Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, was being wiretapped by feds — not just once, but twice — as part of an FBI investigation into his dealings in Ukraine and Russia. The secret surveillance took place at a time when Manafort was in contact with Trump, all the way into 2017.
That’s not exactly the same as saying this, from Trump in March: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
But it does cast some shadows.
And now, CNN’s Sept. 5 headline — “Donald Trump just flat-out lied about Trump Tower wiretapping” — gives way to this prototype one: Trump wiretapping claim worthy of revisiting, post-Manafort surveillance revelations.
After all, if Manafort — who was being secretly wiretapped — stood in Trump Tower, where he had an office, and spoke with Trump during the campaign season, wouldn’t those conversations be part and parcel of the feds’ audio collection? Manafort resigned from Trump’s campaign in August of 2016. But that’s not to say he never stood in Trump Tower and spoke with Trump in the months that followed.
A whistleblower, privy to the Manafort audio but not to the entire surveillance operation, may indeed interpret the taping as targeting of Trump Tower — or Trump. Voila — and there’s where Trump got his tip.
Not saying that’s where Trump got the idea his Tower was tapped. But it’s possible.
Regardless, there’s that whole other story that’s emerging as the elephant in the room — the secret court system in place in America that allows feds to place innocent Americans under surveillance and wiretap. They’re called FISA courts, for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allows them to exist. But they could just as easily be called Gestapo Specials. These are the courts were federal authorities go when they want to sneak spy on someone, even an American, without having to go through the regular — i.e. open and transparent — warrant method. The justification is the war on terror. But that justification’s been expanded a bit in recent years — witness, the Manafort OK.
As CNN just reported: “U.S. investigators wiretapped … Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election … an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe. The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to [Trump].”
“The surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence,” CNN continued, citing unnamed sources. “The FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.”
The FISA permission-to-spy was part of the FBI’s investigation into Trump campaign-Russia ties. And here’s another interesting factoid: These FISA court permissions-to-spy have to be OK’d by the Justice Department and the FBI’s top-ranked — meaning, Team Obama was certainly involved.
Be leery, America. A government that can wiretap its own citizens absent a constitutional warrant — by using a fabricated court system that uses its own rules — is a government to fear. Whatever becomes of Manafort, whatever becomes of the whole Trump wiretap claim, the larger story is this: America is not a police state. But FISA courts can make us one.
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