One of the more unusual characteristics of President Donald Trump and his closest associates is the extent to which they seem to have psychic powers. Recall that on Aug. 21 conservative operative and longtime Trump associate Roger Stone tweeted gleefully, "it will soon be Podesta's time in the barrel," referring to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Lo and behold, on Oct. 7 WikiLeaks released its trove of Podesta's emails.
It wasn't long after this that Trump's close ally, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, exhibited a similar eerie prescience. Days before FBI Director James Comey announced that his agency would examine Clinton emails found on a computer used by Anthony Weiner, Giuliani told Fox News Trump has “got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days. . . . I’m talking about some pretty big surprises. . . . . We got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this around." Was he ever right.
Then on March 15, in the wake of the president's manic early-morning tweetstorm accusing former President Barack Obama of arranging for him to be wiretapped, Trump demonstrated his own awe-inspiring clairvoyance. Trump told Fox News' Tucker Carlson that despite all the denials from every institution and person in a position to know, "You’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks."
Wouldn't you know it? On Wednesday House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., was shown some documents by a "source" that had him so up in arms he couldn't even take the time to alert the other committee members before he ran to the White House to show the president. When asked if he felt vindicated by this alleged bombshell, Trump replied:
I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, I somewhat do.
It's amazing how Trump and his people are able to see into the future this way, isn't it?
Of course, Roger Stone is now in the crosshairs of a serious counterintelligence investigation and undoubtedly regrets crowing about what he knew. Giuliani was unceremoniously put out to pasture after it was rumored he helped rogue elements of law enforcement with an anti-Clinton crusade on behalf of Donald Trump. And nobody on the planet really believes that Nunes' bizarre performance "somewhat" vindicated Trump — or vindicated him at all. Indeed, all Nunes' stunt did was open the door to a bunch of new questions that Trump may very well regret being asked.
In a nutshell, Nunes claimed that this unnamed source showed him some intelligence intercept from the transition period before Trump took office that indicated members of the Trump team were under surveillance. Inexplicably, the congressman thought it was appropriate to immediately inform the the subject of the investigation and tell the world that he did it. Under questioning in the two (!) press conferences that Nunes held on the matter, it became clear that he was talking about routine legal surveillance of foreign actors that caught some conversations with Trump transition officials. His only complaint was that reports of these intercepts were disseminated inside the government without properly masking the Trump officials' identities, a process known as "minimization." (The inadequacy of this protection has been a gripe of civil libertarians for years — something the GOP dismissed as overwrought until it happened to Republicans.)
Since even Nunes admits that this surveillance was routine, why this revelation would "vindicate" Trump's accusation that Obama wiretapped him remains a mystery. But it certainly didn't stop Trump defenders from sending up celebratory fireworks.
Trump's staffers don't seem to understand the separation of powers or have respect for the necessary protocols in an intelligence investigation any better than their boss:
Devin Nunes should have recused himself from this investigation the moment behavior of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, during the transition came to light, since Nunes was also a member of that transition. (It's mind-boggling that Republicans who were recently obsessed with the "possible appearance of the potential conflict of interest" of the former secretary of state in 2010 have now decided that demonstrable conflicts in recent months are no longer relevant.) Nunes did not do that obviously. Instead he has basically been running interference for the Trump administration ever since — and frankly not doing a very good job of it.
Neither is he a competent chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Earlier in the week Nunes pretended that he had never heard of the Trump associates who have been widely reported to be under investigation, even though he has been on the record talking about them. And he lamely led GOP members of his committee at Monday's hearing in a clumsy dance to try to change the subject from the investigation of Russian interference with the election campaign to leaks to the press about the investigation. It didn't work and served only to make them look as partisan as possible.
Yet after making a fetish out of leaked sensitive and classified information (an issue he and other Republican committee members were not so fastidious about when it came to the interminable Benghazi saga), Nunes was apparently so excited about finding out that some routine intercepts included Trump transition officials that he disclosed their existence without giving a thought to the national security implications. After all, it's possible that the surveillance his source showed him was pertinent to the investigation.
Nunes' mini drama came on the heels of a startling Associated Press report on Wednesday morning about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's ties to a Russian oligarch known to be very close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. And late on Wednesday, CNN reported that the FBI had obtained information that some of Trump's associates may have coordinated the release of information with Russian operatives to damage the Clinton campaign. That makes Nunes' revelation about additional surveillance of Trump's transition officials seem downright foolish if his intention was to vindicate the president. When you add it all up, the Trump administration looks guiltier than ever.