President Trump has stayed surprisingly quiet as congressional investigators shed new light on the surveillance of people in his orbit, months after making unsupported claims that his predecessor wiretapped Trump Tower.
Obama administration officials attempted to identify Trump’s associates in intelligence reports through a process known as “unmasking.” Some of the classified information learned through those unmaskings may have found its way into damaging news reports. And FBI agents reportedly surveilled Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, for weeks at a time in 2016.
“To me, it’s notable that Trump hasn’t taken these reports to claim any sort of vindication,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist and former adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “Instead, he’s staying silent, which hopefully means he’s listening to his attorneys’ advice and maybe learned lessons from the earlier episodes.”
Conant noted Trump may have avoided taking a victory lap after seeing the latest set of developments in the unmasking controversy because the new information is so closely tied to the investigation of his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia.
A probe into how and why Obama administration officials unmasked Trump associates during the campaign and transition has produced early evidence that aides used the procedure with high frequency and may have gathered information about Trump associates’ Russian connections through those unmaskings.
Congressional investigators have noticed a potential link between an April story in the Washington Post — in which the identity of a Trump associate was revealed in the context of information that could have been collected through surveillance activities — and an unmasking request made by former national security adviser Susan Rice weeks before the publication of that story, a source familiar with the investigation told the Washington Examiner.
The report described a meeting between Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and an unidentified Russian individual on the island of Seychelles in January. Prince had represented himself during the meeting, which was set up by United Arab Emirates officials, as a conduit for the Trump campaign who was interested in setting up a “back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump,” according to the report. Congressional investigators are eyeing a potential connection between the leak of Prince’s identity to the media and an unmasking request from Rice that took place in the final days of the Obama administration.
The most honest, transparent and scandal-free administration in history was into some really dirty dealings.