BOONE, IOWA – Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio privately defended the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even as he publicly condemned the practice.
Rubio and his ally Rep. Trey Gowdy discussed the matter privately in a room away from reporters early Wednesday morning at the Royal Amsterdam Hotel in Pella, Iowa. The two men talked before they set out on a three-stop Iowa campaign tour to showcase Gowdy’s endorsement of Rubio.
This reporter heard the conversation while picking up a laptop computer and other materials left in a back room, away from where reporters were eating breakfast. Rubio, Gowdy, a couple of campaign staffers, and a Secret Service agent were the only ones present in the back room.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the NSA monitored Netanyahu’s conversations, including conversations with U.S. legislators
“We spy on everyone,” Rubio told Gowdy, defending the practice of spying on a U.S. ally. “That’s the nature of intelligence.”
“It’s more complicated than the [WSJ] story makes it seem,” Rubio added.
Gowdy responded that people are upset because the U.S. decided to stop spying on leaders of Germany and some other nations, but still spies on Israel.
But Rubio sang a different tune around the same time Wednesday morning on the Fox News program “Fox and Friends.”
Instead of defending the surveillance, Rubio said that the practice of spying on allies was possibly even “worse” than reported.
“I actually think it might be worse than what some people might think, but this is an issue that we’ll keep a close eye on,” Rubio said on the show.
Rubio did concede on the show that the issue was “complicated” and said, “We have to be very careful about how we discuss it, especially since there’s a press report that I don’t think gets the entire story.”
Gowdy accompanied Rubio to campaign appearances in the Iowa towns of Pella, Newton, and Boone. Rubio told an audience member in Newton that Gowdy would make a “great” attorney general.
“Trey is phenomenal. He would be great in anyone’s Cabinet,” Rubio said. “I’m not sure that’s what he wants to do.”
Rubio has reportedly locked up the support of neoconservative donor Paul Singer, and is competing for the support of neoconservative donor Sheldon Adelson.
Rubio spokeswoman Brooke Sammon is challenging this story, but over the course of several emails with Breitbart News pointedly would not deny that Rubio said what Breitbart News quoted him as saying in this private conversation with Gowdy.
“I was there, and I think Patrick [Howley, the Breitbart News reporter] misunderstood whatever he overheard. Marco & Trey were talking about this morning’s WSJ story, which he had just been asked about on FOX News,” Sammon said. “Marco was telling Trey the same things that Rep. Mike Rogers was quoted saying in the Journal this morning.”
When asked again and again over the course of at least five more emails if she was specifically denying that Rubio said what Breitbart News reported he said, Sammon responded instead by saying “the reporter either misheard or misunderstood.”
It’s significant that Rubio’s team is specifically not denying that Rubio said this to Gowdy, which means they’re essentially admitting he did say those words—but they’re challenging the context of them. Rubio’s team doesn’t have the best track record for honesty, dating back to when Rubio worked with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other liberals and establishment Republicans in the “Gang of Eight” to force a giant amnesty bill through the U.S. Senate. The Rubio team’s dishonesty on matters like this runs so deep that they actually began printing phony “fact checks” on his Senate website to challenge accurate reporting about his amnesty legislation. Rubio’s team has since sunk into the same tactics—printing phony “fact checks,” this time paid for by his campaign—when it comes to their response to a new ad that’s entirely accurate from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Super PAC criticizing Rubio’s poor attendance and voting record. The fabricated “fact check” is littered with actual facts, but none address the core allegation.
A similar tactic is on display here with this story. Again, Rubio’s team is challenging what’s clearly an accurate report from Breitbart News on the ground in Iowa. They claim that Rubio was echoing former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. But they don’t address the core of the story and continue to refuse to do so.
The only quote from Rogers contained within the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday was this one: “Intelligence professionals have a saying: There are no friendly intelligence services.”
That quote basically has nothing to do with this original report. Rubio may have also been saying that to Gowdy but that Rubio’s campaign won’t answer specifically about the quotes Breitbart News heard him say to Gowdy is particularly telling.