115th Congress, Congress, Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Issues, Russia

Did they find Boris and Natasha yet?

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“At some point here, the Democrats are going to have to start to pull Russians out of their hats, because I can’t find them.”

Image Credit: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office CC by 4.0

That was House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) on the John Batchelor Program on June 1, mocking the progress of the so-called Trump-Russia collusion investigation, which is apparently going rather poorly.

Did they find Boris and Natasha yet?

Originally, if the 2016 Christopher Steele dossier — paid for by Democrats, initially reported by CNN and then published and discredited by Buzzfeed — was to be believed, there was supposed to be a grand conspiracy where Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee including emails, and colluded with key Trump campaign officials, including Carter Page, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and even President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to put those emails on Wikileaks and then to cover it up.

Now, almost a year after the original allegations, it appears the federal government is no closer to proving that Russia hacked the DNC or John Podesta emails for that matter, let alone that there was any collusion with the Trump team to put it on Wikileaks.

The FBI, according to former Director James Comey, never even bothered to investigate the DNC’s servers to find out what had happened.

In the meantime, Crowdstrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch’s original statement to the Washington Post published June 14, 2016 noted the lack of evidence on how the DNC servers had been breached to obtain the emails that were ultimately published on Wikileaks in July 2016. “CrowdStrike is not sure how the hackers got in. The firm suspects they may have targeted DNC employees with ‘spearphishing’ emails… ‘But we don’t have hard evidence,’ Alperovitch said,” the Washington Post report stated. Nor did Alperovitch know who had hacked the DNC emails: “CrowdStrike is less sure of whom Cozy Bear works for but thinks it might be the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the country’s powerful security agency, which was once headed by Putin.”

In other words, they really did not know for sure.

What there was, however, was a massive investigation by the FBI, NSA and CIA to investigate all of these matters. We now know that Page was put under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant. That computer servers connected to Trump Tower were also investigated. That Manafort was under FBI investigation. And that former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn was unmasked in some sort of intercept in December because of a conversation he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and then had it criminally leaked to the Washington Post.

Since the Trump administration has taken office, other desperate attempts to create the appearance of Russian collusion have appeared in the papers — having nothing to do with the original DNC email Wikileaks charges — including reports that Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner had sought some sort of backchannel with Russia in December.

Which, as an aside, if the Trump team was supposed to have been colluding with Moscow before the election, shouldn’t there have already been a backchannel? Instead, it turns out the backchannel had to do with deescalating the conflict in Syria, a normal diplomatic overture in the course of foreign affairs. The President and his advisors are supposed to set up backchannels!

Other tangential matters include whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions fully remembered running into Kislyak at certain junkets in 2016. Or whether President Trump was somehow wrong in hoping — along with the rest of the country — that former FBI James Comey could let any potential investigation into Flynn’s December conversation with Kislyak go after Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor when it turned out there was nothing to it. Or if there was somehow something wrong with Manafort having been a lobbyist in Ukraine years before the election.

None of these matters have anything to with the original allegations, which so far, nobody to date has been able to produce a single shred of evidence that either Russia hacked the DNC or Podesta and put it on Wikileaks or that Trump had a thing to do with it. All leading to the question of why this investigation has dragged on without end — with apparent government sources leaking like a sieve to make sure it stays in the headlines for political impact.

If the FBI cannot find evidence of the original allegations, that should be the end of investigation. Now that is up to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has broad authority to look into all these matters. Mueller should be forewarned that if all that is found are silly process questions directed at Trump surrogates arising from this witch hunt, but in the meantime, the original charges were actually baseless and politically charged, the public outrage will be substantial.

And now, per Nunes, we know that the FBI, NSA and CIA are stonewalling his committee’s inquiry into those matters, including the unmasking by Obama administration officials like former CIA Director John Brennan, former National Security Advisor Susan Rice and former UN Ambassador Samantha Power.

As Nunes stated in the Batchelor interview, “the concern that I have had that I expressed publicly — quite publicly, actually — a couple of months ago was that it became excessive, that Obama administration officials were unmasking people in the Trump transition and it made me quite uncomfortable. We requested that we see all unmaskings that were done for the past year. We’ve been waiting since March 15 for that information. The intelligence agencies have been slow-rolling this, which is what led to these three subpoenas being issued to the appropriate agencies.”

Nunes added, “They have until next week [June 7] to give us the unmaskings that these three individuals have.”

Nunes appeared confident as to what he was looking for, stating, “I’m not going to get into what I know at this point but I can tell you that we would not be asking this if we didn’t have probable cause to suspect that there was an abuse of power here.”

In the meantime, Nunes warned that the abuses were jeopardizing the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, saying, “Right now, there’s no possible way we could reauthorize the foreign intelligence programs, we wouldn’t have the votes today. I mean, Democrats don’t typically give us the votes, and I can tell you that most of my Republican colleagues wouldn’t give us the votes to extend these programs. So at the end of the day, America will be left… less safe, because people expect the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to be able to inspect and provide oversight over names that senior administration officials unmask. If they unmask American citizens, people expect the Congress to know who they were unmasking.”

In a statement, Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning agreed, calling Nunes a “hero” and stating, “if these intelligence agencies refuse to be subjected to oversight when there is a real question about their surveillance powers being used by an administration against the opposition political party in a presidential election year, then under no circumstances should Congress reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. If you have ever had concern for civil liberties — left, right or middle — you need to listen to what Chairman Nunes is saying here. These abuses are chilling and they have to stop.”

Indeed, if this nonsense is used to take out Trump surrogates or the President himself, the American people may never forgive the intelligence community and the Justice Department. There will be political consequences to what will have been perceived to be a soft coup.

Unfortunately for the nation, senior Democrats and agency officials in Washington, D.C. are married to these Russian hacking and collusion charges. Reputations are on the line. Entire mass surveillance government programs are on the line. They will not give this up lightly, even if it turns out to be a simple explanation: That a nationwide, official government witch hunt for Russians was launched because of unverified claims made by Democrat-funded sources about their Republican opponents to suit a campaign narrative. Because, there just had to be something there.

But maybe there wasn’t. And it’s time to let that come out, so that the nation can begin picking up the pieces and decide if we’re ever going to trust the government not to use these surveillance powers for political ends ever again.

This is a guest post by Robert Romano senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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