Author and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News that the surveillance conducted by the Obama administration on Trump campaign director Paul Manafort was an “egregious” abuse of power that endangers the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution and dwarfs the allegations made about alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 general election.
There is speculation that the FBI, through the Obama administration’s FISA requests, taped Manafort’s conversations with Donald Trump into 2017. According to CNN, Manafort had been under FBI surveillance since 2014 and into this year. Manafort served briefly as Trump’s campaign director in 2016, and the two remained in contact this year. Gingrich said of the development, “this may be the most egregious abuse of the criminal justice process in American history.” He said that he fears that “the country that you and I know is under siege by a deep state which illegally wants to create a very different America and is willing to break the law and abuse the law.”
Egregious abuse of power
“This is a radically bigger scandal than anything about Russia,” claimed Gingrich. Trump was ridiculed when he issued the claim that he had been wiretapped. But the CNN report may prove him right.
Government surveillance of Manafort, according to CNN, revealed communications that supposedly show that Manafort encouraged Russians to help the Trump campaign. CNN’s sources, however, cautioned that their evidence is not conclusive. Manafort’s home was raided before dawn one morning in July by the FBI.
Special counsel Robert Mueller's team, which is leading the investigation into Russia's alleged involvement in the election, has received details of these communications. Mueller has asked the White House to provide documents about some of Trump’s actions taken since he took office, which includes the firing of his national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James Comey. Mueller also wants to probe a meeting Trump had with Russian officials in which the president allegedly told them that dismissing Comey had released a “great pressure” on him.
In a document it sent to the White House, Mueller’s office detailed 13 different areas for which it wants more information. According to The New York Times, Trump administration lawyers have been seeking White House emails and asking officials whether they have documents or notes that may fulfill Mueller’s requests. One of the requests is concerning Trump’s meeting with Russian officials just one day after Comey was fired. Trump met with Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov, Russian ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak, and other Russian officials.
A secret order by the Obama administration was authorized by a shadowy court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests. Surveillance was authorized by the court in 2014, focusing on a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine's former ruling party, according to CNN. However, one of CNN’s sources said that the surveillance was discontinued some time in 2016 for lack of evidence. However, the FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended into early this year.
While it is unclear when the new FISA warrant started, CNN’s sources say that it relates to the FBI’s efforts to investigate ties between the Trump campaign and suspected Russian operatives. Such warrants require the approval of top Justice Department and FBI officials, and the FBI must provide the court with information showing suspicion that the subject of the warrant may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.
Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice once claimed that she had not “unmasked” senior Trump officials. Unmasking refers to a request the NSA to identify American citizens’ whose conversations were captured during eavesdropping on foreigners. However, before Congress, she testified that the Obama administration wanted to know who in the Trump organization met with an official from the United Arab Emirates, and so she “unmasked” their names.
While speaking to Hannity, Gingrich pointed out also that some 400 Americans were unmasked at the request of Samantha Power, Obama’s UN ambassador.
Gingrich asserted that the above evidence and other incidents appear to be part of an effort by the “deep state” to overthrow Trump.
For his part, political pundit Michael Goodwin of the New York Post reached the same conclusion in a recent column, writing that a ‘deep state’ is a "more fitting concept for a Third World country that has corrupted institutions and no rule of law or history of individual freedom."
Expressing his fear about a fifth column operating behind the scenes in the federal government, Goodwin wrote, "there is to believe that something is rotten in Washington. I don’t just mean the ordinary corruption of the swamp variety. I mean something fundamental, something that suggests major elements in our government believe they, and not the people, are sovereign.”
Goodwin asked, "Did Obama or somebody working for him put Trump under surveillance during or after the election for the purpose of a political coup? It’s a frightening question, all the more so because I suspect the answer will be yes — if we can ever get to the truth."
Attorney Ty Cobb, who Trump hired to provide documentation related to investigations by Mueller and Congress into the Russia narrative, told The New York Times on Wednesday, “We can’t comment on any specific requests being made or our conversations with the special counsel.’’
Trump's incompetent legal counsel
In a column titled “Trump's Tightening Legal Noose,” Fox News contributor Andrew P. Napolitano wrote that he fears that Trump is in the hands of incompetent legal counsel. “The Donald Trump I know is a smart guy who often thinks a few steps ahead of those whose will he is trying to bend. But I lately wonder whether he grasps the gravity of the legal peril that is beginning to show up around him. In the past week, we learned of an unfiltered public confession of frustration and weakness among his lawyers and we learned that his former chief confidant and campaign manager is about to be indicted. This is very bad news for President Trump.”
By the end of article, Napolitano concluded:
“Where does this leave Trump? In the hands of incompetent lawyers, under the crosshairs of a team of very aggressive federal prosecutors and publicly indifferent to the tightening and frightening legal noose around him.”
Writing that Special Counsel Mueller has struck a “raw nerve” at the White House by investigating any possible connection between Trump and elements of the Russian government. He wrote that Trump’s criminal defense lawyers disagree with the White House legal counsel (employed by the federal government) about whether to surrender everything that Mueller has requested.
Napolitano lamented that one of the criminal defense lawyers employed by Trump (according to The New York Times, it was Ty Cobb) “incredibly discussed openly at a D.C. restaurant” within earshot of a NYT reporter, offered “unfiltered and embarrassing public revelations of disputes within the White House” over the appropriate presidential response to Mueller’s requests. According to Napolitano, who did not name Cobb in the column, the lawyer’s conduct amounts to malpractice because they ”revealed to Mueller, as well as to the public, defects in the president's legal strategy — namely, the absence of a final legal decision-maker and the absence of a coherent strategy on the part of the president's combined legal team.”
Flipping Paul Manafort
Speaking to the issue of the investigation and surveillance of Paul Manafort -- who is a former tenant at Trump Tower, Napolitano noted that Trump had been in daily contact with Manafort during the time period of the Trump Tower surveillance. And even while just last week the Department of Justice claimed that it has no evidence taken from electronic surveillance of anyone in Trump Tower, the FBI has yet to deny CNN’s revelations of surveillance on Manafort. Napolitano said of the discrepancy: “The sudden FBI switch to silence no doubt means that the surveillance did take place, and it probably was pursuant to a search warrant.”
If the surveillance warrant was issued by the FISA court under the supposition that Manafort was communicating with foreign officials, Napolitano said that any evidence revealed could not be used against him in a criminal trial. However, the “fruits” of the surveillance may have been shared with Obama administration officials during the campaign. “At least one of those officials has admitted receiving raw intelligence data from surveillance of people in Trump Tower in 2016,” Napolitano said.
But, Napolitano said if the FISA warrant was issued under the Fourth Amendment, that means the FBI swore to a federal judge that Manafort was probably involved in and communicating about crimes while working in Trump Tower. That information, Napolitano believes, could be used against him in a criminal prosecution, as well as against anyone else involved.
Napolitano said that because Mueller is planning to indict Manafort, Manafort could be compelled into “spilling whatever beans he has” on Trump. Moreover, Napolitano (a former judge) said, “And we can expect indictments of others presently or formerly near the president as part of the prosecutorial process.”