If former President Barack Obama ordered or knew about names of incoming President Donald Trump's transition staff being unmasked after they were gathered during surveillance activities, that is a "big deal," Sen. Rand Paul said Tuesday.
"If the outgoing administration was actually, literally sifting through things, and if part of the administration said [it was] going to scatter and get as much information, scatter it out there publicly to try to harm the Trump administration, this was a witch hunt that began with the Obama administration," the Kentucky Republican told MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
Bloomberg's Eli Lake reported on Monday that according to officials familiar with the situation, lawyers at the White House discovered in March that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice had asked for the names of people captured during surveillance in several incidents in connection with Trump's transition and campaign.
Paul on Tuesday described the use of intelligence apparatus to attack Trump as "sour grapes on the way out the door."
The problem with "back door searches" has been going on for years, Paul said.
"For years, both progressives and libertarians complained about the back door searches," said Paul. "It's not that we are searching maybe one foreign leader who they talked to, but we search everything in the whole world."
For example, it was reported years ago that all of Italy's phone calls were absorbed during a one-month period of time, said Paul.
"We were getting [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel's phone calls, everybody's phone calls, and by rebound, we collect Americans' phone calls," said Paul.
In an "old-fashioned way," a warrant is needed to listen to what is gathered during such surveillance, said Paul, but if a secret warrant is issued, that is different.
"A secret warrant by a secret court with a lower standard level because we're afraid of terrorism is one thing for foreigners," said Paul, noting that he and progressives have been warning for years that back-door searches could be politicized.
"[Susan Rice] should be under subpoena," said Paul. "Did President Obama know about this? This is similar for political reasons."
Civil libertarians have had concerns for years about federal spying programs, Paul continued.
"The objections that civil libertarians had to the program is that you lowered the standard," said the senator. "We'll spy on foreigners at the drop of a hat. We have no standard of the Fourth Amendment at all, and some of that I can agree to, but by rebound, we're collecting millions of conversations of Americans that should be protected by the Fourth Amendment."
It's "simply a mistake to downgrade" the surveillance that captured Trump's associates and call it "incidental; it's no big deal," said Paul.
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