Saturday, September 30, 2017

Puerto Rico Relief Is Hard Enough Without Trump's Tweetstorm

Over the past few days, as President Trump has come under fire for his response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation of the island of Puerto Rico. Trump’s supporters have taken to Twitter and Facebook to defend the president. Many are claiming that if Texans could help themselves, Puerto Ricans should likewise be able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. After Trump’s tweets this morning attacking the mayor of San Juan, the level of acrimony will almost certainly increase.

Trump’s defenders do raise a legitimate question: Why can’t the inhabitants of Puerto Rico help themselves rebuild their island and repair the damage from Hurricane Maria? The answer is that the situation in Puerto Rico is very different from the situation in Texas.

As the president so eloquently pointed out on Friday, Puerto Rico “is an island, surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water.” As most students of American geography will recall, Texas is not an island, which made it much easier to bring relief workers and supplies into the affected areas. Because Puerto Rico is an island, almost everything, from food to fuel, must be shipped in.

Adding to the difficulty, the island’s ports, airports and roads were also heavily damaged by the storm. The waiver of the Jones Act will allow more shipping capacity to be directed to Puerto Rico, but the ability of ports to offload the cargo is still a limiting factor.

The problems don’t end as relief supplies are offloaded on the island. There are reports that mountains of supplies are sitting in San Juan, but cannot be delivered due to damaged roads and shortages of trucks, diesel fuel and drivers. KTLA Channel Five in Los Angeles reported that one Puerto Rico trucking company has 3,000 crates of supplies, but has only been able to dispatch four percent of them due the shortages of drivers and trucks.

Another difficulty that Puerto Rico faces that Texas did not is the widespread power outage. Maria destroyed 80 percent of the island’s power lines per reports by CNBC. It will take months to restore power to the island.

Meanwhile, the lack of electricity makes almost everything more difficult. Where generators and fuel are not available, even the simplest tasks must be performed by hand. The lack of lights also means that time available to work is shorter. Communication is difficult both because of the lack of electricity and the fact that the storm damaged or destroyed cell phone towers.

In contrast, after Hurricane Harvey, relief supplies could be trucked directly to Texas from other parts of the country. Roads were damaged, but there were alternate routes available in most cases. Damage from the hurricane force winds was localized in Texas, rather than spread across the whole coast. Ports and airports reopened quickly.

Most the damage in Houston and Beaumont came from torrential rains and flooding. As a result, electricity stayed on in these heavily populated urban areas. This made it easier for both residents of the area and relief workers.

Finally, I have to point out that Texans did not recover our own. We received a lot of help from around the country. When a large part of Houston was underwater, the Cajun Navy arrived on the scene with boats to pluck stranded Texans from their homes and ferry them to safety. Once the flood waters receded, the infrastructure in Houston was largely intact, unlike the infrastructure of Puerto Rico.

It isn’t fair to blame President Trump for the difficulties with a relief effort that makes the Berlin airlift look easy by comparison. For months to come, the island’s population of more than three million people will be almost entirely dependent upon outside assistance. It is unreasonable to assume that the entire effort could be established and bring the island back to normal within a few weeks.

It is also unreasonable for President Trump to lash out at the island’s representatives who are understandably under an enormous amount of stress. President Trump should have overcome his instinctive tendency to immediately counterpunch at any hint of a slight and instead offered calm reassurance that the federal government is doing everything it can to save the lives of the storm victims.

So far, there is no evidence that the federal response to Hurricane Maria has been bungled. There is also no evidence that Puerto Ricans are not doing everything within their very limited ability to make their situation better.

Attacking the mayor of San Juan as a poor leader is a bad idea on several levels. First, it undermines her authority. Second, it sets up an adversarial relationship between federal and local governments at a time when cooperation is badly needed to save lives. That conflict will only be picked up and exacerbated by both supporters and opponents of the president. Finally, it makes President Trump look incredibly small and vain.

One characteristic of a leader is the ability to overlook perceived personal slights and focus on the job at hand. It remains to be seen whether President Trump has what it takes to be a unifying leader, but he has not exhibited those qualities today. Maria is not Katrina, but the president’s mishandling of the situation may well turn the relief effort into a leadership scandal.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, September 29, 2017

Schools Ban Anthem Protests

As the NFL begins to pay the price in popularity and falling ticket sales for the spreading anthem protests, some high schools and colleges are taking action to prevent their athletes from following in the footsteps of the professional players. Some schools are emphasizing existing policies that prohibit players from taking a knee during the national anthem as well as instituting new bans on the protest.

The Daily Wire notes that at least three schools around the country have released statements that point out that school policy prohibits players from kneeling during the anthem. While the Daily Wire says that the schools are instituting bans on taking a knee, statements from some of the schools point out that the policies are not new.

Colorado Christian University released a statement that said, “The University athletic department has always required our student athletes and coaches to stand respectfully for any pre-game or post-game prayers, as well as for the National Anthem. Contrary to several reports, this is not a new position.”

The superintendent of Manatee County schools in Florida, Jason Montgomery, sent an email to schools in his district pointing out that both federal and state laws mandate that students stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. Montgomery wrote, “The Code of Student Conduct complies with all statutory requirements that include requiring a student to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, unless excused in writing by a parent.”

Some schools are setting new policies in response to the controversy. In Louisiana, Parkway High School Principal Waylon Bates said in a letter to students and parents that “the Louisiana High School Athletic Association allows school principals to make decisions regarding student participation in the National Anthem.” Bates instructs his students and faculty to “stand in a respectful manner throughout the National Anthem” and warns that “failure to comply will result in loss of playing time and/or participation” and even “removal from the team.”

The First Amendment protects Americans from attacks on freedom of speech and expression by the government, not private employers. Private companies can take action against employees who exercise their First Amendment rights even though the government cannot.

The NFL is a private organization with its own rules. If the NFL quashed the anthem protests, it would not be a violation of the First Amendment. In spite of internet rumors, the NFL does not have a rule requiring players to stand for the National Anthem. If it did, the government would have no legal standing to require the organization to enforce such a rule.

The Constitution does protect the right to protest from government interference. The Supreme Court has even protected the act of burning the flag under the First Amendment. When President Trump urges the NFL to fire players who take a knee during the National Anthem, using the power of the “bully pulpit” to attempt to limit free speech, he comes close to a violation of the First Amendment.

Ironically, schools may have a more difficult time banning the anthem protests than the NFL. Public schools are government entities and school policies are limited by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that students do not give up their free speech rights when they enter a school, but that schools do have the right to limit actions that disrupt the educational process. A public school might well lose a lawsuit over a kneeling ban.

Americans seem to understand this balanced view of protest and respect for the flag. The Seton Hall Sports Poll found that 49 percent of respondents thought that NFL players had a right to protest, but also thought that they should stand for the National Anthem.

As the controversy continues, schools and professional sports organizations will be challenged to find a balance between these opposing viewpoints. While the initial reaction of schools may be to institute bans on taking a knee, such policies may not be a quick resolution to the issue.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Ben Sasse Destroys Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer On Twitter

From time to time, there is a Twitter takedown that is worth repeating and sharing with the rest of the world. When the takedown in question is the utter rhetorical annihilation of an alt-right icon like Richard Spencer, the thrashing is even more delicious.

Richard Spencer, the recipient of the beat-down, is a white supremacist and one of the organizers of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. that turned into a full-blown riot in August. Spencer was previously seen a few weeks after the 2016 election leading alt-right supporters in a Nazi salute and chanting, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” Suffice it to say that Richard Spencer is far out of the conservative mainstream.

In the other corner is Ben Sasse, the junior Republican senator from Nebraska. In three years in the Senate, Sasse has quickly emerged as a leading conservative thinker and outspoken defender of freedom and the Constitution.

The brouhaha started when Spencer called out “goober conservatives” on Twitter in a tweet that defended Russia from charges that it meddled in the 2016 campaign. So, sit back, make some popcorn, and enjoy Ben Sasse’s eloquent and impassioned response. 

In the minds of goober conservatives, the Russians are to blame for racial divisions.
— Richard ☝🏻Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) September 28, 2017
No one loves American-vs-American fighting more than Putin. His intel agencies stoke both sides of every divide.
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) September 28, 2017
Don’t get me wrong: we’ll always have brown-shirt-pajama-boy Nazis like you & your lonely pals stoking division. But here’s America 101:
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) September 28, 2017
You don’t get America. You said: “You do not have some human right, some abstract thing given to you by God or something like that.”
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) September 28, 2017
Actually, that's exactly what America declares we do have: People are the image-bearers of God, created with dignity& inalienable rights.
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) September 28, 2017
Sadly, you don't understand human dignity. A person's skin, ancestry, and bank balance have nothing to do with their intrinsic value.
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) September 28, 2017
This declaration of universal dignity is what America is about. Madison called our Constitution "the greatest reflection on human nature"
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) September 28, 2017
You talk about culture but don't know squat about western heritage--which sees people not as tribes but as individuals of limitless worth
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) September 28, 2017
The celebration of universal dignity IS our culture, & it rejects your "white culture" crybaby politics. It rejects all identity politics
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) September 28, 2017
Sometime after moving back into your parents' basement, you knock-off Nazis fell in love with reheated 20th century will-to-power garbage
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) September 28, 2017
Your "ideas" aren't just hateful, un-American poison--they're also just so dang boring. The future doesn't belong to your stupid memes.
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) September 28, 2017
Get a real job, Clown. Find an actual neighbor to serve. You'll be happier.
Have a nice day.
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) September 28, 2017

Sasse understands what the protesters on the left and the alt-right do not. That the best answer to offensive and radical speech is more speech. Good ideas, not violent force, should be used to destroy bad ideas. 

Originally Published On The Resurgent

Thursday, September 28, 2017

FBI Director: Terrorist Drones Are 'Imminent' Threat

On Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress that terrorist attacks in the United States by groups using drones were an “imminent” threat. Such attacks could be launched against soft targets using the small unmanned aircraft armed with chemical weapons or small explosives.

“We do know that terrorist organizations have an interest in using drones; we've seen that overseas already with some growing frequency and I think the expectation is it's coming here imminently,” Wray testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee as reported by the Washington Free Beacon. “I think they are relatively easy to acquire, relatively easy to operate, and I think quite difficult to disrupt and monitor.”

ISIS has been known to use drones in both a surveillance and an attack role. Last April, Fox News reported that ISIS had posted online videos with instructions for arming commercially-available drones.

“Two years ago, this was not a problem,” said Nicholas Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “One year ago, this was an emerging problem. Now it's a real problem, and so we are quickly trying to up our game.”

Rasmussen said that counterterrorism agencies are working to understand and defend against the threat of drones. In Iraq, drones have been used by ISIS to drop bombs on Iraqi government troops, but merely flying an unarmed drone in the vicinity of a busy airport could bring down a commercial airliner. Last week, an army helicopter collided with a small drone over New York, but was able to land safely. The operator of the drone has not been identified.

Several private companies are working on anti-drone projects as well. Droneshield provides devices to detect drones as well as the “dronegun” that jams the remotely controlled aircraft and forces them to land. The company’s products have been used by law enforcement and military organizations in the field. Another company, Department 13, has developed software that allows operators to take control of threatening drones.

Current federal law complicates the ability of local law enforcement and private companies to defend against drone attacks. The federal government considers drones to be aircraft and it is a federal crime to shoot at any aircraft. Popular Mechanics points out that state laws that allow police to target threatening drones are in conflict with federal law.

Drone technology is advancing at a rapid clip and terrorists have proven adept at altering new technology to their purposes. Drone aircraft are cheap, plentiful, anonymous and can adopted to perform a variety of roles. This makes them attractive to terrorists and difficult to defend against. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Russia Purchased Black Lives Matter Facebook Ad

Evidence is mounting of Russian involvement in the 2016 election, but the evidence does not always fit the preconceived notion that Putin’s government acted to help Donald Trump’s campaign defeat Hillary Clinton. A new revelation that a Facebook ad purchased by the Russians promoted Black Lives Matter casts doubt on the usual narrative.

CNN reports the Russians bought “at least one” Facebook ad that promoted the Black Lives Matter movement. The ad appeared in late 2015 or early 2016 to audiences in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland. Ferguson and Baltimore were the subject of race riots in August 2014 and April 2015 respectively.

The ad was purchased by what CNN refers to as “accounts linked to the Russian government-affiliated troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.” US military intelligence has described the group as “a state-funded organization that blogs and tweets on behalf of the Kremlin.”

Facebook previously revealed that about 25 percent of the 3,000 ads traced back to the Internet Research Agency were geographically targeted. The Black Lives Matter ad targeted to Ferguson and Baltimore Facebook users is the first specific example of such targeting. CNN’s sources said the wording of the ad was such that it could be interpreted as both supporting and warning against the Black Lives Matter movement. The ad itself has not been released by Facebook.

Information on the Facebook ads purchased by the Russians seems to indicate that, at least early in the election cycle, the focus was on promoting division and anger rather than promoting a specific candidate. The Russians also bought ads with topics such as gun rights, immigration and the validity of western democracy.

“This is consistent with the overall goal of creating discord inside the body politic here in the United States, and really across the West,” Steve Hall, a former CIA officer and current CNN National Security Analyst, said. “It shows they the level of sophistication of their targeting. They are able to sow discord in a very granular nature, target certain communities and link them up with certain issues.”

Last December, the FBI and the CIA publicly agreed that intelligence showed that Russian cyber operations during the election were aimed at supporting the Trump campaign. In July 2017, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told NBC News that there was no disagreement among US intelligence agencies that the Russians “are trying to undermine Western democracy,” but stopped short of stating that the interference was targeted to benefit Trump.

In the months since the election, many on the right have pooh-poohed the idea that Russia interfered in the election at all, attributing the claim of interference to sour grapes by Clinton campaign. That may change as more information about Russian interference comes out, such as the recent revelation by Homeland Security that 21 state election agencies were targeted by Russian hackers and that the Russian goal was to stir the pot by promoting hostility on both sides of the political spectrum.

The biggest question about Russian meddling is what to do about it. As CIA Director Mike Pompeo told NBC News, “This threat is real. The U.S. government, including the Central Intelligence Agency, has to figure out a way to fight back against it and defeat it. And we're intent upon doing that.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Roy Moore Will Be Another GOP Maverick - If He Can Win

Judge Roy Moore cruised to victory in the Alabama Republican primary runoff yesterday. Moore’s victory came despite heavy support by President Trump and Republican leaders in Washington for incumbent Luther Strange. In fact, some of the Washington endorsements for Strange probably did more to help Roy Moore than their intended recipient.

President Trump’s endorsement of Luther Strange had a limited effect. Polling in late August showed Roy Moore with 51 percent and 32 percent for Strange with 17 percent undecided. Moore won the actual vote 55-45 percent, which seems to indicate that a majority of undecided voters broke for Strange.

Politics makes strange bedfellows. Few have been as strange as the alliance between Donald Trump and Luther Strange, who was singled out as a “swamp creature” by many conservatives. Strange was hobbled from the start by opponents who tied him to two recent corruption scandals in Alabama. Strange was among the many Alabama politicians, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who took money from a company that was later charged with bribing a state legislator in connection with an EPA cleanup. He was also tainted by his appointment to the Senate by Gov. Robert Bentley at the same time that Strange, who was then Alabama’s attorney general, was investigating the governor for corruption in a scandal that eventually led to his impeachment.

In spite of appeals by the president and prominent Republicans, most conservative groups rallied behind Moore, who ran primarily against Mitch McConnell, who had also endorsed Strange. The August poll by JMC Analytics found that 45 percent said that McConnell’s endorsement made them less likely to vote for Strange. Forty-six percent said it made no difference.

The antipathy to the Republican leadership comes at an inopportune time. The Republicans have just suffered an embarrassing defeat on Obamacare thanks to a small number of Republican senators who deserted the party to vote against the Republican reform bill. Roy Moore has strong conservative and Christian credentials, but he will not be a senator who can be counted on to stand with the party on votes for bills like Graham-Cassidy.

Moore has a reputation as a maverick and a rebel. Moore was twice elected to the Alabama Supreme Court and was twice removed. In 2003, a panel ruled that Moore had violated the state ethics code and removed him from the bench after he ignored a federal court order instructing him to remove a Ten Commandments monument. In 2015, Moore was suspended again for ordering state judges to ignore the Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage the law of the land. While Moore has remained true to his principles, his actions have not been effective at advancing his agenda.

President Trump, at this weekend rally for Luther Strange, made two key arguments for Strange. The first was that Strange was a loyal legislator who had been a reliable vote for the Trump agenda. Moore overcame this objection by running as a supporter of the Trump agenda, even if he might be less of a sure vote than Luther Strange. “Don’t let anybody in the press think that because he [Trump] supported my opponent that I do not support him,” Moore said in the New York Times after his victory.

Trump’s second point was that Moore might not be electable in the general election. He may have a point there. The eccentric former judge has a history of controversial remarks and even pulled out a pistol at a campaign rally the day before the election. The possibility of Moore pulling “a Todd Akin” and handing to the election to the Democrats with an outlandish comment is a real possibility.

In the crimson state of Alabama, as the Republican candidate, the race is Moore’s to lose. Whether Moore wins or loses, the Republican problems in the Senate will not be resolved and it will still be difficult to advance the Republican agenda. The real loser is the traditional Republican establishment whose endorsements were rejected by voters even as the candidates fought over who was President Trump’s best ally.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Why the Feds Denied Puerto Rico a Shipping Waiver – And Why Congress Should Act

After Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the federal government loosened restrictions on a century-old shipping law to allow foreign ships to carry relief supplies and fuel from US ports to affected areas in Florida, Louisiana and Texas. This week the Trump Administration denied a request for a similar waiver to allow foreign ships to ferry supplies from the mainland United States to the island of Puerto Rico.

The Jones Act, formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, regulates maritime trade between US ports and in US territorial waters. Part of the law restricts cabotage, trade between two ports within the United States, to American vessels. Foreign vessels can transport cargo from other countries into the US, but not from one US port to another. Since Puerto Rico is American territory, trade between the mainland of the United States and the island is limited to American ships. The Jones Act was passed after World War I to help revitalize the American merchant marine losses incurred during the war.

After hurricanes hit Texas and Florida, the Trump Administration waived the Jones Act to allow more ships to move cargo from American ports to the affected areas. The extra shipping capacity helped to alleviate a looming fuel shortage after the storms.

Reuters reports that a delegation of congressmen led by Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) petitioned the Department of Homeland Security to issue a similar waiver to aid Puerto Rico. This time the request was denied.

Gregory Moore, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, explained that an assessment of US shipping had determined that there was “sufficient capacity” on American ships to bring in supplies to Puerto Rico. “The limitation is going to be port capacity to offload and transit, not vessel availability,” Moore explained. With Puerto Rico’s ports and airports heavily damaged by the storm, the limiting factor on aid to Puerto Rico is not ships to transport the cargo, but ports in which to offload it.

 “We do have the capability,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told Senators on, but relief ships and airplanes “can't come in until we get the ports and airfields open.”

The Jones Act has been controversial for years and its effect on hurricane relief means that it will remain a sore spot for the island. The New York Times explains that there are two options for bringing foreign goods to Puerto Rico. If the ships come directly to the island, they must pay heavy taxes, tariffs and fees. The other option is to ship the goods to the mainland United States and then put them on American ships for the journey to Puerto Rico. In either case, the increased costs are passed along to consumers.

The Times notes that the added cost makes prices “at least double” that of neighboring islands, including the US Virgin Islands which are not covered by the Jones Act. The cost to the Puerto Rico economy is estimated to be billions of dollars annually.

A temporary waiver of the Jones Act, would likely lift morale on the shattered island, if nothing else. “Our dependence on fossil fuel imports by sea is hampering the restoration of services,” Juan Declet-Barreto, an energy expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Reuters. The decision not to allow a waiver “is raising fears on the island that they are going to be left behind in this disaster.”

As ports are repaired, goods imported to the island by foreign ships will be more able to aid the long-term recovery and rebuilding of the island. Prices for food and consumer goods would drop which would increase the standard of living as well as making manufacturing and tourism more attractive.

Shipping companies oppose changing the law, which they say is necessary to keep the American merchant shipping industry strong and protect jobs, but the policy is already applied unevenly. The Jones Act applies to Alaska and Hawaii as well as Puerto Rico, but at least three US territories, including the US Virgin Islands, are exempt from the law.

While a Jones Act waiver may not help the island in the short term, repeal of the cabotage section of the Jones Act may help the island’s recovery in the long term. The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute are among the organizations that have advocated repeal. In recent years, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) have proposed repeal of the law. As the island struggles to rebuild after Hurricane Maria, the time to end the Jones Act may have finally come.  

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Trey Gowdy Demands Answers On Use of Private Email By Trump Administration

Rep. Trey Gowdy’s (R-S.C.) House committee is calling for a review of White House email practices in the wake of a New York Times report that at least six members of the Trump Administration used personal email accounts to conduct official government business. Members of the House Oversight Committee asked for more information and instructed White House officials to “preserve all official records and copies of records in your custody or control.”

On Monday, the New York Times reported that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, had sent about 100 work emails using a private email account. Former White House strategist Steve Bannon, former chief of staff Reince Priebus and advisors Gary Cohn and Stephen Miller also occasionally used private email accounts per the report. Ivanka Trump, the wife of Mr. Kushner, was reported to have used a private email account for government business while she was an unpaid White House advisor in the first months of the Trump Administration. The use of the private emails began in the transition period and continued as late as August.

The Times points out that government officials are supposed to use government email accounts for their official duties to preserve a record for oversight and later access for the public, but that it is not necessarily illegal to use a private account. If a private account is used, the work-related emails must be forwarded their work accounts for preservation.

A major issue in the 2016 campaign was Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server in her position as Secretary of State under President Obama. Clinton sent classified information using her unsecure private email system, which is illegal. 33,000 Clinton emails were never accounted for.

Gowdy and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent letters to Kushner and the other White House officials named in the report. The Associated Press reports that Kushner was specifically asked for a list all of the private email addresses used, a list of all official emails sent using the private accounts and for security information about the “home-brew” private email system used by Kushner and Ivanka Trump.  

White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “All White House personnel have been instructed to use official email to conduct all government-related work. They are further instructed that if they receive work-related communication on personal accounts, they should be forwarded to official email accounts.” Sanders said that use of private email accounts was “to my knowledge, very limited.”

Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s lawyer, told the AP that Kushner’s use of personal emails primarily involved the forwarding of news articles and political commentary in the first months of the Administration. Lowell said that all work-related emails had been forwarded to the official account and “all have been preserved in any event.”

There was no indication from the White House or Mr. Lowell as to whether Kushner’s emails would be released to the public.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Administration Unveils Indefinite Travel Ban For 8 Countries

President Trump has issued a new Executive Order imposing a stricter travel ban on citizens of eight nations. The order was issued by the president on Sunday and revises the nations listed in the two Executive Orders that implemented the travel policy earlier this year.

The new Executive Order follows a review initiated by President Trump’s Executive Order of March 6, 2017. The review found that eight countries, Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen, had “’inadequate’ identity-management protocols, information-sharing practices, and risk factors” for screening entry into the United States and suspends the entry of most citizens of these countries on an indefinite basis beginning on Oct. 18. Precise guidelines under the new policy vary by country.

The original travel ban was set for 90 days for most citizens and 120 days for refugees. The current policy comes without an expiration date. A senior administration official told the Washington Post that the restrictions were “necessary and conditions-based, not time-based.”

The new list eliminates Sudan from the original travel ban due to its improved cooperation on national security and information sharing. It also adds the nations of Chad, North Korea and Venezuela.

Iraq was also listed in the original travel ban, but was dropped in the March 2017 version. The current Executive Order notes, “The Secretary of Homeland Security also assesses that Iraq did not meet the baseline, but that entry restrictions and limitations under a Presidential proclamation are not warranted,” adding that nationals of Iraq may “be subject to additional scrutiny to determine if they pose risks to the national security or public safety of the United States.”

Unlike Trump’s first travel ban, the new Executive Order contains a number of exceptions. These include legal permanent residents, dual citizens, diplomats, people admitted prior to Oct. 18, and people who have been granted asylum. There is also a provision for waivers to be granted on a case-by-case basis.

Critics of the restrictions on immigration have argued that the policy is an unconstitutional implementation of the “Muslim ban” that Donald Trump proposed during the campaign. The Supreme Court upheld most elements of the prior version of the travel ban in June. The Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments on the previous policy on Oct. 10. At this point, it is uncertain whether the new policy will affect the case currently before the Court.

“The restrictions either previously or now were never, ever, ever based on race, religion or creed,’’ one senior administration official told the Washington Post. “Those governments are simply not compliant with our basic security requirements.”

Alex Nowrasteh at the Cato Institute says that the policy will be expensive and ineffective, noting, “From 1975 through the end of 2015, zero Americans have been killed by foreign-born terrorists on U.S. soil who hail from any of the eight countries on the new executive order.” Nowrasteh adds, “Only nine terrorists from those countries have carried out an attack or actually been convicted of planning an attack on U.S. soil during that time.”

“Due to the high guaranteed cost of Executive Orders like these and the small potential security benefits, the administration should supply an excellent reason for this order along with sufficient evidence to demonstrate their claim,” Nowrasteh says. “It speaks volumes that they have not done so.”

The new Executive Order will undoubtedly face legal challenges, but the previous travel bans have survived judicial scrutiny largely intact. If the Supreme Court keeps its Oct. 10 date to hear the current travel ban case, the new immigration policy could be enacted more swiftly than its predecessors. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, September 25, 2017

After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico Needs Your Help To Survive

Often a story of little consequence can grab the imagination and attention of the nation while a much bigger story passes by without notice. That’s the case right now as the NFL protests block out almost everything else including the admission by the Trump Administration that 21 states were targeted by hackers during last year’s election, the president’s new expanded travel ban and, most sadly, the devastating effect that Hurricane Maria had on the islands of the Caribbean, particularly Puerto Rico.

Maybe it’s hurricane fatigue. Maybe it’s the fact that most of us don’t really think of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as a part of the United States. Maybe it’s just that the NFL is right in our living rooms while the people of Puerto Rico are a thousand miles away in the middle of the Caribbean.

Part of the problem may be the difficulty in reporting news from an island where the power grid has been knocked completely offline and may not be operational for six months. Think about that. An island of 3.6 million people, a territory of the United States, has been effectively moved back 100 years in time.

No electrical power in a tropical climate means no air conditioning and no refrigeration for food. Medical care is difficult without lights and power for medical equipment. The category four storm killed 30 people in the Caribbean, but many more may die in the aftermath of the storm from lack of food, water and medical care.

Without electric power, the island’s manufacturing and tourism sectors of the economy will also crash to a standstill. With factories idle and resorts closed, most of the island’s inhabitants will have no way to support themselves and their families.

The bottom line is that Puerto Rico and the other islands damaged by Hurricane Maria are going to need lots of help for a long time. With FEMA funds almost exhausted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the burden is going to fall on private charities funded by donations from companies and individuals like you and me.

If you are uncertain about what to donate or what charities are worthy of your donation, the FEMA website publishes guidelines for donations and the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) has an online form that helps to steer your donation to vetted organizations. NBC’s Chuck Todd has also identified several organizations that are top rated for their work in Puerto Rico.  

FEMA recommends that you donate cash rather than supplies. My experience volunteering at a shelter in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey confirms that money is easier to deal with than supplies. Cash can purchase exactly what is needed at the time while donations of supplies may or may not contain what is needed at the time. (I think back to an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati in which the station donated 3,000 blonde wigs to Guatemalan earthquake victims.) Supplies must be inventoried, sorted, stockpiled and shipped. That takes manpower, time and money.

Donations of supplies that aren’t needed right away incur costs for storage and take up space. Since the affected areas are islands, virtually everything needed to sustain the people who live there for the next six months will have to be brought in on ships or airplanes. It is much more efficient to purchase large quantities of relief supplies that are ready for shipment than to bundle donations together in a piecemeal fashion.

NVOAD also has a contact form for volunteers who would like to go to one of the areas affected by the hurricanes to help personally. With FEMA and other relief organizations stretched thin by three disasters in quick succession, additional volunteers will be badly needed.

Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands will be dependent on outside aid for survival for a very long time. The chain of disasters is taxing the reserves of relief agencies as well as wearing out relief workers. The citizens of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands need your help.

It’s time to come together to help our fellow Americans on the US islands of the Caribbean. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Trump Administration Says 21 States Were Targets of Election Hacking

On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security notified 21 states that they were targets of hacking during the 2016 election. DHS did not identify the states publicly, but several states did confirm that they had been informed of the hacking by the federal government.

The Associated Press contacted every state election office regarding the hacking. States that confirmed that they had been targeted included Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

The notifications were a rare confirmation from the Trump Administration that the Russian attempts to interfere with the election were real. The notifications came on Friday, the day of the week typically reserved for announcements the Administration prefers to have overlooked.

Some state election officials and congressmen were critical of the Administration for its slow pace in sharing information about the cyberattacks. “It is completely unacceptable that it has taken DHS over a year to inform our office of Russian scanning of our systems, despite our repeated requests for information,” California’s Democrat Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. “The practice of withholding critical information from elections officials is a detriment to the security of our elections and our democracy.”

“We have to do better in the future,” said Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), a member of the Senate committee investigating Russia’s actions.

The DHS report did not specify the source of the hacking attempts, saying in a statement, “We are working with them to refine our processes for sharing this information while protecting the integrity of investigations and the confidentiality of system owners.”

Several state election officials did specifically name Russia as the culprit, however. Alaska Elections Division Director Josie Bahnke said that computers in Russia had looked for vulnerabilities in the state’s networks. A statement by the Wisconsin Election Commission referred to “Russian government cyber actors.”

In most cases, the state computer systems were not breached, but Illinois was an exception. A previous report indicated that hackers gained access to the Illinois voter registration computers and tried to alter or delete data.

A secret NSA document leaked to The Intercept by Reality Winner last June showed that the Russians had also targeted private companies that contract with state governments to provide software for electronic voting machines. Voting machines are typically not tied to computer networks, but could be vulnerable through software updates. The document said the GRU, Russian military intelligence, was responsible for the attacks.

So far, there is no evidence that any attempts to alter software or data was successful. “There remains no evidence that the Russians altered one vote or changed one registration,” Judd Choate, president of the U.S. National Association of State Election Directors, told Reuters.

Russia has denied any involvement in the cyberattacks on the US voting infrastructure.

Also on Friday, President Trump referred to the Russian hacking as a “hoax” in a tweet. Since the election, the president has had little to say about the Russian cyberattacks even though there is widespread agreement among intelligence agencies that the Putin government was directly involved.

Originally published on The Resurgent 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Trump Stands By 'Big Luther'

At a rally in Huntsville, Ala. last night, President Trump continued to strongly endorse incumbent Republican Senator Luther Strange. Strange, who is linked to a corruption scandal in Alabama, will face challenger Roy Moore in the Republican primary runoff next Tuesday.  

The president kicked off his speech with support for Senator Strange, who he said “will fight for your interests, defend your values and always put America first.” In a rambling speech, Trump said that he liked “Big Luther,” nicknamed for his height, for his loyalty, including a no-strings-attached commitment to vote for the Obamacare reform bill that Trump called the “coolest thing that has happened to me in six months.”

“The last thing I want to is be involved in a primary,” Trump said, adding that he wanted to repay Strange’s loyalty by helping him when he was down in the polls.

“I might have made a mistake,” Trump said of his endorsement. “If Luther doesn’t win, they’re not going to say we picked up 25 points in a very short period of time. They’re going to say, ‘Donald Trump, the president of the United States, was unable to pull his candidate across the [finish] line.’”

Trump said that Strange and challenger Roy Moore were “both good men.” The president said that if Moore won the primary, he would be “campaigning like hell for him,” but expressed doubts that Moore could win the general election.

Politico reports that polling in the race shows Moore with a slight lead in the race. Moore was the top finisher in the first round of polling in August, finishing six points ahead of Strange. The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Doug Jones in a general election on December 12.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, September 22, 2017

Drone Collides With Army Helicopter Over New York

It was bound to happen. With hundreds of thousands of drones flying in the United States, many with amateur operators, one of them was bound to hit a manned aircraft sooner or later. New York City’s ABC 7 and Fox 5 are reporting that today was the day.

The local news teams say that a US Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter was struck by a drone over Staten Island today. The helicopter, based out of Fort Bragg, N.C. was conducting security patrols for the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly when it collided with the drone at approximately 500 feet above the ground.

The drone was apparently shattered by the collision. Pieces of the drone damaged two rotor blades and the fuselage of the helicopter. A fragment of the drone was reportedly embedded in the helicopter’s oil cooler.

The Blackhawk pilot was able to safely land the helicopter after the collision. There were no reported injuries.

There have been a number of reported collisions between manned aircraft and drones, but this may be the first in the United States. A Youtube video purporting to show a drone strike the wingtip of a Southwest Airlines 737 in 2015 was revealed to be a hoax.

Under current FAA regulations, “model aircraft” under 55 pounds are exempt from federal registration if they meet certain requirements. These model aircraft are not supposed to be flown higher than 400 feet or in a manner that conflicts with manned aircraft.

The drone collision over New York seems to have inflicted minimal damage on the helicopter, but future incidents might well be worse. Popular Mechanics notes that, unlike the flock of seagulls that sent US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson in 2009, a drone is made of denser materials.

“Birds can disintegrate relatively get something like a very viscous bulk of fluid on the other side” said Javid Bayandor of the Crashworthiness for Aerospace Structures and Hybrids (CRASH) Lab at Virginia Tech. “A drone can be like a rock going through the engine.”

As drones get bigger and become more and more common, the danger they pose increases. A large drone that is ingested into an aircraft’s engine – or worse, hits the cockpit at a high closing speed – at low altitude could have disastrous consequences.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Trump Decides to Decertify Iran Deal

Donald Trump spent a great deal of time campaigning against Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Nine months into the Trump Administration, the rubber on the Iran deal is about to meet the road. President Trump must decide by Oct. 15 whether to certify to Congress that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the deal. Under US law, the president must certify Iran’s fulfillment of the deal to Congress every 90 days. Trump has made the certification twice, but there are indications that this time may be different.

The president told reporters on Wednesday that he had made up his mind about the deal, but declined to reveal his decision. Trump is keeping his cards close, telling reporters, “I’ll let you know what the decision is,” but without saying when he would do so. Politico reported that the president even declined to share his decision with British Prime Minister Teresa May.

NBC News reports that the president is leaning toward decertifying Iran’s compliance with the deal, citing four unnamed sources within the White House. The sources indicate that the president has resolved to change the “status quo.”

If the president decertifies Iran’s compliance with the deal, it would not necessarily mean that the entire deal would be scrapped. NBC’s sources indicate that the president would use the decertification to attempt to persuade the European partners to renegotiate the deal. At this point, Britain, France and Germany are strongly opposed to ending the deal.

There are other options if the president decertifies the deal as well. If the president decertifies the deal, then Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to impose sanctions on Iran. The president could also choose to withdraw from the deal entirely as Ambassador John Bolton has urged.

Trump’s position is awkward. The president has spoken out strongly against the treaty, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday, “Perhaps the technical aspects have (been met), but in the broader context the aspiration has not.” Tillerson said that reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency “continue to confirm that Iran is in technical compliance with the agreement.” A common complaint is the fact that Iran continues to test ballistic missiles, which are not covered under the agreement.

President Trump’s decision will be closely watched by North Korea, where the president is currently engaging Kim Jong Un in a tit-for-tat over the country’s missile tests. How the president handles the agreement with Iran will almost certainly impact the resolution of the North Korean problem.

Whatever direction Trump is leaning now, nothing is certain until a formal announcement is made. Last spring, the president reportedly changed his mind on withdrawing from NAFTA at the last minute. More recently, the president’s commitment to withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty and his hardline immigration policy have been called into question as well.

Time will tell how strong President Trump’s resolve to confront Iran is and which faction of White House advisors have his ear. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Claims Of Obama-Era Domestic Spying Are Overblown

As a conservative, it pains me to be perceived as defending Barack Obama. I was a strong and consistent opponent of Obama during his eight years in the White House and rarely, if ever, agreed with him on anything. Yet at times, the criticism and attacks on Obama went too far and I feel obliged to speak up. Such was the case when conservatives charged, against all evidence, that Obama was actually a native Kenyan and that he planned to declare martial law in Texas. It’s the case now with charges of rampant spying on political opponents by the Obama Administration. Objectively speaking, the evidence to support these claims is simply not there.

Such is the case with the recent op-ed by Sharyl Attkisson in The Hill. As with many on the right, Attkisson assumes recent revelations of the surveillance of Paul Manafort are really an attempt to spy on Donald Trump. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Like the others, Attkisson fails to mention that the surveillance started two years before Trump tapped Manafort to be his campaign manager. Attkisson also overlooks the fact that there were many valid reasons for Manafort to be under scrutiny after he closely worked with the party of Ukrainian dictator and Putin figurehead, Viktor Yanukovych.

If the CNN report on the monitoring of Manafort is to be believed, and Attkisson seems to think it does, Manafort was apparently not under surveillance while he was Trump’s campaign manager. The report states that the two FISA warrants that covered Manafort were active from 2014 through “some point” in 2016 and again through fall of 2016 to early 2017. This seems to exclude the period from March through August 2016 when Manafort worked for the Trump campaign and possibly the entire time that Trump has been president.

Other examples of surveillance of by Attkisson are similarly overblown and misinterpreted. She cites comments by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates that “they, too, reviewed communications of political figures, secretly collected under President Obama.” When examined, the testimony in question deals primarily with Michael Flynn, the national security advisor who was fired for lying about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn’s case falls under incidental surveillance in which the Russian diplomat, not Flynn himself, was the person under surveillance. Spying on foreign diplomats is a legitimate role of the intelligence community.

Likewise, Attkisson’s claim that the Obama Administration spied on Congress is misleading. The Wall Street Journal article on which her claim is based makes clear that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the surveillance target, not members of Congress. The article makes clear that the NSA did not intentionally monitor the congressmen, saying that the incidental collection of their conversations with the Netanyahu government led to an “Oh-s— moment” and very valid concerns that the Obama Administration was intentionally monitoring the legislative branch.

Attkisson also cites the example of Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.). In the 2012 article linked by Attkisson on, Harman was allegedly the subject of two NSA wiretaps in 2006 and 2009. Obama can obviously not be blamed for the first wiretap since George W. Bush was president in 2006. In any case, once again we see that the target of the surveillance was not Rep. Harman, but a suspected Israeli agent.

Attkisson’s example of Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is another example of a congressman being snared by contact from suspected foreign agents. In Kucinich’s case, the government recorded a call made to his congressional office by Saif el-Islam Qaddafi, at the time a high-ranking official in Libya’s government and a son of the country’s ruler, Moammar Qaddafi.

While the Obama Administration did spy on Fox News journalist, James Rosen, it appears that it did so legally. The Department of Justice obtained a warrant to search Rosen’s emails in connection with an investigation into leaked classified information, says the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Likewise, the cyber spying on the Associated Press was “legal, as far as I can tell,” CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said at the time. “The administration isn't violating the First Amendment. But they are certainly doing more than has ever been done before in pursuing the private information of journalists. And we'll see if there's any political check on them, because there doesn't appear to be any legal check on what they're doing.”

Attkisson’s claim that the Obama Administration spied on her is also unverified. The CBS News article describing the breach that Attkisson links to contains a disclaimer: “To be clear, the federal government has not been accused in the intrusion of Attkisson's computer; CBS News is continuing to work to identify the responsible party.”

Attkisson sued the Obama Administration over the hacking in 2015. The suit is ongoing and she says that the Trump Administration is continuing to defend the case in court. She fails to explain why the Trump Administration would defend illegal actions by the Obama Administration, especially if Donald Trump was also a victim of Obama’s illicit surveillance.

In her closing argument, Attkisson cites alarming statistics about the increase in surveillance under Obama. Nevertheless she fails to point out that, per her source, in 2016, when Obama had supposedly increased surveillance at an alarming pace, only 336 US citizens were targeted by FISA warrants. Likewise, the same memo that Attkisson cites as evidence that the “intelligence community secretly expanded its authority in 2011 so it can monitor innocent U.S. citizens like you and me” actually says that the NSA realized that “its compliance and oversight infrastructure… had not kept pace” and “undertook significant steps to address these issues….”

Additionally, the alarmists fail to acknowledge that the first request for a FISA warrant on Trump campaign staffers was rejected in June 2016. This rejection seems to indicate that at least some intelligence officials under Obama took domestic surveillance protections seriously.

Likewise ignored is a statement in The New York Times from April 2017. Citing an unnamed official, the Times reported with respect to surveillance of Carter Page, another Trump campaign official, “The Justice Department considered direct surveillance of anyone tied to a political campaign as a line it did not want to cross.” This may explain the break in surveillance of Paul Manafort as well.

While there is a lack of evidence of systemic abuse of surveillance by the Obama Administration, there are legitimate concerns. For example, how did the recording of Kucinich’s phone conversation find its way into the hands of reporters four years later? The leaks of Michael Flynn’s conversations to the media were illegal, the lies Flynn told about them to Vice President Pence notwithstanding. The leakers have never been publicly identified or punished.

The unmasking of American subjects of incidental surveillance by Obama Administration officials is also problematic. Susan Rice appears to have been cleared of wrongdoing by House investigators, but Samantha Power still needs to explain her actions.

Finally, the revelations that the CIA inappropriately accessed Senate computers in 2014 shows the need for strict third-party oversight. Nevertheless, the fact that the breach was disclosed at all is encouraging. A subsequent review found that the incident was the result of an error and not intelligence officers acting in bad faith. More protections for journalists from surveillance would be an appropriate reform as well.

The claims of rampant Obama-era spying reflect many of the hallmarks of a classic conspiracy theory. For instance, the dots must be connected between many disparate events and rational explanations have to be ignored. A conspiracy by the Obama Administration to spy on political opponents would mean that virtually everyone in a leadership role in the intelligence community would be complicit, yet few have been fired by President Trump. When he did fire James Comey, illicit spying on Americans was not one of the reasons given.

Originally published on The Resurgent
Occam’s Razor holds that the simplest explanation is most often correct. In the case of Obama’s domestic surveillance, the simplest explanation is that there was probable cause for monitoring in most cases. That includes the cases of Paul Manafort and Carter Page. In other cases, some Americans were caught up in incidental surveillance of legitimate surveillance targets. Michael Flynn fell into this category. Donald Trump may have as well. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Bill Cassidy Fires Back at Jimmy Kimmel

Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) has responded to Jimmy Kimmel’s charge that Cassidy “lied right to my face” about health care reform. On MCNBC’s “Morning Joe” and a separate CNN interview, Cassidy claimed that the Graham-Cassidy bill does meet the “Jimmy Kimmel test.”

“I'm sorry he does not understand," Cassidy said. “More people will have coverage and we protect those with pre-existing conditions.”

The Graham-Cassidy bill allows states to apply for waivers from Obamacare’s essential health benefits requirement. The bill would require that states exercising waivers to show that coverage would still be “adequate and affordable” for those with pre-existing conditions. Kimmel and other critics argue that this requirement is too weak and vague to offer protection.

“The counterargument will be pre-existing conditions will be up to the pricing of the particular state and market,” countered CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “So, the protection is not the same, senator, on that one point.”

“The protection is absolutely the same,” Cassidy answered. “There is a specific provision that says that if a state applies for a waiver, it must ensure that those with pre-existing conditions have affordable and adequate coverage.”

Cuomo argued that people with pre-existing conditions would pay more, based on a schedule of rates being circulated.

“I think the price will actually be lower,” Cassidy responded. “What is being circulated is by those that wish to preserve Obamacare and they’re doing everything they can to discredit the alternative.”

The Congressional Budget Office is currently scoring the bill, but because the budget resolution must be passed before the end of September, the analysis will be incomplete. “CBO will not be able to provide point estimates of the effects on the deficit, health insurance coverage, or premiums for at least several weeks,” the office said in a statement.

“There will be more people covered under this bill than under the status quo,” Cassidy claimed.

Originally published on The Resurgent

What the Surveillance of Paul Manafort Means

The big story these days is the breaking news that Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was under FBI surveillance. This has brought forth a flurry of claims that Trump was right about his charges of wiretapping, that the FBI only tracked Manafort to find out what Trump was doing and that Manafort was only guilty of talking to Russian diplomats.

The real story is that this news isn’t breaking news at all. The story broke during the campaign that there was an active FISA warrant for surveillance of members of the Trump campaign staff. A November 2016 article by Heat Street (which has since been acquired by MarketWatch) reported that a broad FISA warrant request in June 2016 included Donald Trump as a target. This request was denied, but a subsequent, more narrow request was granted in October.

This was confirmed by the BBC in a January 2017 article which described how the warrant was issued to investigate two Russian banks. The investigation stemmed from intelligence passed to the US by an unnamed Baltic nation in April 2016. The intelligence allegedly included a recorded conversation “about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.” The BBC article mentioned, but did not name, “three of Mr. Trump's associates were the subject of the inquiry.”

One of the three was Michael Flynn. Flynn was Trump’s first national security advisor. Flynn was fired early in the Trump Administration after it was revealed through leaked surveillance information that he had lied about conversations with the Russian ambassador. Flynn’s contacts with the Russians were apparently uncovered as an incidental target as the intelligence community monitored Russian diplomats. Flynn is still under investigation by both the Pentagon and Mueller’s task force.

In April 2017, the New York Times named a second target of the investigation. The report stated explicitly that Carter Page had been the target of a FISA warrant after he left the Trump campaign. “The Justice Department considered direct surveillance of anyone tied to a political campaign as a line it did not want to cross,” the report said, citing an unnamed official.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, was the third target of the investigation. Manafort had long had ties to the Putin government. He had worked as a consultant for the pro-Russian political party that controlled the Ukraine until it was toppled by a revolution in 2014. Manafort’s name was listed in the so-called “Black Ledger” that detailed secret payments by the Ukrainian ruling party. The ledger, which was discovered after the revolution, showed that Manafort received at least $1.2 million from the pro-Putin ruler of Ukraine per AP reports. Manafort was fired by Trump in August 2016 after the story of the Ukrainian payments broke.

The new story by CNN detailing Manafort’s surveillance says that Manafort was the subject of two FISA warrants. The first, centered on his work in the Ukraine, began in 2014 and “was discontinued at some point last year [2016] for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources.”

The dates for the second warrant are not known but it apparently began after “FBI interest deepened last fall because of intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves.” The warrant reportedly continued until early 2017. The dates suggest that Manafort was not monitored while he was an official part of the Trump campaign, although they do cover a period when he had discussions with President Trump. “It's unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance,” CNN notes.

Another report by the New York Times says that federal agents raided Manafort’s home in July 2017. Again, this was after his official role as a member of Donald Trump’s campaign staff was long over.

So was Donald Trump right when he claimed that Obama was “tapping” his phones? So far there is still no evidence of this. Surveillance of Trump’s associates is not the same as surveillance of Trump himself. This is especially true if the surveillance did not occur during the period when Trump’s associates were working on his campaign. This would also indicate that the surveillance was not to find out what the Trump campaign was up to.

Further, the surveillance of Paul Manafort was not the result of business-as-usual contacts with Russian diplomats. A FISA warrant was issued for Manafort because he was communicating with Russian agents. A FISA warrant is not proof of guilt, but it does require probable cause. The denial of the June 2016 warrant request is proof that warrants are not issued on a frivolous basis.

The investigation into Paul Manafort and the Russian interference in the 2016 campaign is not yet complete. In the weeks and months to come, we may learn exactly why Manafort was talking to the Russians and what was said. At this point, there is no smoking gun, but there are indications, such as the decision to threaten Manafort with indictment, that Special Counsel Mueller is building a strong case. Part of that case may be on incriminating evidence that resulted from surveillance under the FISA warrant.

Originally published on The Resurgent