Despite Democrats' accusations laid against House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) of hypothetical misdeeds, according to reports by Bloomberg News there is evidence that the Obama administration was conducting a program of domestic espionage directed against Donald Trump and his associates. An editorial in Investors Business Daily suggested that it was criminal. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) suggested in a tweet on Monday that reports by independent journalist Mike Cernovich and Bloomberg News may amount to the "smoking gun" to prove President Donald Trump's accusation of wiretapping by the Obama administration.
Bloomberg correspondent Eli Lake reported that White House lawyers discovered in March that Barack Obama's National Security Advisor Susan Rice asked for the unmasking of the identities of "U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign." Lake based his reporting on anonymous sources. These sources told Lake that Rice's alleged involvement was made by Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the director of intelligence on the National Security Council, who was investigating the accusation. Rice made repeated requests to "unmask" (identify) persons swept up in raw intelligence reports who were part of Trump's transition team, according to Lake's sources. The reports included conversations between foreign officials and the Trump transition team.
Democrats and apologists of the Obama administration have sought to identify the intelligence gathered as "incidental" or just a byproduct of the gathering of intelligence on foreign officials. However,  surveillance can be done on foreigners with an expectation that they will have contact with persons in the United States. Therefore, calling the collection of intelligence on persons within the U.S. as "incidental" may not be accurate. Using the federal government's intelligence apparatus for political purposes, as could be the case with the Obama administration's alleged surveillance of Trump and associates, could be illegal.

Five things you need to know about Susan Rice and the surveillance of Donald Trump and associates:

1) The report by Bloomberg News contends that the request for unmasking on the part of Rice were probably legal. However, no word has come out of the White House as to any agreement over the legality of Rice’s actions. Independent journalist Mike Cernovich wrote at Medium that the under Obama, the unmasking rules were changed. At the end of his term, Obama’s top aides reviewed intelligence reports from the National Security Agency’s incidental intercepts of Americans outside of the country. In 2011, Obama relaxed the rules, ostensibly to aid in fighting terrorism, espionage, and hackers. Cernovich wrote that had authorization to unmask. Also authorized were the head of the CIA, and Obama’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

2) Rice requested the unmasking, which is to say the identification of Trump’s transition team members who were caught up in federal government surveillance. The names were then provided to the National Security Council, the Defense Department, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and then-CIA Director John Brennan, and Rice’s former deputy Ben Rhodes. The names were collected during electronic surveillance of Trump as both a candidate and President-elect, as well as family members and close associates, for as much as a year before his inauguration.

3) In his daily news conference, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about Sen. Rand Paul’s tweet about the revelations about Rice in which he said that there is now a “smoking gun”. “I think that it is interesting, the level or the lack of interest that I’ve seen in these developments,” Spicer said about the media’s interest in pursuing stories detrimental to Trump and his top aides. When he was asked what Rice’s motivations were, Spicer would not hazard a guess. He said, “Getting into the motives assumes certain things in fact that I don’t think we’re ready to go to yet,” as Spicer said he did not want to get “in the middle of an investigation.”

4) Mike Cernovich, an independent journalist, broke the story that Rice had made requests to NSA to unmask the identities of Trump’s associates. In the past, Cernovich had been labeled a purveyor of “fake news” by “60 Minutes.” In his report on Sunday, Cernovich claimed that Maggie Haberman of the New York Times knew about Rice’s requests but had “chosen to sit on it in an effort to protect the reputation of former President Barack Obama.” However, NYT told The Daily Caller, “Cernovich’s claim regarding Maggie Haberman is 100 percent false.” On Monday, Eli Lake of Bloomberg News confirmed Cernovich’s story but did not credit him. Cernovich related that Lake had also spiked the story in the past. Cernovich also claimed that reporter Haberman “works for the Democratic National Committee”.

5) Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) tweeted that the revelations about Rice amounted to a “smoking gun” as to President Trump’s previous assertions of “wiretapping” by Obama. For her part, former Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann said on Monday that the revelation of Rice's involvement is "1000 times" worse than the Watergate scandal.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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