Fallout from NSA revelations

Reaction and analysis from the 'Special Report' All-Stars


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," May 24, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


JOHN SOLOMON, CIRCA NEWS: For the first time we can say confidently that there's been a finding that some of the espionage, that spying on Americans, actually violated the law. So we've gone from something that at the beginning when Susan Rice first defended herself.

SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The allegation is that somehow the Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes. That's absolutely false.

SOLOMON: To now, yes, we violated those rules. And they disclosed that just days before Trump was elected president.

SEN. RAND PAUL, R-KY.: This is an amazing abuse of power, and it dwarfs any of the other sort of made up stuff that we are looking into now.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: This is a big story. Declassified documents first obtained by the news outlet Circa show the FISA court sharply rebuking the Obama administration for essentially doing what was alleged, unmasking, at big, big numbers, thousands of Americans falling into this collection. And we are just getting the fallout from it today.

Let's bring in our panel: Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at RealClearPolitics, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Mollie, this has been focusing, swirling around on Capitol Hill, but to see the actual FISA court rebuke is pretty stunning.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: Yes, to learn that the Obama administration was routinely violating the privacy protections of Americans, violating their Fourth Amendment rights, is stunning. And God bless John Solomon and Sara Carter for digging into this because we have an entire media complex that supposedly cares about democracy dying in darkness, and yet when this ruling came out they accepted the anodyne statements from intelligence agencies that the big news is just they were going to stop doing some email collection program that they'd been doing.

And these are the types of stories that need to be dug into aggressively by many reporters to find out more about precisely what these violations were, who was impacted by them, and what is being done to truly correct it, because this was also the kind of thing they had previously been warned about and they didn't fix it. They didn't change the oversight, and that is something that can't continue into this administration.

BAIER: This comes as there is a renewal of the ability to do this, and this is a big debate now on Capitol Hill.

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, it has to become a bigger debate, I think, off of Capitol Hill because there are two sides to metadata collection and what the NSA does. A lot of people think it's necessary to keep us safe. I don't know if the -- three times the amount of collection, and I don't know that that many numbers were all for political purposes, but the point is what is so glaring about the FISA opinion is it actually says that they never actually adopted the compliance mechanisms that they were required to in 2011. So they were pretending they were complying, but they didn't put a system in place for the oversight that was required of them. How can that happen?

So this has to be scrutinized by everyone on both sides of that debate, whether we need more collection or we need less.

BAIER: But it falls into the current investigations as well in this context. The end of the Obama administration exponentially increased this unmasking, if you will, and the FISA judges blasting the NSA's institutional lack of candor, adding "This is a very serious Fourth Amendment issue," and clearly in these documents they are frustrated. They are losing patience.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: And I think it will cause there to be new institutional safeguards. I think the debate over whether or not to have the metadata is sort of over. We had it. We have this tremendous capacity to scoop up the data and to analyze it. The problem is the power it gives people who scoop it up and the oversight.

Clearly what we have is a defiance of the courts. I'm worried this is going to get caught up with pure partisanship, but it looks as if it was abused by the Obama administration. What I think we ought to be thinking about is how do you institute new mechanisms that will be adhered to and oversight perhaps from the Congress but also from the courts so that it's not abused in the future. I am just worried that we're going to be obsessed with who did what to whom when, looking to find scapegoats, and to retroactively put the Obama administration on trial. There are probably abuses that ought to be exposed and people punished, but that's not the major issue. The major issue, we are in the new age. We have new capacities. How do you harness it?

BAIER: But if there is evidence of a political element to this, it changes the dynamic of what we've been covering.

HEMINGWAY: It certainly would. But I do think it is important to think of this as -- one of the things that came out was that the CIA was responsible for most of the violations. Well, that happened also in the '70s when it came out that the CIA was spying on Americans. We had Church Commission hearings to make sure that we were protecting the rights of Americans. And that does need to happen apart from the political story. Having said that, we did just came out of an administration that appears to have been engage in some type of political use of espionage, whether that was dealing with the negotiations on the Iran deal or something to do with the Trump administration. And we do need to get to the bottom of that, too. But these are two separate and important issues.

KRAUTHAMMER: The Church Commission is a good example of how, as Americans, we tend to overshoot. It had to be done. There had to be a corrective. There were tremendous abuses. But it is so overshot that according to people who were in the business for several decades, their ability to spy was very much diminished and we suffered as a consequence.

BAIER: The president overseas met today with Pope Francis.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much, and I won't forget what you said.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How was your meeting with the Pope?

TRUMP: Great. He is something. He is a really good. We had a fantastic meeting. We had a fantastic tour. It was really beautiful. We are liking Italy very much, the prime minister. But we're liking Italy very, very much, yes, and it was an honor to be with the Pope.


BAIER: "I won't forget what you said." Everyone is trying to figure out what he said. We don't know as of yet. But you look at these images from this trip so far, A.B., and you have the meeting with the Saudis, you have the stop in Israel and the Western Wall and the meeting with the Pope, three major religions, and the images of this trip so far. Your thoughts?

STODDARD: I think it's gone very well for the president, and I think it was very ambitious, high risk but high reward. Bad things could have happened, some stumbles, but they didn't. The planning was done in advance, which is really important. And a lot of people had a lot of doubts about what would be arranged in advance, what the front work would be, what they'd show up in Saudi Arabia with, how they'd pull it off. The speech was well-written there, and the other speeches. It really is interesting. He was dreading it and wanted to cut the trip back from nine days to five and he really seems in his element.

BAIER: You're saying he should go to 15?

STODDARD: I think he has really enjoyed the trip. I wouldn't be surprised if he sees it as a success and wants to stay away from the shores and take more trips just like it.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, I understand the theme, the three great religions, trying to tie them all together to make it look somewhat nonpolitical. But the real story is not the Vatican, it's not even the Israeli trip. It is the realignment of American policy over Iran, getting the 50 Sunni nations lined up with Saudi Arabia. This is a new day in the Middle East and it's going to have reverberations for many years. That's the story. It's a new Middle East right now. America is back. That's the story, and the consequences are going to be immense.

BAIER: Now he is heading to NATO. May be a different reception in Europe than perhaps he got in Israel and Saudi Arabia, but he is going to take this "pay your bill" message to NATO.

HEMINGWAY: Yes, one of the more interesting things that came out today was that Donald Trump is actually getting these nations to lay out exactly how they are going to get to their two percent commitment that they've already agreed to do. That is something that not only President Obama didn't get done but something that presidents going back to Reagan have tried to accomplish and have been unable to accomplish. So we are getting some indication that countries are taking it more seriously, and they should, because if they claim that Russian is such a big threat, they should actually align their budgets and their defense positions to match what they're claiming.

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