The Corner

National Security & Defense

The Fair Point from Devin Nunes That Trump Critics Don’t Want to Acknowledge

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

The Point Devin Nunes Is Making That Trump Critics Refuse To Acknowledge

It’s perfectly fair to ask whether the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee should be traveling to the White House to brief the president when the FBI Director just announced that there is an ongoing investigation into whether there was any collusion between the president’s campaign and a foreign government in the past year.

But everybody’s whacking Rep. Devin Nunes around like a piñata right now, and it’s easy to forget he’s raising a perfectly valid concern.

On January 12, the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote:

According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

This is a leak of classified information. Michael Flynn was not, as far as we know, a target of any U.S. government surveillance. He was one of the figures whose conversations was “incidentally” recorded, presumably as part of the regular monitoring of Kislyak.

People within the U.S. government are not supposed to take the information that is incidentally recorded and then run to David Ignatius because they don’t like the American citizen who was recorded. That’s not the purpose of our domestic counterintelligence operations.  Even if Flynn had violated the Logan Act – which, as we all know, no one has never been prosecuted for violating – there are legitimate avenues for dealing with that, namely going to law enforcement and a prosecutor.

(Invoking the Logan Act in this circumstance is particularly nonsensical, because the interpretation Ignatius floats would criminalize just about any discussion between a presidential candidate, a president-elect or his team and any representative of a foreign government on any matter of importance. If you ask a foreign official if his country would make a concession on Issue X in exchange for a U.S. concession on Issue Y, BOOM! Call out the SWAT teams, we’ve got a Logan Act violation!)

There are a lot of reasons to not like Michael Flynn, but that doesn’t change the fact that somebody broke the law and leaked classified information in an effort to get him in trouble. That is wrong and that is illegal, and Nunes is right to point out we’re going down a dangerous road when information collected by U.S. intelligence agencies about American citizens starts getting strategically leaked for partisan purposes.

Here’s what Democrats and their friends in the media are too shortsighted to recognize: any skullduggery they excuse now will be used against them in the future. Anything that the Obama administration did during the transition can be done by figures in the Trump administration against future Democratic candidates.

Just about any serious presidential campaign and any presidential transition is going to speak with someone under U.S. government surveillance at some time. It seems reasonable to think that every ambassador and representative of a foreign government, but particularly those of Russia, China, and any other not-always-friendly country, is monitored 24-7 or as close to that as possible. Executives at foreign and international companies, scholars, retired officials – anyone connected to a foreign government is probably a potential source of intelligence and a potential target of surveillance.

The default setting for most of the media right now is, “well, the eavesdropping on Trump’s transition team was incidental; no harm, no foul.” But leaking of even incidental eavesdropping is harmful and is a foul. Nunes has a right to be angry, and to remind us that this strategic illegal leaking should bother us as well.

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