AG William Barr Doesn't Want The Government Spying On The President But Thinks It's OK If It Spies On Everyone Else

from the selective-deployment dept

Attorney General William Barr is against* domestic surveillance.

Attorney General William Barr on Friday continued to go to bat for President Donald Trump, reiterating his attempt to justify his investigation into the origins of the FBI investigation into Trump campaign’s ties to Russia ? including by claiming without evidence that U.S. government “spying” on Trump’s campaign was just as grave as Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“I think people have to find out what the government was doing during that period. If we’re worried about foreign influence, for the very same reason we should be worried about whether government officials abused their power and put their thumb on the scale,” he said in a Fox News interview airing Friday. “I’m not saying that happened, but I’m saying that we have to look at that.”

Let me restate that: William Barr is opposed to certain, very narrow subsets of domestic surveillance. Specifically, Barr doesn’t think the government should have spied on Trump and his campaign staff, if that’s what actually happened, which Barr doesn’t actually seem to know.

But if you’re literally anyone else, domestic surveillance is just another name for national security, whether you’re a random Verizon customer or one of the world’s most useful websites.

The Wikimedia Foundation sued the federal government over domestic surveillance back in 2015. The suit lives on four years later, thanks to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recognizing the Foundation had stated enough credible facts to be granted standing. The fight continues, with Barr’s DOJ reiterating its original point that there’s nothing wrong with spying on Americans when national security is on the line.

Wikimedia’s case could mark the first time a public court weighs in on the constitutionality of this decade-old spying operation. But in stark contrast to Barr’s public expressions of concern over the privacy of Americans, his Justice Department has thrown up a series of litigation roadblocks in an effort to prevent the court from ruling on the legality of this surveillance dragnet.

In fact, on Thursday, Justice Department lawyers argued that Wikimedia’s case should be dismissed outright. They contend that Wikimedia cannot prove with sufficient certainty that its communications are surveilled, and that it therefore lacks “standing” to sue.

We expect hypocrisy from those in the self-service business. Government officials are not expected to apply their ideals and beliefs consistently across the board. The DOJ itself, however, is completely ambivalent. It is more than willing to spy on both presidential candidates and everyone else in the country, even as it argues none of the millions of entities swept up in the NSA’s dragnets have standing to sue over violated rights.

Barr wants to dig into the federal government’s spying on Trump, but doesn’t want the public to dig into the government’s spying on everyone else. Tough, but unfair. But that’s how the government operates, and AG William Barr is no exception. To use the DOJ’s own argument, Barr’s seemingly baseless claims about spying on the Trump campaign shouldn’t be granted standing by the general public, much less the DOJ he wants to investigate itself.

*The DEA has run multiple bulk records collections for more than 20 years, given the green light by our current Attorney General, William Barr, who also ran the DOJ back in 1992.

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Comments on “AG William Barr Doesn't Want The Government Spying On The President But Thinks It's OK If It Spies On Everyone Else”

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Phillip (profile) says:

problem with devolving into teams

Politicians keep doing actions and making changes that they think are OK for their team but should not apply to others, completely ignoring reality and the hypocrisy of everything they’re doing and saying especially with video and audio you can play side by side saying the exact opposite based on who is impacted.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: problem with devolving into teams

I am afraid it is worse than that – it isn’t mere partisanship but a belief those in power should be held to a lesser standard instead of a greater one.

And it is sadly bipartisan – Chelsea Manning only got a late commutation for exposing misconduct while Patreaus got a pardon for sharing classified imformation with his biographer/mistress which has absolutely zero redeeming factors and would make him very vulnerable to a honey trap.

Anonymous Coward says:

What would be the alternative? Should we expect the Trump-appointed A.G. to personally intervene in this case and throw in the towel on an Obama-era lawsuit that the DOJ has already invested several years and substantial resources fighting? Are we supposed believe that each of the more than hundred thousand people employed by the DOJ are personally being supervised –along with having all their statements and filings approved– by a single short-term political appointee who is nominally in charge of this immense agency of careerists? Should we believe that government lawyers are nice, reasonable people rather than no-holds-barred pit fighters whose only objective is to win at all costs?

Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

It’s funny how the Trump supporters always forget that the government wasn’t monitoring communications from the Trump campaign at all. They were monitoring communications with a known Russian intelligence operative. The fact that they swept up Trump campaign communications was simply the result of the Trump campaign workers being in contact with known Russian intelligence operatives.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: via the programs we're aware of

Contingent claims such as this have been so epidemic, I’d assume that they’ve transferred surveillance to classified programs.

And lies are so prevalent, if they swore they weren’t monitoring communications, I’d assume they were outright lying, knowing that no one prosecutes for perjury anymore, except alleged enemies of state.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Monitoring all communications

Collecting for searches, yes.

Actively listening, no.

The system looks for key words and phrases that flag a given exchange for review. If it can’t be filtered out by a batch of rules, an NSA agent looks to make sure nothing super awful is going on.

And if they find your cheesecake photos they pass them around the office.

If there’s crime worth stopping, or terrorism, or a lot of money to seize, the NSA then passes it to a law enforcement agency (such as the FBI or ICE or a county sheriff) to take over the case and intervene. They’re told to launder their chain of evidence (parallel construction) to justify any warrants or probable-cause stops.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

the government wasn’t monitoring communications from the Trump campaign at all.

That’s not true. The original FISA warrant was for wiretapping campaign worker Carter Page, who turned out to be squeaky-clean in the end. The warrant was renewed multiple times, by multiple judges, and under law was only supposed to be renewed if evidence or "useful intelligence" was obtained under the previous warrant, which apparently none was.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Warrants signed without deliboration or cause

That happens in the United States all the time. If it were wrong, you’d think it wouldn’t have to be concerning a politician or high ranking official before someone decided it was.

And if it is decided the warrants to investigate the Trump campaign were illegal, I expect that won’t slow down the process of illegal warrants regarding the rest of us proles.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Rule of Law

It appears that Barr believes in our segregated caste system here in the US. Some of us are above the law (can act with impunity). Most of us are beneath the law (can be acted upon with impunity).

Which means he doesn’t believe in the rule of law.

So can the press and public of the US stop pretending that the rule of law is an essential value of the United States? At least until we have actually enforced the rule of law for, say, a century?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

How is it with all of the mass surveillance going on, they’ve never managed to offer any proof of these claims?
They scoop up everything, collect, tag, label it… it should take under an hour to dump something exposing the giant web.

Unless of course somehow they think the leadership deserves different laws… in which case we should demand they all be removed from office. Good enough for us, good enough for them… hell if they knew someone was listening they might have to work out new ways to sell their votes to the highest bidders.

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