Sen. Susan Collins, Republican from Maine, took to national television airwaves over the weekend to insist that President Donald Trump explain why he decided it was OK to accuse Barack Obama of wiretapping his conversations in Trump Tower.
Are memories that short?
From May 2013, an NPR report: “The Associated Press is protesting what it calls a massive and unprecedented intrusion into its gathering of news. The target of that wrath is the U.S. Justice Department, which secretly collected phone records for several AP reporters last year.”
That was when Eric Holder was attorney general of the United States.
And as an attorney for the AP said at the time, the Justice Department’s collection of data included phone records — both home-based and cellphone — of AP reporters in Hartford, New York, Washington, and the U.S. House of Representatives.
The records of roughly 20 different telephone lines spanned the April-May 2012 time period, and roped in 20 or so different phones.
Then look at this, also from May 2013, from the Washington Post: “Journalists, First Amendment watchdogs and government transparency advocates reacted with outrage Monday to the revelation that the Justice Department had investigated the news gathering activities of a Fox News reporter as a potential crime in a probe of classified leaks.”
And just who was that Fox News personality?
James Rosen, the cable outlet’s chief Washington correspondent.
“It was downright chilling,” said Fox News executive Michael Clemente in a statement, of the government’s attempt to seize Rosen’s emails.
That’s just two surveillance operations on innocent Americans — members of the press, no less — from Team Obama.
But let’s not forget Sharyl Attkisson, a former CBS correspondent whose critical reports on the Obama administration’s handling of Fast and Furious and of Benghazi more than likely irked.
Attkisson, in 2015, sued the Justice Department, outright alleging the Obama administration had illegally hacked into her computer to secretly monitor her work. Justice denied — but it was a straddle-the-line type of denial.
“To our knowledge,” the agency said in a statement in 2013, after Attkisson went public with her accusations, “the Justice Department has never compromised Ms. Attkisson’s computers.”
It’s the “to our knowledge” that leaves open the doors. It’s just so easy to slide into the category of “yes, we did, but we had no knowledge of that.” Kind of like when Lois Lerner of Internal Revenue Service scandal fame — you know, when the IRS was found to have delayed nonprofit applications for tea party groups seen as unfriendly to Team Obama’s reelection efforts? — said she had no knowledge of what went on beneath her watch.
It’s hardly crazy talk.
“I don’t know the basis for President Trump’s assertion,” Collins said, during a “Meet the Press” appearance on NBC. “And that’s what I wish he would explain to us on the Intelligence Committee and to the American people. And I do believe he owes us that explanation.”
Quite right. But let’s be real here. The notion of Obama and his supporters putting an American under surveillance for personal and political reasons is not a left-field thought. Really, considering the history of the previous White House, and all the secret surveillance that went on during those eight years, it would actually prove more surprising to find out Trump wasn’t placed under watch by Obama teammates and cheerleaders.
Trump’s claims may be unfounded; may be proven. But in the end, the bigger story is this: Obama’s presidency tapped into citizens’ private information all the time. Isn’t that, more than Trump’s accusations, cause for more concern?
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