Monday, March 6, 2017

The Tweets of August: What a legal wire tap would mean

The NY Times reported yesterday (March 4) that FBI Director James Comey Asks Justice Dept. to Reject Trump’s Wiretapping Claim. Here are the opening snippets.

WASHINGTON — The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement.

Mr. Comey, who made the request on Saturday after Mr. Trump leveled his allegation on Twitter, has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down the claim because it falsely insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law, the officials said.

A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment. Sarah Isgur Flores, the spokeswoman for the Justice Department, also declined to comment.

Mr. Comey’s request is a remarkable rebuke of a sitting president, putting the nation’s top law enforcement official in the position of questioning Mr. Trump’s truthfulness. The confrontation underscores the high stakes of what the president and his aides have unleashed by accusing the former president of a conspiracy to undermine Mr. Trump’s young administration.

OK. Time out. There are two conflated claims made by Trump. Claim #1 is that his phones were tapped. Claim #2 is that then President Obama ordered the wire taps.

Claim #2 is the easiest to dismiss. Yesterday I posted the reasons why any president cannot just order up a FISA warrant for a wire tap. Quoting from wired.com, one of my sources:

The Federal Judicial Center explained:

“Warrant applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are drafted by attorneys in the General Counsel’s Office at the National Security Agency at the request of an officer of one of the federal intelligence agencies. [Scriber: not the President!] Each application must contain the Attorney General’s certification that the target of the proposed surveillance is either a ‘foreign power’ or ‘the agent of a foreign power’ and, in the case of a U.S. citizen or resident alien, that the target may be involved in the commission of a crime.”

Claim #1, however, may have merit. I quoted from wired.com: “Obama spokesperson Kevin Lewis strongly denied extra-judicial surveillance of any US citizens to Politico in response to the claims.” Note that this denial leaves open the possibility that there was a judicial, that is legal, wire tap. If that is true, then Trump might well have done “something wrong” according to comments by Sen. Lindsey Graham in the Huffington Post’s Lindsey Graham Nails The Problem With Trump’s Wiretapping Claims: If Obama got a warrant to eavesdrop, then Trump probably did something wrong, the South Carolina senator noted.

Oh, yes. About Trump’s call for a investigation of Obama? That’s a bright shiny object meant to distract the media from the real scandal. AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona makes that case in Trump tries to preemptively distract the media from the actual scandal that is just below the surface.

How long will it take for that (for now) subterranean scandal to surface? The Watergate scandal ran from June 1972 until Nixon’s resignation in August 1974. But then we did not have CNN, Fox News, Twitter, and blogs. Given the more rapid pace of news I’m betting that the scandal will unfold in a matter of months, not years, and that there will be serious hearings underway by the date of Nixon’s resignation, August 9th.

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