Conservative foundation Judicial Watch is planning to sue several government agencies if they do not hand over records related to the wiretapping of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The group filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the records weeks ago but are planning to sue by next week for the records if they do not receive anything by then.
Judicial Watch filed the requests with the FBI, NSA, CIA, and Treasury Department, according to the group’s Director of Investigations and Research Chris Farrell.
The group is aiming to find out whether there was ever a warrant allowing the U.S. government to wiretap Flynn’s phone calls, and if so, who requested it and why.
“If you have a warrant, attached to the warrant 99 percent of the time, there is an affidavit, a sworn declaration normally by a law enforcement officer or senior official,” said Farrell.
Such a warrant could be classified, depending on the case, he said.
A wiretapped phone call between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was leaked to the Washington Post and revealed in a Feb. 9 story.
The leak, which took place in December, contradicted public assertions by Vice President Michael Pence that Flynn had never discussed sanctions with Kislyak, and led to Flynn’s eventual resignation on Monday.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) highlighted this week that such wiretapping would only be legal if intelligence agencies obtained a warrant or happened upon the conversation while investigating a foreign official.
Nunes speculated that “it’s pretty clear” that there was no warrant.
“It’s pretty clear that’s not the case,” he said. “I’m pretty sure the FBI didn’t have a warrant on Michael Flynn … To listen to an American’s phone call you would have to go to a court, there’d be all that paperwork there. So I’m guessing that doesn’t exist.”
Nunes said even if it was inadvertent, there is a process that masks the American’s identity.
“And if you were going to unmask it, it seems like you would immediately go get a warrant,” he said.
Farrell, a former Army counterintelligence officer and adjunct professor at George Mason University, said that a warrant would only be requested or granted if the agents in question suspected Flynn of criminal activity.
The Trump administration has denied that Flynn broke any law.
Both Nunes and Farrell said the leaking of the phone call is illegal and harmful to national security.
Farrell said the contents of the call would be considered “raw intelligence,” typically handled in a SCIF, or a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility — an enclosed area in a building used to process types of classified information.
All activity and conversation inside a SCIF is restricted from public disclosure.
“It seems that certain government officials were either reading that out loud to a reporter or giving them copies of it” Farrell said.
“That they’re conveying that information to reporters in order to embarrass or smear General Flynn or people in the Trump administration is treasonous,” he said. “It’s a crime … it’s a national security crime. The FBI should presently be hunting down the likely suspects.”
Farrell also said the leak compromised “COMINT,” or communications intelligence, a subset of “SIGINT,” or signals intelligence.
“It appears that these various officials that are reportedly so concerned about national security that they are recklessly making COMINT disclosures,” he said. “They are compromising sources, intelligence, and methods.”
“The irony is rich,” he said.
Democratic lawmakers and officials in the Obama administration blame Russia for hacking into servers belonging to the Democratic National Committee and top Hillary Clinton aide John Podesta and leaking them to Wikileaks.
The hacks prompted intelligence investigations, which concluded that Russia was responsible. Trump dismissed suggestions that Russia’s involvement helped him win, and criticized the intelligence community, setting up a contentious relationship that has continued throughout his first weeks in office.
Farrell said he believes “embedded political operatives within the various agencies and departments” are likely responsible for the leaked Flynn call.
“You’ve got political appointees who converted to civil service slots,” he said. “There’s a legion of Sally Yates out there…at lower levels or at different departments and agencies who are either overtly or subversively attempting to undermine not just Gen. Flynn and aiming at President Trump.”
“It’s an incremental attack. They will try to pick off one by one people close to the president. I refer to this as really as a soft coup,” he said.