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Nov 18

Reality check: Sean Spicer frames ex-Obama official’s remarks as ‘devastating’ wiretap info

White House spokesman Sean Spicer cited “devastating” remarks by a former Obama administration official in a press conference on Friday.

The remarks by Dr. Evelyn Farkas, who worked in the Obama administration from 2012 to 2015, boosted Donald Trump‘s contention that the former president’s people were gathering intelligence on him, Spicer claimed.

There’s just one problem — Spicer didn’t cite Farkas’ words in their proper context.

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Farkas worked as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Russia from 2012 until October 2015.

She was interviewed by MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski on the Morning Joe program on March 2, one day after The New York Times reported that White House staffers had “rushed to preserve intelligence of Russian election hacking” in the Obama administration’s final days.

Among other things, they were trying to make sure that such interference didn’t happen in future, the Times reported.

READ MORE: Donald Trump says Michael Flynn should seek immunity for Russia probe testimony

Brzezinski asked Farkas to describe what officials were trying to achieve in that effort, and what her role was.

“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 that left,” Farkas said.

“So it would be hidden away in the bureaucracy.”

Former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense Evelyn Farkas is seen during a panel discussion during the Wroclaw Global Forum in Wroclaw, Poland, on June 2, 2016.

EPA/MACIEJ KULCZYNSKI POLAND OUT

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Spicer said those remarks raised “serious concerns on whether or not there was a widespread effort by the Obama administration to use and leak highly sensitive intelligence information for political purposes.”

The White House spokesman went on to say that, after Trump claimed on March 4 that Obama had his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower last year, National Security Council (NSC) staff had found “information that may support the questions raised by the president and Dr. Farkas’ claim.”

“These are serious issues — they raise serious concerns, and if true, the issues will be devastating,” Spicer said.

The New York Times, however, has different ideas about how devastating those claims are.

For one thing, Spicer distorted Farkas’ words, the newspaper said — Farkas wasn’t talking about wiretapping, she was referencing an effort to keep a record of possible Russian interference in the election.

Another problem with Spicer’s statement — Trump claimed Obama spied on him during last year’s presidential election. Farkas left her job in 2015.

And Farkas herself has denied she offered anything but advice in the effort to keep a record of alleged interference.

The Washington Post noted that Farkas’ remarks on MSNBC were featured on both Fox News and conservative radio just days before Spicer’s news conference.

They were reported in a way that made it look like the Obama administration was collecting intelligence on Trump staffers and their connections to Russia.

The Fox News headline read, “Former Obama official discloses rush to get intelligence on Trump team.”

READ MORE: White House helped Devin Nunes view intelligence on Trump surveillance: report

The Post noted, “If you’re inclined to believe that Trump was unfairly targeted by the Obama administration, you will read Farkas’ comments as Spicer does. If you are inclined not to, you may have a different interpretation.”

But the newspaper also concluded its analysis by saying that it’s likely Farkas’ words likely “didn’t have much to do with any of it.”