Right-wing media figures and fringe outlets are taking a weeks-old interview with Evelyn Farkas, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia under President Barack Obama, out of context to claim she “admitted” that the Obama administration surveilled President Donald Trump’s campaign and that it proves Trump was right when he claimed Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. But Farkas did not mention surveillance in the interview; instead, she discussed a New York Times article about preserving intelligence related to Trump and Russia. The claims are yet another attempt by right-wing and fringe media to bolster Trump’s allegation that Obama wiretapped him, which the intelligence community and government officials have repeatedly debunked.
Trump Claimed Obama Wiretapped Trump Tower
Trump: “Terrible! Just Found Out That Obama Had My 'Wires Tapped' In Trump Tower Just Before The Victory. Nothing Found. This Is McCarthyism!”
Former Obama Official Evelyn Farkas Discussed NY Times Article On Trying To Preserve Trump-Russia Information Before Trump Took Office
NY Times: “Obama Administration Rushed To Preserve Intelligence Of Russian Election Hacking.” The New York Times reported that the the Obama administration “scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election … across the government,” including “information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials ... and associates of President-elect Trump,” before Trump took office. The article added that the effort was inspired by “fears among some that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed — or its sources exposed — once power changed hands.” From the March 1 article:
In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.
American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence.
Mr. Trump has denied that his campaign had any contact with Russian officials, and at one point he openly suggested that American spy agencies had cooked up intelligence suggesting that the Russian government had tried to meddle in the presidential election. Mr. Trump has accused the Obama administration of hyping the Russia story line as a way to discredit his new administration.
At the Obama White House, Mr. Trump’s statements stoked fears among some that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed — or its sources exposed — once power changed hands. What followed was a push to preserve the intelligence that underscored the deep anxiety with which the White House and American intelligence agencies had come to view the threat from Moscow.
At intelligence agencies, there was a push to process as much raw intelligence as possible into analyses, and to keep the reports at a relatively low classification level to ensure as wide a readership as possible across the government — and, in some cases, among European allies. This allowed the upload of as much intelligence as possible to Intellipedia, a secret wiki used by American analysts to share information.
There was also an effort to pass reports and other sensitive materials to Congress. [The New York Times, 3/1/17]
Evelyn Farkas: I Urged My Former Colleagues To “Get As Much Intelligence As You Can Before President Obama Leaves.” Former deputy assistant defense secretary for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia Evelyn Farkas, discussing the Times article on Morning Joe, explained that she “had a fear” that the information about the Trump campaign’s Russia connections would “disappear with the senior [Obama] people who left.” She added that she had been “urging [her] former colleagues” and “people on the Hill” to get as much “information” and “intelligence as you can.” Nowhere in the segment does Farkas discuss surveillance. From the March 2 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe:
MIKA BRZEZINSKI (CO-HOST): You actually knew about this attempt to get and preserve information and -- full transparency -- were doing some work yourself. Tell us about it.
EVELYN FARKAS: Well, I was urging my former colleagues, and, frankly speaking, the people on the Hill -- it was more actually aimed at telling the Hill people, get as much information as you can, get as much intelligence as you can before President Obama leaves the administration, because I had a fear that somehow that information would disappear with the senior people who left. So it would be hidden away in the bureaucracy that the Trump folks – if they found out how we knew what we knew about their, the staff, the Trump staff, dealing with Russians – that they would try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we would no longer have access to that intelligence. So, I became very worried because not enough was coming out into the open, and I knew that there was more. We have very good intelligence on Russia. So, then I had talked to some of my former colleagues, and I knew that they were trying to also help get information to the Hill.
BRZEZINSKI: Well, a lot going on today.
FARKAS: Yeah. That’s why you have the leaking.
FARKAS: People are worried. [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 3/2/17]
Right-Wing Media And Fringe Outlets Falsely Claim Farkas’ Interview Shows Obama Wiretapped Trump
Fox’s Steve Doocy: Farkas “Sounds Like She Admits There Was Surveillance.” Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed that Farkas in her interview “sounds like she admits there was surveillance” along with “leaking” and “unmasking, which is illegal.” From the March 30 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Meanwhile, let's talk about someone who's very partisan, and that would be Evelyn Farkas. She was deputy assistant secretary for defense for Russia during the Obama administration. She was over on one of the shows on MSNBC a while back. And what she said sure sounds like she admits that the Obama administration spied on Trump's team.
When you look at the totality of what she said, it sounds like she admits there was surveillance. She admits there was unmasking, which is illegal. And she admits there was leaking as well. The interesting thing is she kept talking about “we.” She had already left the government.
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): To go advise Hillary Clinton.
DOOCY: Exactly right. So who leaked this stuff to her? You know what? As the Senate intel committee puts together a list of who they should call, I'd call her because she seems to know a lot about what happened.
EARHARDT: She was in the Obama administration from 2012 to 2015. It sounds to me when I hear that sound bite, We were desperate. We were so desperate because we knew that we were out of office in another month or so or whenever, and we had to get information.
DOOCY: We had to blow them up.
EARHARDT: So we had to get intelligence so we were doing everything we could to find out as much as we could. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/30/17]
Fox’s Hannity: Farkas Is “Admitting Surveillance Of Trump,” Which Shows That “What Donald Trump Tweeted Out Was Correct.” Fox's Sean Hannity claimed on his radio show that in the interview, Farkas was “admitting surveillance of Trump and his transition team,” which means “what Donald Trump tweeted out was correct.” From the March 29 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Sean Hannity Show:
SEAN HANNITY(HOST): I can't believe what I’m about to say. Actually, liberal Morning Joe did something good, except they were too stupid to realize it. Now I’m not -- t's not a backhanded compliment. I mean, so he has this woman on, Evelyn Farkas. You're going to hear a lot of her name today on the program. Remember the name: Evelyn Farkas. By the way, this is an all points bulletin: If anybody knows Evelyn Farkas, the assistant defense secretary, former assistant defense secretary under the Obama administration. If you know Evelyn Farkas, tell her to get an attorney immediately. I would advise her -- Sean Hanntiy advises her to get an attorney immediately.
So remember the media, and they were all up in arms: “Donald Trump on a Saturday morning sends out a tweet that he was wiretapped by the Obama administration.” And how many times was he called paranoid, looney, crazy, a liar, liar, pants on fire? OK, a million.
What are the three big words of the day that I just I told you about? Well, four big words. Surveillance, unmasking, intelligence leaks. So she's acknowledging that what Donald Trump tweeted out was correct. So she's acknowledging the surveillance.
So she's admitting surveillance of Trump and his transition team. She's admitting unmasking. They know who they are. She's admitting that they leaked intelligence. Well, leaking of intelligence is a felony. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 3/29/17]
Gateway Pundit: “Obama’s Former Asst. Defense Secretary ADMITS ON MSNBC Obama Admin Spied On Trump.” Gateway Pundit’s Christina Laila wrote on March 28 that “Evelyn Farkas admitted that the Obama administration was trying to collect as much intelligence as possible on the Trump administration.” Laila concluded that there is a “massive amount of evidence piling up that the Trump camp was spied on by the Obama administration.” [Gateway Pundit, 3/28/17]
Infowars: “Did Obama’s Defense Deputy Just Admit Spying On Trump?” Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson wrote on March 29 that Farkas had “caused controversy after she appeared to admit” that the Obama administration “spied on Donald Trump’s transition team.” He went on to quote the Conservative Treehouse blog, which, he claimed,“first broke the story.” [Infowars, 3/29/17]
Conservative Treehouse: “President Obama’s Own Defense Deputy Admits Obama White House Spied on Candidate/President-Elect Trump.” A post on the Conservative Treehouse blog on March 28 claimed that Farkas “admitt[ed] first hand knowledge the Obama administration spied” on Trump to “gather ‘intelligence’ for political use.” The Conservative Treehouse has twice been fact-checked by Snopes for presenting misleading and “mostly false” claims. [Conservative Treehouse, 3/28/17; Snopes.com, 11/15/15; Snopes.com, 7/9/16]
Trump’s Wiretap Claim Has Been Debunked
Former Government Officials Have Debunked Trump’s Claim. Former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper told NBC earlier this month that “for the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time or as a candidate or against his campaign.” A spokesperson for Obama said that “neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen.” [Media Matters, 3/6/17]
FBI Director James Comey: “No Information” To Back Up Trump’s Wiretap Claim. FBI Director James Comey testified in a House committee hearing on March 20 that he “has no information that supports” Trump’s wiretap claim. NBC News reported that Comey “did not say ... that no Trump associate was ever picked up by American surveillance.” From the March 20 article:
The FBI director also dealt the president's credibility a blow when he said he “has no information that supports” Trump's allegation from two weeks ago that President Obama ordered surveillance of his communications in Trump Tower during the campaign.
Only courts grant permission for electronic surveillance, Comey told lawmakers, and “no individual in the United States can direct electronic surveillance of anyone.”
Comey did not say, however, that no Trump associate was ever picked up by American surveillance. He declined to comment on anything related to surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the FBI to eavesdrop, with a court order, on people they suspect are agents of a foreign power. [NBC News, 3/20/17]
Rep. Devin Nunes: Trump “Is Not Right About” Claim That Obama Personally Had Trump Tower Wiretapped. During an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper following his announcement that Trump’s transition team faced incidental “surveillance” by the intelligence community, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) clarified that Trump’s original claim that he was wiretapped by former President Obama was “not right.” He also said during a news conference the same day, according to Politico, that he did not have any evidence to support Trump’s claim that Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower. From the March 22 edition of CNN’s The Lead:
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): Look, I think the bottom line here is that President Trump, to some degree, is right that he did end up in some intelligence reports and I don't think he knew about it.
JAKE TAPPER (HOST): But how is he right if he said that he was -- President Obama wiretapped him in Trump Tower?
NUNES: He's not right about that, Jake. But as you know, I've told you that, I think many times, that he wasn't right about that.
TAPPER: Right, but you just said he was right. What was he right about?
NUNES: In terms of -- it does appear like his name and people and others ended up into intelligence reports. So, I mean, look, you can make what you want of it, but most people would say that is surveillance. [CNN, The Lead, 3/22/17; Politico, 3/22/17]
Right-Wing And Fringe Media Keep Trying To Prove Trump’s Wiretap Lie With Misleading Claims
Right-Wing Media And Fringe Outlets Keep Making False And Misleading Claims To Prop Up Trump’s Wiretap Lie. Even though current and former government officials have debunked Trump’s wiretap claim, right-wing and fringe outlets have repeatedly tried to prop up the allegation. They have dubiously claimed government documents show surveillance of Trump, taken remarks Nunes made about “incidental collection” out of context to falsely claim Trump was vindicated, and misinterpreted a January New York Times article to claim it showed Trump was wiretapped. [Media Matters, 3/20/17, 3/22/17, 3/23/17]