Saturday, March 4, 2017
Some Thoughts About Trump's Tweeted Allegations About Wiretapping
It has been well over six hours, and the White House has still not elaborated on the allegations or offered any evidence that they are true. If they fail to do so, this will only confirm the dangerously impulsive nature of this President. It suggests that at 6 am on some future morning, he will impulsively order military action based on an article in Breitbart News.
I have no doubt that Trump made these accusations as a way to divert attention from the ever increasing evidence of contacts between Russian officials and his campaign. His modis operandi (which has worked well up to now) is to deny, deceive and divert. Ironically, however, if his allegations are true, they actually reinforce the fact that there is a serious concern by counter-intelligence officials that members of the Trump Campaign were working as agents of the Russian State.
Let me explain. Presidents do not have any authority to order a wiretap. Instead, any domestic wiretap for counter-intelligence purposes requires (1) review and work by career prosecutors in the Department of Justice's National Security Division, (2) approval by the Attorney General, and (3) approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA") Court. Approval of a FISA application requires the court find probable cause that the target of the surveillance be a "foreign power" or an "agent of a foreign power." In other word, a court would only have ordered a wiretap at Trump Tower if there was probable cause that the folks at Trump Tower were agents of the Russian Government.
To be clear, I seriously doubt that there was such a wiretap. Indeed, senior law enforcement officials in the Obama Administration deny that there was any such wiretap. Most likely, Trump made these allegations after reading a post on the Breitbart News site. Indeed, some of the specific details alleged in that Breitbart News piece are repeated in Trump's tweets (such as the allegation that the FISA court had initially denied a wiretap), which strongly suggests that Trump's tweet storm was based on the article and not any formal briefing. And the discussion of the FISA warrants in the article really don't ring true to any of us actually familiar with the process. But if there was such a wiretap, it suggests that law enforcement and intelligence officials had probable cause that the Trump Campaign was acting as an agent of the Russian government.