President Trump leveled an unproven allegation this weekend that former President Barack Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower a month before the election.
News outlets are lamenting the lack of proof, with some pundits asserting Mr. Trump made up the entire affair as a way to vent his anger about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from any ongoing Russian investigations.
Most journalists are just dismissing the allegations as a lie.
There are many reasons to question Mr. Trump’s charges, but still, there are many reasons to take them seriously. Below is a list of why some Republicans are wary at the Democratic response so far, and why Mr. Trump may have a point.
1. Wiretapping was essential in retrieving the conversations of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador, which led to Gen. Flynn’s resignation as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser.
According to The New York Times: “Mr. Flynn, who served in the job for less than a month, said he had given ‘incomplete information’ regarding a telephone call he had with the [Russian] ambassador in late December about American sanctions against Russia, weeks before President Trump’s inauguration.”
How was it discovered that Mr. Flynn gave this “incomplete information?” Because either a transcript or actual recording of the call were overheard by FBI officials and leaked to reporters.
It’s unclear whether the FBI — which uses Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants to eavesdrop — had tapped the Russian Ambassador’s phone or Mr. Flynn’s. This is because …
2. On Oct. 15, 2016, the BBC reported that the U.S. secret intelligence court issued a warrant to investigate two Russian banks in conjunction with the Trump Organization.
The BBC report was corroborated by Heat Street, which reported the “FBI sought, and was granted, a FISA court warrant in October, giving counter-intelligence permission to examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.”
However, The New York Times and The Washington Post — along with other mainstream outlets — haven’t been able to confirm. But they’ve gotten close.
According to The New York Times: “In the fall, the FBI examined computer data showing an odd stream of activity between a Trump Organization server and Alfa Bank, one of Russia’s biggest banks, whose owners have long-standing ties to Mr. [Vladimir] Putin. While some FBI officials initially believed that the computer activity indicated an encrypted channel between Moscow and New York, the bureau ultimately moved away from that view. The activity remains unexplained.”
There is no confirmed evidence — other than the BBC and Heat Street reports — that the FBI got a court warrant to get a wiretap on the Trump Organization or to target specific individuals within Mr. Trump’s campaign, like Mr. Flynn.
But no confirmed evidence, doesn’t mean it’s not out there, just waiting to be exposed by more mainstream outlets.
3. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has lied about U.S. surveillance and wiretapping under oath.
Mr. Clapper offered a full-throated denial of any wiretapping on Trump Tower on Sunday. However, he also denied, under oath and in front of Congress, the scope of the National Security Agency’s surveillance of the American people.
In an exchange with Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden in March 2013, Mr. Clapper was asked — in a yes-or-no question — “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
His response: “No, sir.”
Mr. Wyden pushed — “It does not?”
Mr. Clapper responded: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.”
In June, NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s dump of information revealed the government was in fact doing just that. Later, when asked what triggered Mr. Snowden into releasing the information, he responded it was Mr. Clapper’s 2013 testimony, where he “directly lie[d] under oath to Congress … seeing that really meant for me there was no going back.”
If he lied back then, why couldn’t he be lying today?
3. Mr. Obama issued a carefully worded non-denial.
Mr. Obama’s statement just said that neither he or the White House ordered the wiretapping — not that Mr. Trump’s organization wasn’t tapped.
Here’s Mr. Obama’s statement: “A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”
David French, at the National Review, pointed out three ways that this non-denial was disingenuous. First, it’s technically the FISA court that orders such surveillance, along with the Justice Department (not Mr. Obama or the White House). The real question is whether Mr. Obama sought such authorization.
Secondly, Mr. Obama has ordered surveillance against American citizens. Mr. French argues, “The notion that Obama would never have an American subject to surveillance is absurd.” He cites drone strikes overseas.
Lastly, FISA national security investigations are different than criminal investigations, in that they’re covert and require a presidential sign-off.
As Mr. French notes: “One of the points in FISA proceedings’ being classified is that they remain secret – the idea is not to prejudice an American citizen with publication of the fact that he has been subjected to surveillance even though he is not alleged to have engaged in criminal wrongdoing.”
4. Mr. Obama expanded NSA’s powers in the days before leaving office.
Mr. Obama, in his final days, allowed the NSA to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s other 16 intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections, The New York Times reported.
“The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws,” The Times reported. “These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.”
Last week, The Times reported the Obama administration rushed to spread all evidence it collected about Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election and about possible contacts of people within Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, to ” to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.”
5. Journalists readily believe the Trump-Kremlin international conspiracy to rig the U.S. election, but immediately put down the idea the Obama DOJ using FISA against Mr. Trump.
Unsubstantiated and anonymously sourced reports have continued to trickle in the news media about Mr. Trump’s team’s collusion with Russian officials, without any actual evidence. Mr. Clapper, of whom most journalists are using to vehemently deny any wiretapping on Trump Tower, also said the DNI found no collusion between Mr. Trump’s team and Russia.
The media, conveniently picking and choosing what they want to report or what leads they want to follow, reeks of media confirmation bias.