trying to cover up what they did,” he says. “It’s our job, unfortunately, to write the nonfiction.”

Ms. Strassel writes the Journal’s Potomac Watch column.


Obama National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes On Sunday Talk Shows — Some Truth, Some Not

November 15, 2015

Fox News Sunday today (Sunday, November 15, 2015) featured issues and guests with knowledge of the Islamic State attack in Paris and related police questions. Congressman Peter King (R-NY), a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, criticized President Obama National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes who said “we are vetting Syrian refugees” to keep Islamic State operatives out of Europe.

Mr. King said Mr. Rhodes lied — that there are no data bases on people in Syria and no possible way to “vet” them.

Below is a transcript of Ben Rhodes’ remarks to George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”


Benjamin J. Rhodes. CreditSaul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

This is a rush transcript for “This Week” on November 15, 2015 and it will be updated.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: That was President Obama on Thursday and we’re joined now by his deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, Ben Rhodes.

Mr. Rhodes, thank you for joining us this morning.

What is the latest intelligence you have?

Does the president now agree with President Hollande that this was an act of war by ISIS?

BEN RHODES, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Yes, George, first of all, in all likelihood, clearly all the signs point to this being the responsibility of ISIL. That’s a determination that the French authorities have made.

Certainly our information supports the strong likelihood that ISIL was involved in this. We absolutely agree that this was an act of war by ISIL. Anytime you have this type of indiscriminate targeting of innocent civilians, we see that as an act of war by a terrorist group.

That’s why, frankly, we’ve been waging war against ISIL now for over a year with thousands ofairstrikes and support for partners who are fighting them on the ground.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And is there any intelligence suggesting a specific and credible threat to the homeland?

I know yesterday there was none.

Has anything new developed there?

RHODES: No, George, the president had a meeting yesterday that included the Secretary of Homeland Security, the director of the FBI; our determination is there’s not a specific, credible threat to the homeland at this time. But we’re going to be very vigilant because we know ISIL has the aspirations to attack the United States as well as our European and other allies and partners.

So we’re constantly going to be pulling threads on that intelligence, sharing information with our allies and seeing if there are any aspirations that lead to plotting in the United States.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So this was an act of war against America’s oldest ally, as the president pointed out the other day.

How would the United States respond?

RHODES: Well, first of all, we’re clearly going to work very closely with the French in terms of intelligence sharing, also in terms of their military response inside of Syria. The French have been with us in Iraq and Syria and conducting airstrikes.

I think we want to continue to intensify that coordination. There’s a French three-star general who’s positioned in CENTCOM to help facilitate that coordination. So we’ll be working with the French to go after ISIL in response.

We’ll also be looking to intensify those things that we’ve seen. There’s some fruit in recent weeks, the types of leadership strikes that we’ve taken against the leader of ISIL in Libya, against Jihadi John in Syria and the types of operations you saw in Sinjar, where our Kurdish allies on the ground were able to retake a strategic town from ISIL.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But are those decapitation strikes making any difference?

RHODES: Well, George, it’s going to take time. This is going to be a long-term effort. This is a deeply entrenched group. It’s been in this part of the world for many years. It has its origins in Al Qaeda in Iraq; it morphed into ISIL. This threat is going to be with us for some time. But we have built an infrastructure of airstrikes, of the ability to train and equip forces on the ground, of intelligence that can lead to those types of leadership targets.

And so our expectation is as we continue to intensify those efforts, hope to draw in more resources from our coalition partners, we’ll be able to roll back ISIL and ultimately achieve that objective of defeating the organization.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, the president received some criticism for that interview we did on Thursday and the words he used, “containment of ISIL,” Carly Fiorina saying, “ISIL not contained; they are on the march”

Chris Christie said, “The president is living in a fantasy. The president sees the world as he wants to see it.”

Your response?

RHODES: Well, look, George, the president was responding very specifically to the geographic expansion of ISIL in Iraq and Syria. A year ago, we saw them on the march in both Iraq and Syria, taking more and more population centers. The fact is we have been able to stop that geographic advance and take back significant amounts of territory in both Northern Iraq and Northern Syria.

At the same time, that does not diminish the fact that there is a threat posed by ISIL, not just in those countries, but in their aspirations to project power overseas. That’s why we’ve been very focused on this challenge of foreign fighters coming to — into and out of Syria; many of those have returned to Europe in particular. That’s why it’s such a focus of these meetings here to talk about how we can seal that border with Turkey to prevent that flow of foreign fighters and share intelligence to disrupt and prevent attacks in our European allies’ countries and, of course, in the United States.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But now that we’ve seen probably three attacks by ISIL in just the last two weeks and the clear intent to go global, won’t the president need to dramatically step up this strategy?

RHODES: Well, we’ll have to be nimble, George. And that means looking at ISIL’s efforts to expand. It should be noted that we took that strike against the leader of ISIL in Libya precisely because we were concerned about their efforts to set up a stronghold in Libya similar to what they’ve been able to do in Iraq and Syria.

So we are going to be vigilant. And we’re going to have a basic principle here that there cannot be a safe haven for a terrorist organization like ISIL that terrorizes the population around it and that seeks to project power and conduct attacks in the capitals of close friends and allies like France.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Ben Rhodes, thank you very much for your time this morning.

RHODES: Thanks, George.