Posted: 8:14 pm Thursday, March 16th, 2017
By Jamie Dupree
Almost two weeks after President Donald Trump accused ex-President Barack Obama of doing surveillance on the Trump campaign, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly jousted with reporters at a briefing, accusing the press of ignoring stories that favored Mr. Trump, while again sidestepping questions of what prompted the President to say he was wiretapped in 2016.
“Where was your passion, and where was your concern when they all said that there was no connection to Russia?” Spicer said at one point. “Crickets from you guys.”
Several reporters tried to get Spicer to react to a statement issued by Senate Intelligence Committee leaders on Thursday, which said they had found no evidence that Trump Tower had been under surveillance.
But Spicer wanted to frame the matter differently.
Here’s the video, with the text at the bottom:
MR. SPICER: Thanks, guys. Anyway, so to kick it off, Jonathan Karl.
Q So, Sean, the day before yesterday you said you were extremely confident that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees would ultimately vindicate the President’s allegation that Trump Tower was wiretapped. As I’m sure you have now seen, the Senate Intelligence Committee has said they see no indications Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance. That seems to be a pretty blanket statement. What’s your reaction?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think there’s several things. It’s interesting to me that, just as a point of interest, that when one entity says one thing that proves — that claims one things, you guys cover it ad nauseam. When Devin Nunes came out and said, I think it’s very possible — yesterday — it was crickets from you guys. When Devin Nunes came out and said there was no connection that he saw to Russia — crickets. When Tom Cotton said the same. You don’t want to cover the stuff —
Q Devin Nunes said he saw no evidence of wiretapping at Trump Tower.
MR. SPICER: No, no, hold on — actually —
Q Now you’ve had the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee —
MR. SPICER: No, no, actually here’s his quote, Jonathan. No, here’s the direct quote: “I think it’s very possible.”
That’s what he said when he said the President’s communications could have been swept up in collection.
So again —
Q He said there was no — “I saw no indication of wiretapping” — no evidence of wiretapping.
MR. SPICER: I understand that. And I think the President has been very clear when he talked about this — and he talked about it last night — when he talked about wiretapping he meant surveillance, and that there have been incidents that have occurred. Devin Nunes couldn’t have stated it more beautifully. But you choose not to cover that part.
You chose not to cover when Tom Cotton went out, when Richard Burr went out, when others — Chairmen Nunes and others — and said that there was no — hold on —
Q Well, the Senate Intelligence Committee is saying point blank — they say no evidence of surveillance.
MR. SPICER: I understand that, Jonathan. And where was your passion, and where was your concern when they all said that there was no connection to Russia? Where was it then? Crickets from you guys.
Because at the end of the day when —
Q So you’re saying the President stands by his allegation that President Obama wiretapped the Trump Tower?
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, hold on. Hold on. I’m making a point. The point is this: Number one, that it’s interesting how when evidence comes out and people who have been briefed on the Russia connection come out and say that there was nothing that they have seen that proves a connection, you choose not to cover that, you don’t stop the narrative, you continue to perpetuate a false narrative.
When he came out yesterday and said, “I see no evidence that this happened”; when he said, “I think it’s very possible, but like I said, we should know later,” you don’t cover that part. You only cover the parts that — but let’s go through what we do know. Okay?
Q I want you to respond to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
MR. SPICER: Hold on, hold on, let me — and I am trying to answer your question, Jonathan, if you can calm down.
If you look at what The New York Times reported on January 12th, 2017, they said, “In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections. The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the NSA may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operation, which are largely unregulated by wiretapping laws.”
When Sara Carter reported that “by the start of the new year, it brought with it unexpected politicizing of the intelligence gathered in secret. Separately, the Obama administration amended a longstanding executive order, allowing information intercepted through FISA warrants or by the National Security Agency to be shared by a wider audience and 16 government agencies as Obama was leave office, intelligence normally reserved for just a handful of intelligence leaders was spread throughout briefings to scores of workers, and soon leaks began appearing in news media office organizations, often in stories lacking context of how national security investigations are actually concluded.”
On March 3rd, Fox News chief anchor Bret Baier said that the following: “There was a report in June 2016 — a FISA request by the Obama administration — Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — to monitor communications involving Donald Trump and several other campaign officials. Then they got turned down. Then in October, then they renewed it and did a startup wiretap at Trump Tower with some computer and Russian banks.” Baier continues, “A June FISA request that foreign intelligence surveillance courts gets shot down. A judge says” — hold — Jonathan, I’m going to — you can ask — you can follow up — “A judge says no-go to monitoring Trump Tower. They go back in October. They do get a FISA granted. This is wiretap going on and a monitoring of computers that have some ties, they believe, to Russian accounts. By all accounts, they don’t come up with anything in the investigation, but the investigation continues and we don’t know it.
On November 11th, 2016, days after the election, Heat Street reported, “Two separate sources with links to the counter-intelligence community had confirmed to Heat Street that the FBI sought and was granted a FISA warrant in October, giving counter-surveillance intelligence permission to examine the activities of U.S. persons in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia. The first request, which sources say named Trump, was denied back in June. But the second was drawn more narrowly and granted in October after evidence was presented of a server, possibly related to the Trump campaign and its alleged links to two banks — SVB bank and Russia’s Alfa-Bank. Sources suggest that a FISA warrant was granted to look at the full context of related documents that concern U.S. persons. Two separate sources with links to the counter-intelligence community have confirmed that the FBI sought and was granted a FISA warrant in October giving counter-intelligence permission to examine the activity of U.S. persons in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.”
They go on: “The FISA warrant was granted in connection with investigation of suspected activities between the server and two banks. However, it is thought that the intelligence community that the warrant covers any U.S. person connected to this U.N. investigation, and thus covers Donald Trump and at least three further men who have either formed part of his campaign or acted as media surrogates.”
On January 19th, the New York Times reported the following: “American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communication and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation of possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump. One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications have been provided to the White House. It is unclear which Russian officials under investigation or what particular conversations caught the attention of American eavesdroppers. The legal standard for opening these investigations is low.
Andy McCarthy, writing in National Review, suggested: “From three reports, from the Guardian, Heat Street and the New York Times, it appears the FBI has concerns about a private server in Trump Tower that was connected to one or two Russian banks. Heat Street describes these concerns as centering on “possible financial and banking offenses.” This is his quote — “I italicized the word “offenses” because it denotes crimes. Ordinarily, when crimes are suspected, there is a criminal investigation, not a national security investigation.”
We go on. Sara Carter from Circa, reporting, “Intelligence professionals tell Circa News they were concerned that some of the Russian intelligence was spread through group briefings to a much-larger-than-usual audience back in January. This would have happened during the final days of the Obama administration when it expanded executive order 12333, which allows employees with a “need to know” have further unfettered access to raw data stowed by the NSA. The new rules allowed the NSA to share “raw signals intelligence information, including the names of those involved in phone conversations and emails. The expansion of the order makes it difficult to narrow in on the leaks and, frankly, it allows too many people access to the raw data, which only used to be available to a select few, said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity and was not granted to speak on the authority. Numerous outlets, including the New York Times, have reported on the FBI investigation into Mr. Trump’s advisors; BBC, and then McClatchy revealed the existence of a multi-agency working group to coordinate investigations across the thing.
On February 14th, the New York Times again refers to phone record and intercepted calls — let me quote them — “American law enforcement intelligence agency intercepted the communications around the same times they were discovering the evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three officials said.
The intelligence agencies then thought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on hacking or other efforts to influence the election. The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that so far they have seen no evidence of such cooperation. The official said that the intercepted communications are not limited to Trump campaign officials and other associates of Mr. Trump. The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the FBI is sifting through.
Days later, the New York Times then reports, “In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election of Donald Trump, connections between the President-elect and Russians across the government. But the increasingly hard-to-escape conclusion that in our government — that individuals in our government were instead trying to undermine the new President by saying, quote — this is the New York Times again — “At intelligence agencies, there was a push to process as much raw intelligence in a possible analysis to keep the report at relatively low classification levels to ensure a widespread readership across the government. And in some cases, “among them, European allies.” This allowed the upload of as much information — intelligence as possible to Intellipedia, a secret Wiki used by American analysts to share information.
Sean Hannity went on Fox to say, “But protections which are known as minimization procedures have been put in place to protect Americans that are not under warrant, American citizens that are caught up in their surveillance.” And, “By the way, their identities are protected. Their constitutional rights are protected. Now, of course, this was not the case with Lieutenant General Flynn, because a transcript of his call was created and then given to intelligence officials who then leaked this information, which is a felony, to the press that printed it.”
Last, on Fox News on March 14th, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement. “Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI, and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ, what is that? It’s the initials for the British Intelligence Spying Agency. So simply, by having two people saying to them, ‘the President needs transcripts of conversations involved in candidate Trump’s conversations involving President-elect Trump,’ he was able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this.”
Putting the published accounts and common sense together, this leads to a lot.
Q So, Sean, are you saying that despite the findings, the bipartisan findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee —
MR. SPICER: No, they’re not findings. There’s a statement out today. They have not begun this — as you know, yesterday, or two days ago, the Department of Justice asked for an additional week. So the statement clearly says that at this time, that they don’t believe that. They have yet to go through the information. The Department of Justice, as you know, has not supplied this.
But I’ve just read off to you — it’s interesting, when the New York Times reports —
Q I let you do that whole long answer. Can I just ask my question?
MR. SPICER: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Q Okay. So are you saying that the President still stands by his allegation that President Obama ordered wiretapping or surveillance of Trump Tower, despite the fact that the Senate Intelligence Committee says they see no indication that it happened? Does the President still stand by the allegation?
MR. SPICER: No, but — first of all, he stands by it, but again, you’re mischaracterizing what happened today.
Q No, the Senate has no indication. I’m reading exactly from their statement.
MR. SPICER: I understand that. And at the same time, they acknowledge that they have not been in contact with the Department of Justice. Again, I’d go back to what I said at the beginning. It’s interesting —
Q They’ve been briefed by the FBI Director. They’ve been —
MR. SPICER: Hold on. It’s interesting how at the same time, where were you coming to the defense of that same intelligence committee and those members when they said there was no connection to Russia? You didn’t seem to report it then. There was no —
Q Because —
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, so you want — hold on, you want to comment and you want to perpetuate a false narrative.
Q Actually, I did report that Clapper said that. I actually did.
MR. SPICER: But when those individuals have gone out time and time again, when Chairman Nunes has said, number one, that there was no information that he’s aware of that that existed, that got zero reporting. Number two, when he went out yesterday and said, “I think it’s very possible,” you don’t include that in the question mark.
The bottom line is, is that the President said last night that he will be — that there will be additional information coming forward. There’s a ton of media reports out there that indicate that something was going on during the 26  election. And I think it’s interesting, where was the question of the New York Times or these other outlets when that was going on? Where was the question —
Q So he’ll be vindicated. You think he’s going to be vindicated.
MR. SPICER: I believe he will.
Q Yeah, you were just quoting Sean Hannity there. The House and Senate intelligence committees are quoting the FBI Director. You’re citing Sean Hannity and Andrew Napolitano.
MR. SPICER: I also quoted — I get you’re going to cherry-pick — no, no, okay, you also tend to overlook all of the other sources that — because I know you want to cherry-pick it. But at the — no, no, but you do. But where was your concern about the New York Times reporting? You didn’t seem to have a concern with that.
Q We have done plenty of reporting on all of this, Sean.
MR. SPICER: No, no, but you want to cherry-pick one piece of commentary —
Q These connections between the aides of the President — associates of the President to the Russians has all been looked at and it’s —
MR. SPICER: No, wait, how do you know all this? How do you seem to be such an expert on this?
Q I’m saying that this has been looked at, Sean. We’ve all looked at it.
MR. SPICER: How do you know it’s been looked at?
Q There have been —
MR. SPICER: Hold on, hold on, where is — I’m sorry, I’m afraid to understand — can you tell me how you know that all of this has “been looked at”?
Q You’re asking me whether or not it’s been looked at?
MR. SPICER: You made a statement, you said, “All of this has been looked at.”
Q Our outlet, other outlets have reported —
MR. SPICER: No, no, so — okay, so when your outlet says it’s all been looked at —
Q — on contacts between associates and aides of the President and the Russians during the 2016 campaign. It sounds like during the context of that investigation there might have been some intercepted communications. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman did mention that, and we have reported that, others have reported that on our air and in various publications. But, Sean, what you are refusing to answer — the question that you’re refusing to answer is whether or not the President still believes what he believes —
MR. SPICER: No, I’m not — I just said to Jonathan. I didn’t refuse —
Q But you have a Senate and House Intelligence Committee, both leaders from both parties on both of those panels saying that they don’t see any evidence of any wiretapping. So how can the President go on and continue to say these things?
MR. SPICER: Because that’s not — because you’re mischaracterizing what Chairman Nunes said. He said, “I think it’s possible” — he’s following up on this. So to suggest that is actually — and you’re stating unequivocally that you somehow —
Q He said, if you take the President literally — he said, if you take the President literally, he is wrong.
MR. SPICER: Right, and I think that we’ve already cleared that up. And he said exactly that. But the President has already said clearly when he referred to wiretapping he was referring to surveillance.
Q Right, but it sounds like, Sean, that you and the President are saying now, well, we don’t mean wiretapping anymore because that’s not true anymore, so now we’re going to expand that to other forms of surveillance. What’s it going to be next?
MR. SPICER: No, no, Jim, I think that’s cute, but at the end of the day — we’ve talked about this for three or four days. The President had “wiretapping” in quotes; he was referring to broad surveillance. And now you’re basically going back. We talked about this several days ago.
The bottom line is, is that the investigation by the House and the Senate has not been provided all of the information. And when it does —
Q It sounds like your information is news reports, not evidence, not conversations with the FBI Director.
MR. SPICER: No, no, what — I think the President addressed that last night. He said there’s more to come. These are merely pointing out that I think there is widespread reporting that throughout the 2016 election there was surveillance that was done on a variety of people that came up.
Q There was an investigation going on into whether there were contacts between the President’s campaign and the Russians. Of course, they’re going to be looking at these various things. I mean, isn’t that right?
MR. SPICER: I get it. Somehow you seem to believe that you have all of this information, you’ve been read in on all of these things, which I find very interesting.
Q I haven’t been read in by the FBI Director, but the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been.
MR. SPICER: Well, no, you’re coming to some serious conclusions for a guy that has zero intelligence — (laughter) —
Q Give me some credit, Sean.
MR. SPICER: I’ll give you some —
Q A little intelligence maybe. But no, what I’m saying is that —
MR. SPICER: Clearance. I wasn’t done. Clearance. Maybe both.
Q Well, come on, now. Those two panels have spoken with the FBI Director and have been told there’s no evidence of this. So why not just — why can’t we just end this farce and just have the President say he was wrong?
MR. SPICER: Okay, I think this question has been asked and answered, Jim. It’s interesting how you jump to all of these conclusions about what they have and what they don’t have, and you seem to know all the answers. But at the end of the day, there was clearly a ton of reporting —
Q So a week from now, we’re going to be wrong, you’re going to be right?
MR. SPICER: Hold on, Jim. Let me answer — I think that there has been a vast amount of reporting, which I just detailed, about activity that was going on in the 2016 election. There’s no question that there was surveillance techniques used throughout this I think by a variety of outlets that have reported this activity concluded.
And I think when you actually ask those two people whether or not — and as Chairman Nunes said yesterday, when you take it literally and — wiretapping, the President has already been very clear that he didn’t mean specifically wiretapping. He had it in quotes. So I think to fall back on that is a false premise. That’s not what he said. He was very clear about that when he talked about it yesterday.
Q So just to be clear, you’re good and the President is good with stories that have anonymous sources in them.
MR. SPICER: No, it’s interesting — I think when it comes to the Russia story, and the on-the-record sources who have been briefed by the FBI continue to conclude that there’s nothing there, you guys continue to fall back on these anonymous sources and perpetuate a false narrative. And yet when it comes to us talking about all these reports in there, you then criticize the anonymous sources.
Q I’m just asking.
MR. SPICER: No, it’s just interesting that sort of the double standard that exists when it comes to us citing stories when it comes — and then how you intend to use them.
Q So let me ask you what the President said last night. He was asked by Tucker Carlson — “you’re in charge of the various intelligence apparatus that report to you. You can ask them.” And he said —
MR. SPICER: And again —
Q Can I ask my question?
MR. SPICER: Yeah.
Q He said he was reluctant to do that. So let me just put two things together. Earlier this week, you told us, when asked, “Has the President directed the Justice Department to collect and distribute information to the various relevant congressional committees?” If I remember your answer correctly, it was, “No, we hadn’t given that specific direction.” Has that changed?
MR. SPICER: No.
Q Has he now directed the Justice Department?
MR. SPICER: No.
Q And is he asking, himself, for the intelligence agencies that report to him, to provide him specific answers to these underlying questions that are separate from the reports you’re citing?
MR. SPICER: No.
Q Why not?
MR. SPICER: Because I think — we’ve covered this before. I think that gets into interfering, and I think that the appropriate process is to allow the House and the Senate to do this so that it doesn’t appear as though we’re interfering —
Q But interfering —
MR. SPICER: I understand that. But I mentioned to you this the other day, Major. If we go ask them, then you’re going to turn around and say, you guys interfered with something and you pressured them. It’s a catch-22 for us. And the bottom line is, is that I think the President made it clear two Sundays ago that he wanted the House and Senate Intelligence Committee to work with these agencies to collect the information and make a report.
That’s what we’re doing, in order to make sure that there is a separation from us so that you can’t turn around and then accuse us of forcing or pressuring an agency to produce a document. We’re asking them to go through the process of the separation of powers, and actually going to those different entities. The Department of Justice said, yesterday, that they want an additional week, and we’re allowing that process to play through.
Got it? Abby.
Q Sean, is the President making these statements based on classified information?
MR. SPICER: I’m not going to get into what how the President makes a decision. I think that what I think is clear though is — through the reporting that I just read — is that there’s clearly widespread open-source material pointing to surveillance that was conducted during the 2016 election.
Q (Inaudible) that that information is available to members of the House and the Senate. It’s public, as you noted. They are looking at that same information, and they came to the conclusion that they have not seen —
MR. SPICER: No, no, that’s not true.
Q — any evidence to back up the President’s claim. So if there is other information, why won’t the President release it?
MR. SPICER: Again, I’m not going to get into that yet. I think the President discussed that last night on his interview, and we’ll let the process play out. I understand what he discussed —
Q He discussed these reports —
MR. SPICER: I understand what he discussed. They have clearances in the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees. They’re able to conduct this.
About the Author
Jamie Dupree is the Radio News Director of the Washington Bureau of the Cox Media Group and writes the Washington Insider blog. A native of Washington, D.C., Jamie has covered Congress and politics in the nation’s capital since the Reagan Administration, and has been reporting for Cox since 1989.