The White House this week has repeatedly cited one-month-old comments made by former Obama administration official Evelyn Farkas as proof that Donald Trump was being improperly surveilled during the 2016 election and that the Obama administration worked to spread intelligence about Trump via leaks.
“[I]f you look at Obama’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense that is out there, Evelyn Farkas, she made it clear that it was their goal to spread this information around, that they went around and did this,” Sean Spicer said in a press conference this week. “…They have admitted on the record that this was their goal — to leak stuff. And they literally — she said on the record ‘Trump’s team.’ There are serious questions out there about what happened and why and who did it. And I think that’s really where our focus is in making sure that that information gets out.”
Spicer mentioned Evelyn Farkas again during his briefing on Friday, and on Thursday, Reince Priebus said that the White House would “look into” what Farkas has said.
“It certainly is an incredible comment, although I don’t want to add too much into it right now until I have an opportunity to sort of dig into it and figure out the scope of such a statement…” he said, according to Real Clear Politics. “It’s just an incredible statement, you know, and how, what it means and what she meant by that, and whether that has anything to do with the issues in regard to surveillance of Trump transition team members is something that we need to figure out this morning and throughout the day.”
Farkas has rejected the White House’s interpretation of her comments.
So who is Evelyn Farkas, exactly, and what did she say about Donald Trump that is drawing all of this attention? Here’s what you need to know.
1. She is the Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia
Evelyn Farkas worked as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia during the administration starting in 2010.
Prior to that, she was the executive director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, which was set up by Congress to assess the nation’s ability to prevent the proliferation of WMDs.
From 2001 to 2008, Farkas worked on the staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee. And in the late 1990s, Farkas worked in Bosnia as a human rights officer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
These days, Farkas frequently contributes commentary to publications like The Washington Post and Politico. In December, she wrote a piece for Politico called “What you need to know about Trump and Russia.”
“We are only beginning to process the fact that a foreign country interfered with American democratic elections,” she says in the article. “But when it comes to Russia and its relationship with Donald Trump, the election hacking may only be the tip of the iceberg. The American public doesn’t have access to the data the intelligence community – all 16 agencies combined — have on the Russian government, its banks and oligarchs, and their relationships with Donald Trump’s campaign, his business ventures, and the president-elect himself. That must change before January 20th. The information needs to be made public.”
Farkas is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
2. She Resigned from Her Position in 2015
Evelyn Farkas resigned from her position in the Obama administration in 2015.
Politico later reported that Farkas was urging the Obama administration to take a tougher stance on Russia. Farkas herself subsequently stated that she had advised the administration to provide “lethal, defensive assistance to Ukraine, primarily anti-tank weapons.”
Farkas also said, “We need more high-level attention being paid to the countries that feel directly threatened by Russia.”
In addition, she said that the United States has to do a better job of understanding what the Russian government’s interests are.
“They have, thus far, prioritized their security interests over their economic interests,” she said.
However, Farkas played down any suggestion that she was leaving the White House amid frustration or turmoil; she told Politico that it was a good time personally for her to leave and that she always felt her advice was listened to by her superiors.
3. She Has Said That Trump Must Be Independently Investigated
Evelyn Farkas has for the past few months been saying that President Donald Trump must be investigated for alleged ties to Russia.
In February, after the resignation of Michael Flynn, Farkas told Vox that she’s glad everyone is finally seeing what she was made aware of last summer.
“The reason I was so upset last summer was that I was getting winks and hints from inside that there was something really wrong here,” she said. “I was agitated because I knew the Clinton campaign and the world didn’t know. But I didn’t think it would happen this fast. I didn’t think Flynn would survive a year, but I thought it would be most of the year.”
She also said that Trump must be investigated, and Congress can’t be involved.
“Congress is so politicized,” she said. “For them to be in charge of an investigation is hard. So I think that what you’re going to see happen — unless the Republicans really have a come-to-Jesus moment where they decide they’ll lose in 2018 unless they pull themselves together and really investigate this in a bipartisan fashion — is Democrats and the American people will force it out of Congress and into a bipartisan, independent commission.”
4. She Said in Early March That She Urged Her Former Colleagues to Preserve Information About Russia’s Role in the 2016 Election
The interview with Evelyn Farkas that is now being cited by the Trump administration is from several weeks ago, before Donald Trump’s wiretapping claims.
In early March, Farakas said on MSNBC that she had urged her former colleagues to preserve intelligence about Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
She said, “I was urging my former colleagues, and, 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.”
Farkas went on to say that she feared that Trump’s team would “try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we no longer have access to that intelligence.”
This was not really a new revelation. That week, The New York Times had published a story called “Obama Administration Rushed to Preserve Intelligence of Russian Election Hacking,” and so Farkas was simply expanding on that idea.
Despite the title of that YouTube video above, nowhere in the MSNBC interview does Farkas say that the Obama administration was spying on Trump.
5. She Says the White House’s Characterization of Her Comments Is Not Accurate
Evelyn Farkas has since responded to the White House citing her comments, saying that their reading of what she said is not accurate.
Farkas told The Daily Caller that she did not have access to any intelligence on Trump.
“I had no intelligence whatsoever, I wasn’t in government anymore and didn’t have access to any,” she said. “…I didn’t know what the smoke or the fire was, but I was nervous that maybe the right people in Congress weren’t being informed according to normal procedures.”
She also told The Washington Post that she “didn’t give anybody anything except advice” and that she was not the source of any leaks, adding that she was “just watching like anybody else, like a regular spectator.”
On Twitter this week, Farkas said that the White House’s narrative here is “fake news.”