Well, if I thought I’d have a quiet Saturday in terms of the blog, I was sadly mistaken.
But it’s not about me. It’s most definitely not about me.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump said.
“Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!” the president added in another tweet. “I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”
The Trump we knew during the campaign made a host of wild allegations against his opponents. That was one of the things about him that dismayed me. I like a fighter as much as the next person, and a hard-hitting one at that, but trying to somehow tie Ted Cruz’s father to the Kennedy assassination was so far beyond the pale that it should have worried even Trump’s most fervent supporters.
We often say that the Democrats have cried wolf on Trump so many times that they’ve lost all credibility. But Trump was a champion wolf-crier as well, especially during the campaign.
That does not mean he’s making up a story here. It does not mean he’s gone of the deep end and is swimming in the waters of paranoia. But what it does mean is that his opponents are going to spin it that way, and that the wildness of some of Trump’s prior accusations have made the spin more plausible.
So of course we get articles such as this one in the WaPo by Chris Cillizza, headlined, “Donald Trump was a conspiracy-theory candidate. Now he’s on the edge of being a conspiracy-theory president.” Other articles lean heavily on the idea that Trump offered no proof of these recent allegations.
But this was a tweet by Trump, for goodness sake, not a court pleading. Then again, launching such a serious accusation in a tweet is both pure Trump and feeds into the idea that he is reckless. I think it’s pretty clear that if a president is going to make an accusation of that sort against a former president, he’d better have his ducks in a row before he does, and make it in a forum other than Twitter. But that’s most definitely not Trump’s style.
It didn’t take long for people in the know to figure out what Trump was talking about. My go-to guy for this sort of thing is Andrew C. McCarthy at National Review:
To rehearse briefly, in the weeks prior to June 2016, the FBI did a preliminary investigation, apparently based on concerns about a server at Trump Tower that allegedly had some connection to Russian financial institutions. Even if there were such a connection, it is not a crime to do business with Russian banks — lots of Americans do. It should come as no surprise, then, that the FBI found no impropriety and did not proceed with a criminal investigation.
What is surprising, though, is that the case was not closed down.
Instead, the Obama Justice Department decided to pursue the matter as a national-security investigation under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In June, it sought the FISA court’s permission to conduct surveillance on a number of Trump associates — and perhaps even Trump himself. It has been reported that Trump was “named” in the application, but it is not publicly known whether he (a) was named as a proposed wiretap target, or (b) was just mentioned in passing in the application.
Understand the significance of this: Only the Justice Department litigates before the FISA court; this was not some rogue investigators; this was a high level of Obama’s Justice Department — the same institution that, at that very moment, was whitewashing the Clinton e-mail scandal. And when Justice seeks FISA surveillance authority, it is essentially telling that court that there is probable cause to believe that the targets have acted as agents of a foreign power — that’s the only basis for getting a FISA warrant.
In this instance, the FISA court apparently found the Obama Justice Department’s presentation to be so weak that it refused to authorize the surveillance. That is telling, because the FISA court is generally very accommodating of government surveillance requests. Unwilling to take no for an answer, the Obama Justice Department came back to the FISA court in October — i.e., in the stretch run of the presidential campaign. According to various reports (and mind you, FISA applications are classified, so the leaks are illegal), the October application was much narrower than the earlier one and did not mention Donald Trump. The FISA Court granted this application, and for all we know the investigation is continuing.
So if you go back and look at those Trump tweets I quoted above, they clearly refer to this exact set of circumstances, although a person has to be aware of the circumstances before that person could make the connection. Getting back to Cillizza’s piece, we see that Cillizza makes a reference to the Breitbart and Mark Levin stories about this, so he’s obviously familiar with that story (and he even quotes them). But his analysis of their charges is limited to the following: “The problem here, of course, is that what Levin — and Breitbart — use as evidence for these claims are a series of seemingly unconnected events — from FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court requests to Trump joking about the Russia email hack…”
Cillizza and his fellow reporters don’t seem to want the public connecting any dots on this, although they certainly want the public to connect other dots in certain other stories they push that imply that Trump is some sort of Russian tool.
The oddest thing of all might be this tweet by Jon Favreau, who was one of Obama’s speechwriters:
I’d be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. [Obama’s] Statement just said that neither he nor the WH ordered it.
Well, of course Obama didn’t do so personally. And it’s certainly possible that the Obama DOJ did this all on its lonesome. It hardly strains credulity, however, to think that Obama was behind the push, although I strongly doubt he left his fingerprints on it.
I would have much preferred that Trump had written “Obama’s DOJ” in those tweets rather than Obama himself. These accusations are very explosive stuff, as Trump no doubt intended. One of the many interesting things about what’s happening today is that it seems to be based on information that was already known, although Trump refers to it as something he “just found out.” I don’t know whether that means there really is some new information, or whether he really didn’t know till now (which I doubt), or whether it’s hyperbole on his part.
One thing that does occur to me is that it’s a way to not only get the heat off Sessions, but to show the opposition that if you want to play the innuendo game, then two can play at this game.