Was the White House spying on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel officials to get at conversations with key members of Congress having to do with the Iran nuclear deal?
That is the question everyone is asking after the bombshell report by the Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous and Danny Yadron on Dec. 29, “U.S. Spy Net on Israel Snares Congress.”
Entous and Yadron report that while the U.S. was negotiating the Iran nuclear agreement, the National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed the deal and advocated Congress oppose it, which ultimately ended up netting conversations with members of Congress to do with the deal.
“Stepped-up NSA eavesdropping revealed to the White House how Mr. Netanyahu and his advisers had leaked details of the U.S.-Iran negotiations — learned through Israeli spying operations — to undermine the talks; coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal; and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes, according to current and former officials familiar with the intercepts,” Entous and Yadron wrote.
The surveillance was stepped up over apparent concerns Israel would attack Iran while the negotiations were ongoing, and then kept on to ascertain if Israel had figured out the negotiations with Iran were taking place.
And then the monitoring was left on even after knowledge of the Iran nuke deal emerged publicly and Netanyahu was invited to speak to a joint session of Congress against the deal.
“Soon after, Israel’s lobbying campaign against the deal went into full swing on Capitol Hill, and it didn’t take long for administration and intelligence officials to realize the NSA was sweeping up the content of conversations with lawmakers,” Entous and Yadron reported.
Even then, with the content of conversations with lawmakers appearing in the intelligence briefings, the monitoring continued. The administration told the NSA to decide what to include in the intelligence briefings if it was pertinent. It never told the agency to stop the collection on lawmakers even after it had started.
Was the administration using the NSA to develop a whip count on where lawmakers stood on the Iran nuclear deal, and to counter legislative actions against it?
It may not have gone that far, Entous and Yadron reported: “During Israel’s lobbying campaign in the months before the deal cleared Congress in September, the NSA removed the names of lawmakers from intelligence reports and weeded out personal information… Administration and intelligence officials said the White House didn’t ask the NSA to identify any lawmakers during this period.”
Still, even if that was true and the names were redacted, and Congress is not where the monitoring had begun, the fact that is where it ended up — and the administration never said to stop — is about the most damning aspect of it all.
They were spying on Congress to help pass a nuclear treaty with Iran they didn’t want to call a treaty. To glean talking points and lines of argument, that is, legislative deliberations for no other purpose than to counter the lobbying effort.
What would Congress have done if Richard Nixon had used intelligence agencies to spy on Congress to undermine, say, its efforts to defund offensive operations in Cambodia? If it had been Nixon, it would have been included in the Articles of Impeachment against him. No question.
After all, Congress was willing to depose Nixon for, in Article 2, Section 2 of the Articles of Impeachment for using electronic surveillance “for purposes unrelated to national security, the enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office.” Nixon was apparently using it to find out who was leaking information about bombings in Cambodia to the press.
W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s famous “Deep Throat” told Woodward: “In 1969, the first targets of aggressive wiretapping were the reporters and those in the administration who were suspected of disloyalty. Then the emphasis was shifted to the radical political opposition during the antiwar protests. When it got near election time, it was only natural to tap the Democrats.”
The surveillance by agencies of political enemies was one of the things that compelled Felt to come forward. It was the basis for the entire case for impeachment.
And here we have it again. So the question, not only for Republican leaders, but also Democrat members of Congress who abhorred Nixon who were undoubtedly caught in the surveillance is — Chuck Schumer we’re looking at you — if spying on Congress to undermine legislative efforts to defeat the Iran nuclear deal is not impeachable, what is?
Because this could just be the tip of the iceberg.
Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.