President Trump on Saturday angrily accused former president Barack Obama of orchestrating a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at his Trump Tower headquarters last fall in the run-up to the election.
Citing no evidence to support his explosive allegation, Trump said in a series of five tweets sent Saturday morning that Obama was “wire tapping” his New York offices before the election in a move he compared to McCarthyism. “Bad (or sick) guy!” he said of his predecessor, adding that the surveillance resulted in “nothing found.”
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
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Trump's source was a Joel Pollak piece at Breitbart that cited right-wing radio whiner Mark Levin -- and Levin's primary source seems to be a writer who is otherwise regarded on the right as a dangerous "loony."
Radio host Mark Levin used his Thursday evening show to outline the known steps taken by President Barack Obama’s administration in its last months to undermine Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and, later, his new administration.The points in Levin's "outline" that led Trump to claim "tapps" on his phones were these:
Levin called Obama’s effort “police state” tactics, and suggested that Obama’s actions, rather than conspiracy theories about alleged Russian interference in the presidential election to help Trump, should be the target of congressional investigation.
June 2016: FISA request. The Obama administration files a request with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to monitor communications involving Donald Trump and several advisers. The request, uncharacteristically, is denied....The link in the phrase "files a request" goes to a piece by Louise Mensch at Heat Street, published the night before the election. McCarthy also cites the Mensch report. It says:
October: FISA request. The Obama administration submits a new, narrow request to the FISA court, now focused on a computer server in Trump Tower suspected of links to Russian banks. No evidence is found — but the wiretaps continue, ostensibly for national security reasons, Andrew McCarthy at National Review later notes. The Obama administration is now monitoring an opposing presidential campaign using the high-tech surveillance powers of the federal intelligence services.
Two separate sources with links to the counter-intelligence community have confirmed to Heat Street that 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.Louise Mensch is a libertarian-leaning former member of the British Parliament; Heat Street is owned Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Mensch left the site in December to become a News Corp VP, but she now blogs at the site Patribotics and tweets to more than 150,000 followers -- and much of what she's written has earned the scorn of the sorts of people who are now likely to be citing her work as a defense of Trump. Here's Alex Pfeiffer at the Daily Caller a week ago:
Contrary to earlier reporting in the New York Times, which cited FBI sources as saying that the agency did not believe that the private server in Donald Trump’s Trump Tower which was connected to a Russian bank had any nefarious purpose, 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. The first request, which, sources say, named Trump, was denied back in June, but the second was drawn more narrowly and was granted in October after evidence was presented of a server, possibly related to the Trump campaign, and its alleged links to two banks; SVB Bank and Russia’s Alfa Bank. While the Times story speaks of metadata, sources suggest that a FISA warrant was granted to look at the full content of emails and other related documents that may concern US persons.
MSNBC Panelist Spouts Loony Conspiracy Theories On The InternetSo when she makes these claims, she's a "loony" who's "offering no evidence," or whose "evidence ... is rather thin." When she says the Obama administration got a FISA warrant to spy on Trump? Smoking gun!
Louise Mensch is the co-founder of Heat Street, a conservative website ran by News Corp, a former member of the UK Parliament, and a frequent guest on MSNBC. She also propagates unfounded conspiracy theories in blog posts and tweets....
Her most recent unfounded idea that caused an uproar on the internet was that the late Andrew Breitbart was murdered by Putin. “I absolutely believe that Andrew Breitbart was murdered by Putin, just as the founder of RT was murdered by Putin,” Mensch tweeted to her nearly 150,000 followers Friday while offering no evidence....
[A] story [by Mensch at Patribotics], “Carolina Conspiracy,” centered around the idea that the 15-year-old girl Anthony Weiner was allegedly sexting online was actually a Russian hacking ring.
“I can exclusively report that there is ample evidence that suggests that Weiner was sexting not with a 15 year old girl but with a hacker, working for Russia, part of the North Carolina hacking group ‘Crackas With Attitude’, who hacked the head of the CIA, and a great many FBI agents, police officers, and other law enforcement officials,” Mensch wrote. Her evidence for this claim is rather thin
I'm also amused to learn that this story is giving at least one right-wing hard-liner a newfound appreciation for restrictions on information sharing between the intelligence community and domestic law enforcement. The Breitbart piece that was read by Trump cites this January article by National Review's Andrew McCarthy, in which he writes:
Remember the great debate over “the Wall” following the 9/11 attacks? “The Wall” was a set of internal guidelines that had been issued by the Clinton Justice Department in the mid 1990s. In a nutshell, the Wall made it legally difficult and practically impossible for agents in the FBI’s Foreign Counter-Intelligence Division (essentially, our domestic-security service, now known as the National Security Division) to share intelligence with the criminal-investigation side of the FBI’s house.... I was a strenuous [critic], beginning in my days as a terrorism prosecutor who personally experienced its suicidal applications....The pre-9/11 barriers to information sharing were greatly exaggerated by people like McCarthy, who wanted to shift the blame for the failure to anticipate the terrorist attack onto the Clinton administration. "The Wall" wasn't really a wall. But now -- whoops! -- maybe it was a good thing, because (if Louise Mensch is right) Donald Trump and his people are being surveilled on the basis of a national security warrant that, to the right, is phony and specious, and the information is being shared with domestic law enforcement. Rebuild the Wall, say right-wingers! Hilarious.
Alas, after 20 years, I may have to revise my thinking.
The theory of the Clinton DOJ brass in imposing the Wall was the potential that a rogue criminal investigator, lacking sufficient evidence to obtain a traditional wiretap, would manufacture a national-security angle in order to get a wiretap under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). A traditional wiretap requires evidence amounting to probable cause of commission of a crime. A FISA wiretap requires no showing of a crime, just evidence amounting to probable cause that the target of the wiretap is an agent of a foreign power.