Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Finding our way through a forest of bright shiny objects to answers about claimed wire taps

Yesterday I dissected Trump’s charge that then President Obama ordered a wire tap on Trump’s phones into two claims: that there was in fact a wire tap, and that Obama ordered it. The latter claim I wrote is easily knocked down by an understanding of FISA and how the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance process works. In short, the process is independent of the president and no president can order up a warrant outside of the FIS court. I operated under the assumption that there in fact was a wire tap. In that case, it would follow that Trump was guilty of some sort of wrong-doing. Otherwise, a wire tap would not have been granted by the FIS court.

There is a third possibility. Perhaps Trump made the whole thing up in order to deflect media attention away from his Russian connects and, specifically, from AG Sessions’ recusal. There are some grounds to believe that. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper claims ‘No such wiretap activity mounted’ on Trump.

(CNN)Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Sunday that the intelligence agencies he supervised did not wiretap Donald Trump last year nor did the FBI obtain a court order through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor Trump’s phones.

“For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the President-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign,” Clapper said Sunday morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Asked whether he could confirm or deny whether the FBI could have tapped Trump’s phones under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Clapper said, “I can deny it,” adding that, to his knowledge, there was no court order to monitor any phones at Trump Tower.

Building on Clapper’s remarks, a former senior official also told CNN on Sunday that he is not aware of any wiretaps on Trump’s phones related to a criminal investigation by the Justice Department during the 2016 election.

Where does that leave us? If there was no wire tap, then Trump once again manufactured some outlandish, slanderous claim. Simply put, he lied.

E. J. Dionne at the Washington Post thinks The Trump Experiment may come to an early tipping point

President Trump’s astonishing and reckless accusation that he was wiretapped on orders from President Barack Obama should finally be the tipping point in how the country views him and his presidency.

Obama, through a spokesman, said the charges were “simply false.” On Sunday afternoon, the New York Times reported that FBI Director James Comey had asked the Justice Department to publicly reject Trump’s claim. It appears that Trump issued his wild tweet storm Saturday morning largely on the basis of reports in conspiracy-minded right-wing media.

He signaled his lack of evidence first by reportedly pushing his White House staff to ransack sensitive intelligence information to find support for his claim. Then on Sunday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump wanted Congress to look into the matter and that the administration would offer no further comment.

Trump has a problem either way. If he was not wiretapped, he invented a spectacularly false charge. And if a court ordered some sort of surveillance of him, on what grounds did it do so?

So what might be headed our way assuming that Trump just made it up (or took it from Breitbart)?

The Washington Post’s Daily 202 claims that the Wiretapping allegations accomplished what Trump wanted – but may backfire bigly.

THE BIG IDEA: It is easy to pooh-pooh Donald Trump’s predawn Saturday tweetstorm — accusing Barack Obama of the worst political crimes since Watergate while offering no evidence — as an undisciplined rant from someone who has long embraced conspiracy theories.

That neither gives the president enough credit nor reflects the gravity of his unfounded accusations.

It is past time to dispense with the fiction that Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He is trying to distract us. And, at least this weekend, he succeeded.

So what is the backfire?


  • Turning the FBI director against him:
  • James B. Comey asked the Justice Department this weekend to issue a statement refuting Trump’s claim that Obama ordered a wiretap, but the department did not do so. “The revelation underscores the fraught nature of the FBI’s high-profile investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election,” Abby Phillip and Ellen Nakashima note. “A key question fueling that inquiry is whether Trump associates colluded with Russian officials to help Trump win. … It is not clear why Comey … did not himself issue a statement to refute Trump’s claims.”

  • Prodding the White House counsel to take risks he otherwise would not:
  • … Any request for information from a top White House official about a continuing investigation would be a stunning departure from protocols intended to insulate the F.B.I. from political pressure. …

  • Trump has become the boy who cried wolf:
  • What happens in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, during a natural disaster or amid an economic crisis? He’ll desperately need the American people to trust and rally behind him, but he will have drained the reservoir of goodwill. That is when Trump’s credibility gap is going to become a cataclysmic problem for his presidency and, frankly, for the country.

  • Making his White House look dysfunctional:
  • “We have as president a man who is erratic, vindictive, volatile, obsessive, a chronic liar, and prone to believe in conspiracy theories,” said conservative commentator Peter Wehner, who was the top policy strategist in George W. Bush’s White House. “And you can count on the fact that there will be more to come, since when people like Donald Trump gain power they become less, not more, restrained.”

  • Emboldening conservatives to call for a full investigation:
  • Ensuring, more broadly, that the Russia connections continue to overshadow his domestic agenda:
  • The first one, the request by FBI Director Comey to the Justice Department, is puzzling for the reasons given and more. Why doesn’t Comey just come out with his own denial? Just as curious, is why Justice won’t (yet?) reject Trump’s claims. Was there a wire tap after all that would stop Justice from refuting those claims? Is Trump’s administration stopping Justice from responding? Who in Justice would be responsible for rejecting Trump’s claims - or pushing back against any meddling from the White House?

    Of all these, #3 is the one most injurious to our national security. E. J. Dionne continues:

    The crucial issue is how all this affects our national security. But this saga also reminds us that a crowd claiming to place “America First” does not really believe its own slogan. They place only about half of America first, the part that opposed Obama and supported Trump. When it comes to the other half, they feel only contempt.

    This is why Russian interference in our democracy appears to matter far less to Trump than saving his own skin. …

    John Cassidy at The New Yorker wraps it up explaining Why Trump’s latest Obama accusation could backfire.

    … It seems evident that Trump simply made up these claims, as he makes up many things.

    We can only hope that, this time, his pernicious diversionary tactics backfire: the Justice Department or Comey might come out and repudiate the President publicly, and more Republicans on Capitol Hill might find the spines to support a proper investigation of the Russia matter. On Monday, Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said to CBS News, “Thus far, I have not seen anything directly that would support what the President has said.” Chaffetz, you may recall, was a key figure in the Republicans’ Benghazi witch hunt. Even he may be suggesting that Trump’s latest claim could turn out to be a conspiracy theory too far.

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