This week’s news that the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General is opening a probe into the application for a FISA warrant in respect of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page is very welcome.
While it’s unlikely that anything nefarious in fact occurred in seeking the warrant, it remains that case that the FISA warrant process remains over-shrouded in secrecy when a good dose of transparency has long been in order.
The Page saga is only the latest reason for Americans to want further information about government surveillance and its enablers; previous United States Courts data indicating that between 1979 and the end of the Obama administration, only 0.052 percent of FISA warrant applications were rejected, is actually the much bigger, and broader one. Ideally, at some point in future, we’ll get an actual look at a (possibly redacted) FISA warrant request in respect of Page. But in the meantime, any light that can be shone on the doings of the FBI, DOJ and FISA Court should be greeted with open arms by Americans.
The sad fact is that there is very little openness, forthrightness, sunlight or honesty regarding the FISA court or its processes, or indeed what goes into FISA warrant applications. And some of the figures who recently have sounded the most interested in oversight and holding the “Deep State” accountable for overreach where surveillance is concerned have historically been the biggest enablers of said Deep State overreaching. Chief among them is California Rep. Devin Nunes.
If you’re one of the millions of Americans onto whose radar Nunes has only recently crept, you could be forgiven for thinking he’s a civil libertarian who consistently has opposed FBI, DOJ, NSA, and other “Deep State” agencies’ efforts to monitor what you and Americans like Page send over email, say on the phone to people who happen to be located abroad, or any number of other policies that are easily, and probably routinely, abused by powerful agencies and individuals within the federal government.
But Nunes is not. In fact, if Nunes had had it his way, no FISA warrant — or any other kind of warrant whatsoever — would have needed to be sought from the Court in order to listen in on Page’s phone calls or monitor his communications with people abroad. No FISA warrant, or any other kind of warrant whatsoever would have been needed to monitor any phone calls from then-candidate Trump to, say, an employee who was at that time out of the country, or even, say, Trump’s daughter Ivanka were she traveling anywhere outside the US. That is an outrageous position for Nunes to take, and every one of his constituents should think so.
But let’s be clear, it is his position. Nunes voted in 2007 to permit so-called “warrantless wiretapping” not actually requiring a FISA warrant for surveillance where one party to communication was located overseas. So, if you have a friend in Canada that you routinely call, guess what? Nunes thinks the government should be able to grab the details each and every time you dial his number, without a warrant.
Perhaps worse, recently, Nunes advocated for allowing the government to surveil Americans’ emails, direct messages, and other “e-communications” with “no limits” — i.e., no warrant. Nunes went so far as to attack fellow Republicans who had the temerity to agree with President Donald Trump that surveillance of American citizens, which Trump and his “Deep State”-targeted campaign aides, of course are, was a problem and needed to be reined in.
Nunes is reportedly facing a tougher general election challenge than normal this year; his Democratic opponent reportedly raised more than $1 million in the last quarter, a tidy sum for a challenger in a single congressional district in the first quarter of an election year. It’s unsurprising, given this, that Nunes would be trying to hitch his personal wagon to Trump’s as prominently as possible. He’s probably hoping that if people mistake him for a true ally of Trump’s, he’ll skate through re-election despite the challenges facing him.
The problem, however, is that Trump and his campaign apparently were the targets of exactly the same kind of big government, Deep State surveillance that Nunes has spent most of his career enabling. And it’s tough to claim, with Trump continually arguing that he was on the receiving end of malfeasance by law enforcement and national security figures during the Obama administration that only occurred because of policies Nunes has consistently favored, that Nunes is any real friend to Trump. When you look at the facts, he looks more like a hanger-on, trying to stay in office on the back of Trump’s coattails.
If Trump is upset about surveillance apparently done on figures advising his campaign, it’s unsurprising he would blame the agencies and bureaus that apparently conducted it. But he should blame Nunes, too, because he pushed through policies that made that surveillance possible, and he had the power, almost single-handedly, to stop it.
Liz Mair is a political and communications consultant. She is the president of Mair Strategies in Washington D.C.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.