Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Actions in Flynn case are a gateway to tyranny
On Your Right
It’s worse than you thought.
On May 13, it became skin-crawlingly evident that the outgoing Obama administration targeted a high-ranking member of Donald Trump’s transition team for surveillance by the nation’s national security apparatus, leaked a worst-possible take on some of the results of this surveillance, and entrapped the official in perjury, all to obtain damaging information about the President-elect — true or not.
Read that sentence again and think hard about it: Obama administration officials spied on a U.S. citizen in the United States and then acted on the information they obtained not to protect the country from foreign foes but to attempt to destroy Trump. And yes, both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden knew about the surveillance. If your heart isn’t frozen at this point, you might want to check your pulse.
Let’s be precise: Several U.S. government agencies keep tabs on foreign agents in the United States, and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak was one of those. Monitoring his telephone conversations, while impolite, is perfectly legal and even expected. But problems seep in when the ambassador speaks with U.S. citizens — traditionally and legally off-limits to espionage here. To comply with prohibitions, the names of U.S. conversation partners are redacted from any transcript, usually replaced with “US person 1.” But …
Law allows a small number of high-level U.S. government officials to request that these redacted names be “unmasked” if there is sufficient national security rationale to override the usual legal protections. “Need to know” in the discharge of duties is high on the list of questions to be answered before unmasking occurs, and the identity thus revealed cannot be shared.
In Gen. Michael Flynn’s case, Obama, Biden, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, FBI Director James Comey and several others requested and received his identity. Remember, Flynn had been cashiered by Obama after clashes with both Clapper and Brennan over their agencies’ intelligence failures around the growth of the Islamic State.
The recipients were not quite illegal when they met Jan. 5, 2017; the criminal act came when Flynn’s name was leaked to The Washington Post shortly thereafter. If this was done for political purposes, that’s another felony. And though intent is devilishly tricky to prove in court, that January meeting suggests a collaboration at the highest levels of the Obama administration to cripple the Trump presidency before it got off the ground.
Biden denied knowing anything about Flynn’s unmasking when questioned by George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America.” When pressed, he corrected himself, saying he “thought they were talking about Flynn’s prosecution.” But that’s only part of it.
Comey — perhaps channeling his predecessor J. Edgar Hoover — set a perjury trap for Flynn. It almost didn’t work: The two agents who interviewed the incoming national security adviser while telling him it was just a friendly chat reported that they detected no willing concealment or evasion; they were about to close the case when word came down that it would remain open based on violation of the Logan Act. We all remember that one: It criminalizes foreign policy initiatives by private U.S. citizens; ostensibly what Flynn did while national security adviser in waiting. True, there never has been a successful prosecution under this law in its 220-year history, but, well … Trump! And we were off to the races.
With the Mueller probe, questionable prosecutions advanced against other figures in the Trump campaign and administration: Carter Paige, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone. At least in Papadopoulos’ case, there was cooperation among the FBI, CIA and NSA as well as their foreign counterparts, particularly in Britain and Australia. In all cases, demands were made for information damaging to Trump in exchange for leniency. Make no mistake: The entire effort was an attempted coup. To discourage repetition, those involved should be tried, convicted and jailed. Too many Americans already believe there is impunity for those who have the right last name or the right politics. Unrepaired, this belief will poison the republic beyond recovery.
If you are inclined to leniency toward wrongdoers who used the apparatus of government to attempt removal of a sitting president seen as boorish, crude or threatening, you should remember that these actions are the gateway to tyranny. First, anonymous officials remove the outrageous, the menacing, the disturbing. Then, the merely distasteful or truculent. But eventually, the jackboots arrive at your door.
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