Former Obama Official Stumbles While Trying to Backtrack After Implying Intel Leaks

On CNBC’s Squawk Box on March 30, a former senior Obama administration official tried to take back her earlier admission that the former administration tried to “get as much information” as possible on Trump and his associates before the transition of power – but she only dug herself in deeper.

Evelyn Farkas used to be the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia under President Obama. Now, like former Press Secretary Josh Earnest, she’s made the move over to NBC News as a National Security Analyst. Claiming that her previous statements had been misunderstood, Farkas insisted to the Squawk Box panel that she was only explaining “why people might be motivated to do that.” Later she seemed to imply that the Trump administration would threaten intelligence sources when she said “people could get hurt, if people were giving us information.”

On March 2’s Morning Joe, Farkas dropped this bombshell: “I was urging my former colleagues and, frankly speaking, the people on the Hill, it was more actually aimed at telling the Hill people, get as much information as you can, get as much intelligence as you can, before President Obama leaves the administration. Because I had a fear that somehow that information would disappear with the senior people who left. So, it would be hidden away in the bureacracy, that the Trump folks, if they found out how we knew what we knew about their -- the staff, the Trump staff's dealing with Russians, that they would try to compromise those sources and methods."

So far, none of NBC’s news shows have mentioned this comment, even though it first aired on its sister network and NBC (like ABC and CBS) has been obsessed with Trump’s “wiretap” comments.

This morning, when CNBC’s Squawk Box Host Andrew Ross Sorkin confronted his new colleague about her statement, asking her to clarify, she seemed flustered. “I simply was referring, because we were a conversation about concern in Washington about what was going on, with regard to Russian actions and potential American involvement. And so, I was urging my former colleagues, I worked on the Hill in the Senate, years ago, to make sure that they were reaching out to the White House to get all the information they could. Because, I was afraid that somehow there might be a cover-up if there was something behind the allegations.”

Co-host Joe Kernen pressed her further, “I mean you actually said that ‘I knew that there was more. I became very worried because not enough was coming out into the open, and I knew that there was more.’ And then, you actually said that that’s why you have all the leaking, to make sure we get it out.  I mean, people are accusing you, Evelyn, of admitting that was surveillance, admitting that there was unmasking, and urging people, or, at least, saying that intelligence leaking, which could be a felony, is the way that it should get out. And you weren’t even part of the government at that point.”

Farkas doubled down and denied everything, “No, so, I was referring to the motivation. Because there had been a lot of discussion, in the media about why are people leaking. And, so I was trying to, but in a very short-hand fashion, explain, at the very end of that quote, that people were leaking because they were afraid of a cover-up. I do not, absolutely do not condone leaking. You know – it’s against the law. What I was doing was explaining, though, was why people might be motivated to do that.”

Sorkin followed up, “But just clarify, and just to put a fine point on it, and then we’re going to move on, when you said ‘if they found out how we know what we knew,’ that wasn’t a reference to the idea that you know that there was surveillance going on?”

Farkas continued to deny everything: “No! No. It’s sources and methods. It could be people. And people could get hurt, if people were giving us information.”

A partial transcript follows:

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ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: There’s been a bit of commotion and questions around a comment that you made, relating to all of this, on Morning Joe recently. And I wanted you to try to help clarify and explain it to us. And, I don’t know if I can find the quote here and put it up on the screen. But there was a time when you said, related to getting this information out, you said that you had a fear that somehow that information would disappear, this is in terms of why it may have leaked, the senior Obama people who left. ‘So it would be hidden away in the bureaucracy…that the Trump folks if they found out how we knew what we know about their…the Trump staff dealing with the Russians…that they would try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we no longer have access to that intelligence.’ Sean Hannity and others have made a big issue of this, and I wanted you just to explain what you meant by that, and in particular when you talked about when they found out how we knew. What do you mean by ‘how we knew’?

EVELYN FARKAS: Well, what I was getting at was the fact that we were having now a transition of power from the Obama administration to the Trump administration. And if indeed there was an investigation ongoing, if indeed there was information that the Obama administration had about Russian interference, and possible American involvement, I wanted to make sure that Congress knew about it. That Congress had all that information. So, I simply was referring, because we were a conversation about concern in Washington about what was going on, with regard to Russian actions and potential American involvement. And so, I was urging my former colleagues, I worked on the Hill in the Senate, years ago, to make sure that they were reaching out to the White House to get all the information they could. Because, I was afraid that somehow there might be a cover-up if there was something behind the allegations.

JOE KERNEN: I mean, you actually said that “I knew that there was more. I became very worried because not enough was coming out into the open, and I knew that there was more.” And then, you actually said that that’s why you have all the leaking, to make sure we get it out.  I mean, people are accusing you, Evelyn, of admitting that was surveillance, admitting that there was unmasking, and urging people, or, at least, saying that intelligence leaking, which could be a felony, is the way that it should get out. And you weren’t even part of the government at that point.

EVELYN FARKAS: No, so, I was referring to the motivation. Because there had been a lot of discussion, in the media about why are people leaking. And, so I was trying to, but in a very short-hand fashion, explain, at the very end of that quote, that people were leaking because they were afraid of a cover-up. I do not, absolutely do not condone leaking. You know – it’s against the law. What I was doing was explaining, though, was why people might be motivated to do that. And I did not have any insider information myself, but I knew, based on what was coming out in the press, from these leaks and from official sources, the newspapers were quoting people, that my government probably has a pretty good sense of what the Russians did, because we have good – we have good intelligence on Russia.

SORKIN: But just clarify, and just to put a fine point on it, and then we’re going to move on, when you said ‘if they found out how we know what we knew,’ that wasn’t a reference to the idea that you know that there was surveillance going on.

FARKAS: No! No. It’s sources and methods. It could be people. And people could get hurt, if people were giving us information.

KERNEN: And there wasn’t a great deal of coordination between people that were still in the State Department and the Clinton campaign, where there’s information sharing about what the intelligence community was finding out with the Clinton campaign, which – you would have been the conduit?

FARKAS: No. I can’t speak to what the Clinton campaign knew, and what the White House – my sense is that there was really a firewall between the administration and the Clinton campaign. And, in part, I think, meant that the Clinton campaign was really blindsided by the Russia threat. 


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