Last week, President Trump’s team released 38 minutes of unedited video capturing his contentious sit-down with Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes.” Sunday evening, CBS broadcast clips of the interview and amazingly let air proof of Trump’s charge that the media is fake news: “60 Minutes” and Stahl falsely reported that it is “unverified” that the Obama-Biden administration spied on Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Trump and not Stahl raised this scandal, as the unedited video showed, after he reversed roles with his interviewer and pushed her to say whether she thought it was okay for Hunter Biden to give “the big guy” a 10 percent cut of money raised by Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden’s son in China, and whether it was okay for China to give the Biden family one and a half billion dollars to manage and for Joe to then negotiate with China on behalf of Americans.
“60 Minutes” edited out those details of the Biden scandal, but let the television audience hear Trump say of it, “It’s the biggest scan…” before correcting himself, “the second biggest scandal. The biggest scandal was when they spied on my campaign.”
The next minutes continued with what would be a comic routine of “did not,” “did too,” did not,” if the subject wasn’t truly the biggest scandal in American political history.
“They spied on my campaign,” Trump repeated.
“But there’s no evide…real evidence of that,” Leslie countered.
Trump: “Of course there is.”
Trump: “It’s all over the place, Leslie.”
Trump: “They spied on my campaign and they got caught.”
Stahl then changed up the refrain slightly: “Can I just say something? You know this is ‘60 Minutes’ and we can’t put on things we can’t verify.”
“You won’t put it on because it’s bad for Biden,” Trump retorted, and then the final rally (of this round) began.
Stahl: “We can’t put on things we can’t verify.”
Trump: “Leslie, they spied on my campaign.”
Stahl: “But we can’t verify it.”
Trump: “It’s been totally verified.”
Trump: “It’s been. Just go down and get the papers. They spied on my campaign and they got caught.”
Trump continued by noting, “Then they went much further than that and they got caught. And you will see that, Leslie. And you know that. But you just don’t want to put it on the air.”
Stahl then denied any such knowledge: “No. And as a matter of fact, I don’t know that.”
At this point, Trump told Stahl to “get back to the interview.”
In the unedited interview, Trump raised the Obama-Biden administration’s spying again when Stahl asked Trump if he wanted Obama locked up. “No, I don’t want to lock him up, but he spied on my campaign,” Trump responded. “Obama and Biden spied on my campaign. Do you know what that is? Do you know what they did? Do you know how horrible it is what they did?” Trump asked.
“But it’s never been verified,” Stahl said again. “It’s been totally verified,” Trump repeated. Stahl persisted: “No,” but so did Trump: “You’ll find out. It’s been totally verified.”
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) October 26, 2020
It is flabbergasting that as of last week Stahl did not know that the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General verified that the Obama-Biden administration spied on the Trump campaign. And it is beyond inexcusable that Stahl did not conduct even a cursory investigation into the question after last week Tuesday’s interview—or if she did, she buried the results.
Trump Is 100 Percent Correct
Nearly a year ago, the 478-page report issued by Inspector General Michael Horowitz verified spying on the Trump campaign. Horowitz’s report exposed substantial abuse in the targeting of former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page with the four Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications submitted to a secret court to obtain a court order to surveil Page. Most significantly, the report established what conservatives had been explaining since Rep. Devin Nunes released his memorandum on the FISA abuse: that surveilling Page was surveilling the Trump campaign.
While Page was no longer working with the Trump campaign at the time the Obama-Biden administration obtained the first FISA surveillance order, that order authorized the FBI to access prior communications between Page and members of the campaign — something the IG report noted the Crossfire Hurricane team recognized as a possibility, namely “that the FISA collection would include sensitive political campaign-related information.”
As one Crossfire Hurricane case agent explained, the FBI’s “belief was that Page was involved in the platform change [concerning Ukraine] and the team was hoping to find evidence of that in their review of the FISA collections of Page’s email accounts.”
The IG report went further, and verified that the FBI actually accessed campaign communications. For instance, the IG report stated that “Gabriel Sanz-Rexach, the chief of the Office of Intelligence’s Operations Section, explained ‘that the evidence collected during the first FISA application time period demonstrated that Carter Page had access to individuals in Russia and he was communicating with people in the Trump campaign.’” Horowitz’s report then explicitly stated that his team “identified a few emails between Page and members of the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign concerning campaign-related matters.”
As I wrote at the time, “Don’t let the ‘few emails’ mislead: The FISA surveillance didn’t just accidentally sweep in a few random campaign communications. Rather, the ‘few’ campaign communications the IG identified came from its limited review of the Woods file and select FBI communications. The IG report made this point clear in a footnote, stating it did not review the entirety of the FISA-intercepted communications—only those ‘pertinent to’ the IG’s review of FISA abuse.”
Not Just Email Scanning, But Also Human Spies
The spying went beyond electronic surveillance and included the tasking of confidential human source Stefan Halper to question members of the Trump campaign, including Page before he resigned. In questioning Page, Halper quizzed the foreign policy advisor on the Trump campaign’s likely “October Surprise.”
From his acquaintance with Page, Halper moved on to questioning Sam Clovis, the 2016 national co-chair of Trump’s campaign, under the guise of potentially helping the Trump team. Halper met with Clovis just two months before the election, and in a recorded conversation, Halper queried Clovis about what could only be called sensitive campaign strategies. Was “the Trump campaign was planning an ‘October Surprise?’” Halper asked, and from Clovis he learned Trump’s focus was to “give people a reason to vote for him, not just vote against Hillary.”
We also know Clovis shared Trump’s desire not to “do a traditional campaign,” and Clovis also provided “additional comments about the internal structure, organization, and functioning of the Trump campaign.” Additionally, in the recorded conversation, Halper and Clovis discussed “an internal campaign debate about Trump’s immigration strategy, efforts to reach out to minority groups and the impact of those efforts, and the campaign’s strategies for responding to questions about Trump’s decision not to release his tax returns.”
Halper was also tasked to question a third Trump campaign advisor, George Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos, who found Halper suspicious, didn’t say much to the confidential human source, but did impart his belief that Michael Flynn, then another campaign advisor, “want[s] to cooperate with the Russians and the Russians are willing to … embrace adult issues.”
The verified spying on the Trump campaign went even further, with the IG report revealing that on August 17, 2016, “the FBI dispatched a supervisor of the Crossfire Hurricane team, known broadly to be FBI Agent Joe Pientka, to a private security briefing for then-candidate Trump and Flynn.” The reason? “[T]o ‘assess’ Flynn in anticipation of a ‘subject interview,’” and to “overhear, whatever it was.”
Pientka later input into the FBI’s case management system questions posed by Trump and Flynn during the spying briefing, “as well as comments made by Trump and Flynn,” according to the IG report.
All of this is documented. Verified. Confirmed. Yet Stahl knows nothing about it, or pretends she doesn’t, and instead literally rolled her eyes when the president criticized fake news.
Trump is right. What the Obama-Biden administration did to him was horrible. But what Stahl and the rest of corporate media have done since then is pretty despicable too: Lying to Americans; ignoring the targeting of the Trump campaign and then the Trump administration; telling the public that there was no spying or that it can’t be “verified,” which is now also their excuse for ignoring what could prove to be the second biggest scandal in this country’s history.
Amazingly, Joe Biden features heavily in both.