Sean Spicer is out of ways to defend the White House’s clumsy effort to validate President Trump’s discredited accusation that President Obama wiretapped him. So he’s lashing out.
At his press briefing Friday, Spicer suggested the Obama administration engaged in illegal activity. Instead of worrying about Nunes, Spicer urged reporters to focus on “the substance” of the surveillance that’s alleged to have occurred.
“And the substance is, why were people using government resources, violating civil liberties potentially, looking into people’s backgrounds to surveil them and understand what they were doing and who they were, to unmask them and to provide sources and spread classified information make it available to other places that they weren’t supposed to,” he said.
But there’s no evidence anything untoward happened. The New York Times reported that the intel reports the White House fed Nunes “consisted primarily of ambassadors and other foreign officials talking about how they were trying to develop contacts within Mr. Trump’s family and inner circle before his inauguration, officials said.” In other words, the sort of stuff the NSA routinely tracks.
“American intelligence agencies typically monitor foreign officials of allied and hostile countries, and they routinely sweep up communications linked to Americans who may be taking part in the conversation or are being spoken about,” the Times report adds.
Spicer has repeated expressed concern about American citizens being “unmasked” in the reports — that is, information about their identities being revealed — but neither Nunes or anybody associated with the White House has provided any evidence that improper unmasking occurred.
Spicer’s groundless suggestion that the Obama administration engaged in illegal activity might reflect how the Trump White House is now backed into a corner with the Nunes story. Spicer repeatedly suggested the White House wasn’t the source of Nunes’ information — we now know that’s false.
It doesn’t appear Nunes’ intelligence reports contained any bombshell information that could at all validate Trump’s wiretapping allegation.
Spicer also attacked Hillary Clinton, saying that she was the one with the Russia problem.
“It was Hillary Clinton that was the architect of the last administration’s failed reset policy,” he said. “She told Russian state TV it was designed to strengthen Russia. That was their goal, to strengthen Russia.”
He continued: “She used her office to make concession after concession, selling off one fifth of our country’s uranium, paid speeches, paid deals, getting personal calls from Vladimir Putin. I think if you really want to talk about a Russian connection of substance, that’s where you should be looking.”
Spicer’s claims, which are retreads from the campaign, have been repeatedly debunked.
Later in the news conference, Spicer actually went as far to make a case that Clinton’s connections with Russia are more concerning than Trump’s.
Spicer says Clinton’s ties with Russia have not been questioned as much as Trump’s: It’s “night and day between our actions and her actions” pic.twitter.com/1MspZ1nN8e
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) March 31, 2017
Reminder: we recently learned Trump’s campaign chairman did secret work on behalf of Putin, the US intelligence committee has concluded that Russian officials used cyberattacks and misinformation to help Trump win, Trump confidants were corresponding with Russian intelligence fronts while those cyberattacks were happening, and the whole thing is under FBI investigation.
Spicer’s attempt to shift the focus back to Clinton mirrors how Nunes handled himself during the March 20 House Intelligence Committee hearing where FBI Director James Comey revealed that the Trump campaign is under investigation.
During that hearing, Nunes asked Comey, “Do you think it’s possible that the Russians would not be trying to infiltrate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, get information on Hillary Clinton, and try to get people around that campaign or the Clinton Foundation?”
“I just hope that if information surfaces about the other campaigns — not even just Hillary Clinton but any other campaigns — that you would take that serious also, if Russians were trying to infiltrate those campaigns around them,” he added, without citing any evidence that such infiltration occurred.
As Spicer deflected blame on Friday, he also moved the goal posts.
Here are Trump’s tweets that started the whole surveillance controversy.
I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Compare those tweets with how Spicer described them on Friday: “On March 4, the president… raised serious concerns about surveillance practices by the Obama administration, including whether or not the president-elect or the transition team were being improperly monitored for political purposes under the Obama administration.”
Trump did not “raise serious concerns about surveillance practices by the Obama administration.” He accused Obama of tapping his phones, compared him to Nixon and called him “sick.”