Trump, Russia, and Illegal Surveillance
Candidate Donald Trump proposed, and President Donald Trump has pursued, two policy issues which are clearly detrimental to the Russian government of Vladimir Putin.
The first is the proposal to allow exploitation of energy resources within federal lands. The Russian economy is heavily dependent on energy sales. Increasing the supply of oil or gas causes prices to drop, and hobbles the Russian economy.
The second is the strengthening of the U.S. armed forces. After eight years of neglect under the Obama Administration and the Sequester, the American military has reached its lowest point, in many cases, in a century, particularly in relation to the growing forces of Russia and China. Moscow relies heavily on military strength for international influence, since it possesses neither financial or cultural assets that are influential on a global scale. A return to full strength by the U.S. military limits the Kremlin’s influence.
Despite these two policies which Moscow considers serious threats to its power and well-being, Democrats are attempting to make the case that there are hidden ties between Trump and Putin. In reply, President Trump alleges that the former Obama Administration used this charge to engage in surveillance of his campaign.
The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, popularly called the FISA court, is a federal tribunal consisting of 11 federal judges who serve on a weekly rotating basis, It was established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to oversee requests for surveillance warrants against international intelligence agents working within the United States. It convenes in an undisclosed but highly protected courtroom not far from the White House.
While those who disagree with President Trump’s allegation that he was unlawfully spied upon point out that there was no FISA authorization to do so, it does not mean that surveillance didn’t take place. The Obama Administration has a history of abusing federal assets and agencies for partisan political purposes. The Department of Justice intentionally turned a blind eye towards offenses having to do with voting, the Internal Revenue Service clearly was employed in partisan attacks against the Tea Party, and even agencies such as NASA, NOAA, and the EPA were manipulated for political or ideological gain.
As scandal after scandal erupted having to do with misuse of federal agencies, the Obama White House repeatedly claimed that it had no idea what its own agencies were doing.
It has been maintained that the entire allegation against Trump regarding contact with Russians was a cover-up, used as an excuse to justify the unlawful surveillance.
As Trump began to explode in popularity, the Obama Justice Department and FBI considered a criminal investigation of Trump associates, and perhaps Trump himself, based on what may have been artificial concerns about connections to Russian financial institutions.
Heatstreet describes the allegation:
“An initial request to place surveillance on Trump Tower was denied back in June, but the second was drawn more narrowly and was granted in October on flimsy evidence that a server in Trump Tower hay have had links to two Russian banks. ‘Sources suggest that a FISA warrant was granted to look at the full content of emails and other related documents that may concern US persons.’ It turned out there was nothing amiss. Rather than shut the case down, though, the Obama Justice Department converted it into a national-security investigation.”
That the FISA court reportedly turned down the Obama Justice Department’s initial request, is notable, according to RealClearPolitics,
“The FISA court is notoriously solicitous of government requests to conduct national-security surveillance. Not taking no for an answer, the Obama Justice Department evidently returned to the FISA court in October 2016, the critical final weeks of the presidential campaign. This time, the Justice Department submitted a narrowly tailored application that did not mention Trump. The court apparently granted it, authorizing surveillance of some Trump associates. The New York Times has identified – again, based on illegal leaks of classified information – at least three of its targets: Paul Manafort (a former Trump campaign chairman), and two others whose connection to the Trump campaign was loose at best, Manafort’s former political-consulting business partner Roger Stone, and investor Carter Page. The Times ultimately concedes that the government’s FISA investigation may have nothing to do with Trump, the campaign, or alleged Russian efforts to interfere in the U.S. election by hacking e-mail accounts.”
Several salient questions must be answered by those pushing the Trump-Russia connection story. First, why would Moscow seek to assist a candidate who was clearly detrimental to their interests? This issue is particularly relevant when the other candidate, Hillary Clinton, engaged in policies that proved significantly helpful to the Kremlin, either personally or in supporting the policies of the Obama Administration. Those policies included:
• Her advocacy of the New START treaty, which gave Moscow the lead in nuclear weaponry for the first time in history;
• Her facilitation of the sale of uranium, the basic ingredient in nuclear weapons, to Russia;
• The slowdown in the deployment of anti-ballistic missiles;
• The slashing of U.S. defense spending;
• The restriction against using energy resources on federal lands;
• The failure to enact significant sanctions in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine; and
• The failure to respond to the growing Russian military presence in the western hemisphere.
The second issue is, why did the FISA Court, which is very amenable to surveillance requests, turn down the Obama government’s bid for covert surveillance in June? The response, of course, is that the evidence may have been far too flimsy — in essence, a poorly concealed justification for illegal, partisan surveillance of a rival campaign.
Article originally published on New York Analysis of Policy and Government.