Four weeks after a TV appearance by a former Obama administration official, White House press secretary Sean Spicer has singled out the interview as evidence of an Obama administration conspiracy to undermine President Donald Trump’s new administration with damaging leaks.
Spicer brought up Evelyn Farkas, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia from 2012 until October 2015, twice during his daily press briefing Thursday — and even more extensively from the podium on Friday.
“On March 2nd, the day before the President’s tweet, comments by a senior administration official, foreign policy expert Dr. Evelyn Farkas, together with previous reports that had been out, raised serious concerns on whether or not there was an organized and widespread effort by the Obama administration to use and leak highly sensitive intelligence information for political purposes,” Spicer said Friday.
The “reports” Spicer referenced appeared to be a New York Times article that claimed former President Obama administration 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 Russian,” in the waning days of Obama’s presidency.
The “President’s tweet” is a reference to Trump’s March 4 accusation, which has yet to be supported by any evidence, that Obama illegally ordered the surveillance of Trump Tower.
The day after the New York Times’ report, on March 2, Farkas told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”: “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.”
She added later: “That’s why you have the leaking.”
Farkas did not describe Obama himself ordering the surveillance of anyone in the Trump team – as Trump claimed – but rather expressed her concern that members of the Trump administration would interfere with the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including the possible involvement of Trump affiliates themselves.
Farkas said she was fearful “that the Trump folks, if they found out how we knew what we knew about their, the staff, the Trump staff’s dealing with Russians, that they would try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we would no longer have access to that intelligence.”
But, she emphasized in a Twitter post Wednesday, she had no information of her own, and was merely in contact with her former colleagues at the White House.
— EvelynFarkas (@EvelynNFarkas) March 30, 2017
And though he stopped short of saying Farkas’ claims proved the President’s unsubstantiated claim that former President Obama unlawfully ordered the surveillance of Trump Tower, Spicer frequently mentioned Farkas and Trump’s wiretapping claim in the same breath.
After dodging a question about the process by which House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) obtained information that the congressman said showed Trump and his affiliates’ identities were incidentally included in the surveillance of foreign officials, for example, Spicer pivoted to Farkas.
“I can say that we’ve continued to say the substance of this matter and what continues to come to light in terms of Obama officials admitting either off the record or, frankly, on the record, consistent with what Dr. Farkas says, that there was clearly an attempt to do something politically motivated with the intelligence out there,” he said.
Later, CNN’s Jim Acosta asked if the White House had any proof of unlawful surveillance by the Obama administration of the Trump campaign or transition team.
Spicer did not. But, he said, “I think that the revelations of Evelyn Farkas, who played a senior role in the Obama administration, going on the record to talk about how they politically used classified information is troubling.”
Pointing to Farkas’ interview, and to an NBC News report Friday that Obama administration officials had compiled a list of important documents’ serial numbers to give to senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Spicer added: “More and more we are seeing that the substance of what we’ve been talking about continues to move exactly in the direction that the President spoke about in terms of surveillance that occurred.”
“And that should be very troubling,” he added. “That, frankly, should be something that everyone looks at and says ‘What’s going on here? Why did it happen? Who did it? And how are we going to get to the bottom of it?’ That’s what concerns me.”