Monday, March 6, 2017

Trump accuses Obama of wire tapping him; goes into rage with staff; crisis heating up . . . bigly.

Our Tweeter-in-Chief got itchy fingers early Saturday morning and sent this out at 6:35am:
"Terrible.   Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower before the victory.  Nothing found.   This is McCarthyism!"
Trump kept it up;  and by 7:02 am his fifth twitter message on the subject said this:
"How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process.   This is Nixon/Watergate.  Bad (or sick) guy!"
According to Washington Post investigative journalist Robert Costa, this originated with a reporter for Breitbart News and has been circulating among White House staff.   Former Obama staff member Ben Rhodes shot back a statement:
"No President can order a wiretap.  Those restrictions put in place to protect citizens from people like you."
Yes, that is true.   But the FBI can petition a special court for a warrant to tap a phone.  The Foreign Intelligence Surveillence Act set up this special court following 9/11, and in fact, the Guardian reported back in January that the FBI did seek such a warrant in the summer of 2016 (during the campaign) -- and was turned down.

Here's a thought, however, about what may be going on.   Rep. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, revealed that the FBI had listened in on conversations between the Russian Ambassador Kislyev and "a top Trump official."   It is well known that our government spies on the Russian diplomats in the U.S., as they do ours in Russia.

So, if the FBI had a tap on the Russian ambassador's phone, and if he  had a phone call with a Trump official, then the FBI would have heard (and recorded) it.   That may be what this is all about.   Not political spying on one U.S. presidential candidate by the president, but an FBI wire tap on the Russian diplomat.

That was what I wrote on Saturday night and set it to post as my blog for Monday (so I could take the day off from politics.)    However, Donald Trump just keeps stirring the pot.  Here's what's happened on Sunday.

1.  Trump demanded that Congress investigate what he insists was Obama's tapping of his phone, even though he has presented no evidence that his phone was tapped.   It seems he got it from a Breitbart reporter.

2.  Through a spokeman, Obama said neither he nor anyone in his White House had ordered a tap of Trump's or his campaign's phone.

3.  Later Saturday morning, before leaving for Mar a Lago for the weekend, Trump called his senior staff in for a tongue lashing of Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon for not controlling the story about AG Sessions' recusing himself from any investigations of the Trump campaign and Russia.  Apparently Sessions' announcement took Trump by surprise;  he did not agree that Sessions needed to recuse himself;  and mainly he was enraged that this story had eclipsed the positive coverage of his speech to Congress on Tuesday night.

Reporters looking through the windows said he seemed to be in a rage.  Senior staff referred to the president as "going ballistic."   Because of this, apparently, Preibus and Bannon were to stay behind in Washington rather than accompany the president to Florida.  Sessions did go to Florida with him.

4.  Spicer announced on Sunday that neither the White House or the president will comment further on the matter until Congress investigates the explosive accusation that President Obama ordered his "wires to be tapped."   Of course, it was Trump himself who made the accusation.  But this "no comment" suggests that they don't have -- or at least don't plan to offer -- any evidence to back up the claim.

5.  James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence from 2010-2017 told "Meet the Press" on Sunday that, during his tenure, there was no wire tap of Trump or his campaign.  He says that he would have known if someone else applied to the FISA court for a warrant to tap, and he said "I can deny" that the FBI had done so.  He cannot, of course, speak for what may have happened after Jan. 20th, but Trump's accusation refers to October, before the election.

6.  FBI Director James Comey took the highly unusual step Sunday of asking the Department of Justice to "publicly reject" Trump's allegation.   Comey said that Trump's claim, without any evidence presented, "is false and must be corrected."

But then here's the problem.    Attorney General Sessions has recused himself, so he cannot do what Comey asks.   And the Deputy Attorney General, who will oversee the investigation, has not yet been confirmed.   And apparently the Acting Deputy AG does not feel that he has the standing to issue such a declaration.

But here's the serious message in all this.   This president is out of control, making wild, unsubstantiated accusations against his predecessor -- without evidence -- and lashing out at his own staff with petty punishments and tongue lashing.   The president of the United States accusing his predecessor of tapping his phone is a serious charge.  It is beyond ludicrous that he made it via Twitter at 6:35 am, gave no evidence to back it up, and then threw a temper tantrum at his own staff.

It's true that this government is leaking information like a sieve.   But we have to ask why?   The most likely answer is that the careernon-political staff working in government, especially in our intelligence and security apparatus, think that the only way to prevent a disaster is to leak the information that they fear will never see the light of day in a Trump administration.   I believe they fear, as I do, for the future of our country and our democracy as long as Donald Trump holds the reins of power.


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