Clinton Watts is the flavor of the week in Washington. His bombshell testimony yesterday gave the nation a that "what did the president know and when did he know it" moment for this historic governmental crisis.
Watts was on Morning Joe this morning, and his comments here go even further than his testimony yesterday.
Asked by Mike Barnicle if there is potential collusion between Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign, Watts said yes.
WATTS: There's two ways to look at how Russian active measures get propelled, you know, amongst the Trump campaign: Is it coordination and synchronization? And at times we saw people say on Twitter "hey I've talked to Guccifer I've talked to WikiLeaks and they've got something coming out to me." That's collusion when I see that. The other part is opportunism, which is also strange. Why would you look to Russian propaganda to go against your American opponent? That's crazy, especially coming from a Republican candidate. Looking back to the Reagan era this is the party that was tough on the Soviet Union, tough on Russia, and we've got a candidate now president that's citing Russian propaganda to go after his opponents. So either scenario is
scary. I think collusions, you know, the worst case, obviously.
David Ignatius asked why the Obama administration didn't move more aggressively against this Russian interference. Watts indicated that this is a new thing in the US (though not in Europe) and that the focus of the FBI last year was on the hacking. But the purpose of the hacking is to create confusion and influence the campaign. "We have been so distracted on terrorism over the last three to five years with the ISIS threat that no one is looking at why do they really want to hack this information."
Joe Scarborough suggested that this wasn't such a complex operation from the Russians: "Most of this for the Russians is just dumb luck that they have stumbled onto a presidential candidate that was stupid enough to pick up their fake news. "
WATTS: It's exactly the point of Russian active measures. It's to sow confusion inside your enemy so they're fighting amongst themselves so that you can maneuver on them, and they've done that so well that we're doing it for them-- still three and four months later, and this? It wasn't really that. It's not that they launched that complex of an operation against us: no more complex and what they do in other Western countries. It's a duplicate system they use on their own populous which is to sow disinformation so that their own populace is confused, and it's very simple to do -- and they're essentially using us to do their work for them we're talking about it here. Today we've got Intel committee hearings, we've got the president versus the congress, we got the president versus the intel community. It's a home run for a year even if it settles out in six months.
Kasey Hunt asked what the media should be doing.
WATTS: I think the thing I would look for, if I was in the media's shoes, is just look at that Twitter feed that has "real Donald Trump" on it. If you look at the accounts, the outlet, these very small fringe outlets that are pushing conspiracies directly at the president, I think you're going to see where a lot of that influence comes from and it's not just the Russians. There are others trying to influence them as well but they know that they can get into his decision cycle with any conspiracy that he will bite on, so if they put out a conspiracy that is very personal to his ego such as the Trump Tower wiretapping claim, then you've got the potential that he'll fall for a conspiracy. We've seen it happen before.
MIKA BREZINSKI: Wow.
MIKE BARNICLE: The tentacles of this story are extraordinary and they're daily sometimes hourly -- and the latest being that three members of the NSC staff national security staff in the employment of the White House for maybe a month when this occurred go through some incidental intelligence that they end up handing over to congressman Devin Nunes. Incidental intelligence gathering. Was their task easy or did they have to really look through a lot of stuff to find what they found?
WATTS: I think it's bizarre if anything. Incidental collection happens in any sort of electronic surveillance. I've worked on wiretaps before when you go through you minimize that so that people that are innocent aren't you know discovered in it but if you're going
through looking for a political point which is 'I need to prove a claim that I've made already and I don't really know if it's true,' you can pull in all sorts of data. What we don't know is the context of this and if you're doing a good Intel committee hearing which I think the Senate is, in the House is less so, you're going to have intelligence professionals that have looked at all of this come to you and say 'this is what we're really focused on in the
investigation and the Intel analysis and this is what's really got merit to it.' And
incidental collection that doesn't have any merit is going to be pushed away we
just did the reverse of that we went and dug for a little nugget of gold to
justify a tweet somewhere and instead, we've totally bypassed a good bipartisan... process.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: All of this chaos -- we have to underline this fact -- all of this chaos including the trashing of our greatest allies -- to justify a tweet that everyone still says is a lie.