My colleague Jay Caruso posted earlier today on President Trump’s allegations that Obama had him placed under electronic surveillance. Jay thinks it is just another Trump tantrum. I disagree.
This is the set up
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
One can look at this, as Axios does, as a cynical attempt to mitigate an unfavorable news cycle. One can look at it as more than likely true. Or you can actually think it is both true and manipulative.
Let’s look at the wiretap story. Many, including Jay, think the source is thinly sourced. It is. But it has exactly the same quality of sourcing as every story about Trump and Russia. If you believe the stories in the Post and Times you have zero reason to disbelieve the wiretap story other than the obvious one: you like one story and don’t like the other.
While the existence of FISA warrant requests against members of Trump’s campaign was reported in January, the story took off with Mark Levin’s March 2 show. It does not originate with Breitbart as some think. If you recall, during the campaign Mark Levin was not Trump friendly. To a great extent the messenger is the message. Mark Levin delivering a defense of Trump is significant because it is a departure from Levin’s history during the primaries. Breitbart’s Joel Pollack lays out the elements of Levin’s broadcast in this story. I’d encourage you to do so and to follow the links.)
That the Obama administration asked for FISA warrants on Trump and some of his campaign advisers seems beyond question. Via Andy McCarthy at National Review:
But now, let’s consider the press reports — excerpted in David French’s Corner post — that claim that the Obama Justice Department and the FBI sought FISA warrants against Trump insiders, and potentially against Donald Trump himself, during the last months and weeks of the presidential campaign. It’s an interesting revelation, particularly in light of last fall’s media consternation over “banana republic” tactics against political adversaries, triggered by Trump’s vow to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate serious allegations of criminal misconduct against Hillary Clinton — consternation echoed by Senate Democrats during Tuesday’s confirmation hearing for attorney-general nominee Jeff Sessions.
From the three reports, from the Guardian, Heat Street, and the New York Times, it appears the FBI had concerns about a private server in Trump Tower that was connected to one or two Russian banks. Heat Street describes these concerns as centering on “possible financial and banking offenses.” I italicize the word “offenses” because it denotes crimes. Ordinarily, when crimes are suspected, there is a criminal investigation, not a national-security investigation.
According to the New York Times (based on FBI sources), the FBI initially determined that the Trump Tower server did not have “any nefarious purpose.” But then, Heat Street says, “the FBI’s counter-intelligence arm, sources say, re-drew an earlier FISA court request around possible financial and banking offenses related to the server.”
Again, agents do not ordinarily draw FISA requests around possible crimes. Possible crimes prompt applications for regular criminal wiretaps because the objective is to prosecute any such crimes in court. (It is rare and controversial to use FISA wiretaps in criminal prosecutions.) FISA applications, to the contrary, are drawn around people suspected of being operatives of a (usually hostile) foreign power.
The interesting thing here is that the media reports of wiretaps have been out there for a while. The were circulated at the same time the BuzzFeed “dossier” on Trump was released as a way of bolstering the credibility of that document. They were intended to demonstrate that Trump had been under surveillance by intelligence agencies and therefore we should believe the dossier. Now that Trump has pointed out the flip side, that is, the administration using the national security apparatus of the United States to monitor a political opponent, a lot of people are having a cow.
It seems virtually certain that FISA warrants were requested. The only thing we really don’t know is whether the warrants were granted. We do know that the FISA court rejects 0.03% of warrant requests. So it is safe to presume that if the warrant was requested it was granted.
And, if we are being honest, Trump is now in a position to know the answer to that question because his Attorney General can answer it. Hence, we have to treat Trump’s tweet-storm on this as more than bluster, it is more akin to an on-the-record statement of fact than a mere accusation.
Why is any of this unbelievable? The answer is that it isn’t. An administration that will kill people in order to create the facts necessary for increasing firearm registration will do just about anything.