Since last summer, there's been a firestorm of nonstop media coverage about alleged Russian meddling in our election process. A liberal shibboleth no less impressive than Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe has been quoted by the Washington Post as stating Trump’s presidency has been “rendered illegitimate by treasonous or otherwise unlawful manipulation.”
While I completely disagree with Prof. Tribe’s assertions on presidential legitimacy, I think his mention of “treasonous or otherwise unlawful manipulation” is worth further discussion. Frighteningly, the most profound and harmful manipulation of the US electoral process was not perpetrated by Russia at all, but instead appears to have been conducted by our own government.
On March 22, Congressman Devin Nunes, the Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, confirmed that the Obama administration had “incidentally monitored” communications between the Trump campaign and foreign officials. But, as the story continued to unfold, and more facts became known, this “incidental collection” took on a much more sinister aspect.
We now know that senior Obama administration officials—National Security Advisor Susan Rice being chief among them—perpetuated a scheme to politicize this “incidentally monitored” communication. According to Eli Lake at Bloomberg News, Rice began to routinely request the “unmasking” of Trump sources as early as July of last year, a rare step generally only used when there is probable cause a crime has been committed.
Rice flatly denied knowledge about the unmasking controversy a mere month ago, telling PBS “I know nothing about that,” and stating she “was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count.” However, last week week Rice admitted to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that she had, in fact, requested the unmasking of certain individuals, but only so she could more fully understand intelligence reports.
Rice went on to deny this information was ever used politically, stating that the unmasked information came to her only, and that “there’s no equivalence between unmasking and leaking.” But, that doesn’t seem to be the truth either.
The unmasked communications were widely disseminated within the highest ranks of the Obama administration. Officials at the National Security Council, the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA were all routinely given copies. The New York Post reports that the classification level of these highly-sensitive unmasked transcripts were significantly decreased within Obama’s last year in office, to allow them to be disseminated further afield within the government.
Former Deputy Defense Secretary Evelyn Farkas admitted to such dissemination in a March 2 interview on MSNBC, stating she urged her “former colleagues [to] get as much information as you can, get as much intelligence as you can, before President Obama leaves the administration.”
We now know this highly classified information was slowly leaked to the press by the Obama administration throughout their final months and even after the inauguration took place. Such disclosures continued to feed the media frenzy surrounding Trump’s alleged “Russia ties” in the final days of the election, cost General Michael Flynn his job as National Security Advisor, and threatened, on multiple occasions, to derail Trump’s presidential campaign.
While these transcripts represented “a stream of information that was supposed to be hermetically sealed from politics,” Michael Doran, a former senior director at the National Security Council, believes that the Obama administration “blew a hole in the wall between national security secrets and partisan politics.”
The Watergate scandal began as a private break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters conducted by private citizens. President Nixon’s administration later attempted to cover up its involvement, leading to his very public resignation in disgrace. This unmasking scandal goes much further. When a presidential administration decides to use highly-classified intelligence to smear a political opponent and try to influence a presidential election—likely committing felonies in the process—you’re not looking at a mere Watergate-sized scandal. We’re looking at perhaps the most blatant and unlawful attempt to unduly influence an election in US history.
It seems that when it comes to politics, we should all be much more afraid of our own government than we are of the Russians.