President Donald Trump has been trying very hard to convince his supporters that the ongoing FBI investigation into Russian interference in the US election and possible connections between members of his campaign and the Russian government are some sort of plot against him. Over the past several days, Trump has labeled the stories about the investigation “fake” and “a scam” on Twitter.
However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation appears to disagree. Over the weekend, The Financial Times revealed that the agency charged with counter-espionage investigations is ramping up its inquiry into Russian election-meddling by bringing a veteran agent back to Washington to head up a new 20-person unit dedicated to the direction of the sprawling effort.
One of the sources the FT relied on said that the change reflected a “surge” of new resources into the investigation, and was seen as confirmation that the agency is taking the case extremely seriously. At the same time, Trump has been using his social media accounts to point fingers everywhere but toward himself and his associates.
“When will Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd and @NBCNews start talking about the Obama SURVEILLANCE SCANDAL and stop with the Fake Trump/Russia story?” he tweeted Saturday, referring to Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer. “It is the same Fake News Media that said there is "no path to victory for Trump" that is now pushing the phony Russia story. A total scam!”
By Sunday, he was touting a Fox News story from the previous day that he claimed proved that he and his associates had been “spied on” by the Obama administration. In fact, the story indicates, as was already known, that conversations involving people affiliated with Trump’s campaign were picked up as part of routine monitoring of foreign diplomats and other non-US persons.
After Trump's claim last month that then-president Barack Obama had him wiretapped was debunked by intelligence officials, the argument turned to the question of whether the identity of Trump-related individuals was “unmasked” in reports disseminated within the intelligence community.
The Fox report on Saturday said that the “unmasking” was done at the request of a senior figure in the Intelligence Community. That, too sent trump to Twitter, to claim he had been “spied on” by the Obama administration. “If this is true, does not get much bigger. Would be sad for U.S.,” he wrote.
On Monday morning, Bloomberg’s Eli Lake wrote a story suggesting the unmasking of Trump associates in dozens of reports containing accounts of conversations between Trump associates and foreign actors came at the request of then-National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
According to Lake, “One U.S. official familiar with the reports said they contained valuable political information on the Trump transition such as whom the Trump team was meeting, the views of Trump associates on foreign policy matters and plans for the incoming administration.”
This would dovetail with Trump’s repeated claim that he was placed under surveillance for political reasons. However, it also raises a fairly obvious question: If this information was gathered for a political hit on Trump during the election year -- something that would be a stunning abuse of power -- why did nothing emerge given that it’s now clear that there were multiple contacts between the Trump team and Russian officials during the campaign?
An alternative explanation is that Rice, as President Obama’s National Security Adviser, had been informed that there was an active FBI investigation into the Russian meddling and the potential connection between the Kremlin and the Trump team and that she wanted to stay abreast of what intelligence agencies were finding.