By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
President Trump recently returned from his first overseas trip. No matter how the trip was perceived, he returned to a fractured nation, one that has been engulfed in various Justice Department investigations. The question looming now is what will the months ahead bring for Trump and the United States?
The two most significant aspects of the investigations revolve around the question of Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, and did the intelligence community or the Executive Branch under President Barack Obama inadvertently unmask Americans during surveillance targeting?
Another underling question is did the National Security Agency (NSA) specifically target Americans, which is a clear violation of the law.
The turmoil engulfing the White House is viewed by the Trump administration as a holdover from the 2016 presidential election. They are those anti-Trump forces who never fully grasped the fact that their candidate Hillary Clinton lost. Many of them believe Russian interference was the root cause of Trump’s surprising victory.
Trump Fuels Russia’s US Election Collusion Controversy
Since the FBI began an investigation into the Russian connection last July, the public has seen no evidence of collusion between Moscow and Trump or his transition team. Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), when pressed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer , acknowledged that she has seen no “evidence that would establish that there’s collusion. There are all kinds of rumors around. There are newspaper stories, but that’s not necessarily evidence.”
Trump calls the charges false narratives or false news. But Trump himself has contributed to this narrative by consistently praising Russian President Vladimir Putin. Far too often Trump has inserted himself into the Russian narrative when he should just leave it alone. His actions make it seems as if he is hiding something. He also made the situation worse by firing FBI Director James Comey.
The fact that the president fired Comey is not the issue; he has the constitutional authority to do so. It was more the sudden and cold manner in which it was done while Comey was out of town that caused the greatest consternation. We still do not know the true cause of Comey’s ouster because Trump himself has offered differing accounts of his action. We should know more next week about Comey’s firing and the Russian scandal when Comey appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8.
CBS News reports that “Comey is expected to testify about his documentation of interactions with President Trump, in which the president asked Comey for his loyalty and asked Comey to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.”
Special Counsel Will Look into Russian Inference
To ensure a fair and impartial investigation that is free from both Republican and Democratic partisanship, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein selected former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel. He will lead a federal investigation into whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians during the 2016 presidential election.
Now that a special counsel has been selected, the question is what direction will the investigation take? Remember, the last special prosecutor was Kenneth Starr during President Bill Clinton’s administration. Starr was tasked with looking into the Whitewater real estate investment scandal that predated Clinton’s presidency. Starr roamed far afield and we ended up with the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal.
So will Mueller look only at the memos on Comey’s meeting with Trump? Or will he go back to all meeting memos that the former FBI director had with President Obama and his handling of the Hillary Clinton email scandal? Remember, Bill Clinton met for thirty minutes with then Attorney General Loretta Lynch on an airplane tarmac in Phoenix, Arizona, just days ahead of Hillary Clinton’s deposition before the FBI.
Did the Intelligence Agency Spy on Americans?
The other investigation that has been below the radar is whether the intelligence community conducted illegal surveillance on American citizens.
Earlier this year, Trump tweeted that former President Obama had wiretapped his Trump Tower before the election. Trump later said he used the word wiretap to encompass all manner of surveillance. What we have learned so far is that the NSA violated the constitutional rights of many Americans.
Last Wednesday, Circa News, a company owned by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, claimed that NSA, under former President Obama, routinely violated American privacy protections while scouring through overseas intercepts. The Obama administration failed to disclose the extent of the problem until just before Trump was elected president last fall. Circa News said that formerly top-secret documents chronicled some of the most serious constitutional abuses to date by the U.S. intelligence community.
Federal Court Rebukes Obama Administration for ‘Lack of Candor’
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court usually supports the government’s claims. But in this instance the court admonished the Obama administration by saying that its failure to disclose the extent of the violations earlier amounted to an “institutional lack of candor,” and that the improper searches constituted a “very serious Fourth Amendment issue.”
Since 2011, when President Obama eased some privacy standards, there has been a three-fold increase in the amount of data NSA has collected on American citizens, as well as an increase in identifying U.S. citizens in intelligence reports. This is a serious breach of the U.S. Constitution.
As Mueller begins his investigation in alleged Russian collusion, how deep will the investigation go into the breach of constitutional protocol by NSA? And will the investigation reach back into the Clinton email scandal? Only time will tell where this investigation goes and how deeply it will probe.