On March 4, 2017, President Donald J. Trump took to his Twitter account and issued a series of baseless tweets accusing President Obama of having “tapped” his phone. For example:
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
I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
A spin machine went into overdrive trying to justify Trump’s irresponsible and baseless accusations.
Well, guess what? Last night, in a Friday news dump, the Department of Justice confirmed that there is no basis for Trump’s accusations. The Washington Examiner reports:
The Department of Justice has acknowledged in a court filing no evidence of any wiretaps on Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign, directly contradicting a claim President Trump made in March.
The Justice Department filed a motion Friday evening acknowledging that it didn’t have any evidence to back up the president’s assertion.
The motion was filed in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the transparency group American Oversight. It found that neither the National Security Division or the FBI had any records of wiretapping that President Trump alleged.
“The FBI and Department of Justice have now sided with former [FBI Director James] Comey and confirmed in writing that President Trump lied when he tweeted that former President Obama ‘wiretapped’ him at Trump Tower,” the group said.
You can read the original court filing here. The relevant statement in the filing reads as follows:
Both FBI and NSD confirm that they have no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets.
Here is a screenshot:
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In light of this, it is instructive to revisit the spin effort that was mounted on behalf of Trump in the wake of the tweets — because much of the so-called evidence traced back to certified lunatic Louise Mensch.
After Trump published his tweets, the Washington Post‘s Fact Checker asked the administration for the basis of Trump’s claims. Administration officials said they were relying on reports “from BBC, Heat Street, New York Times, Fox News, among others.” These reports fell into two broad categories.
The first category was a series of reports showing that DoJ did engage in wiretapping, and that Trump aides were captured on some of those wiretaps. For example, every person who has ever discussed this issue on Twitter with a Trump supporter has had the following screenshot tweeted back at them:
But that story never said that the Trump aides were the targets of any wiretaps. It said merely that “American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions” as part of the Russia investigation. Trump supporters who use that screenshot conflate the issue of whether wiretaps were used at all with the issue of whether Trump or his aides were actually the targets of the wiretaps. Indeed, the article specifically warned: “It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself.” Thus, the New York Times article and reports like it did not support Trump’s accusations.
The second category of articles relied on by Trump all trace back to a Heat Street article by Louise Mensch, which said:
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.”
. . . .
The FISA warrant was granted in connection with the investigation of suspected activity between the server [in Trump Tower] and two banks, SVB Bank and Alfa Bank. However, it is thought in the intelligence community that the warrant covers any ‘US person’ connected to this investigation, and thus covers Donald Trump and at least three further men who have either formed part of his campaign or acted as his media surrogates.
Mensch’s article did not mention wiretaps. But in January (before Trump’s tweet), Andrew C. McCarthy seized on the Heat Street report to proclaim: “the idea that FISA could be used against political enemies always seemed far-fetched. Now it might not be.” On March 3, the evening before Trump’s March 4 tweets, both the McCarthy piece and the Heat Street article itself were linked by a Breitbart article (based on a Mark Levin radio rant) that was reported to be the impetus for Trump’s tweets.
After Trump farted out his accusations on Twitter on March 4, many, many folks on the right used the Heat Street report as evidence Trump was right. For example, McCarthy doubled down on his accusations on March 5, after Trump issued his tweets. And at the Daily Wire, John Nolte seized on the Heat Street report as evidence that Trump was “exonerated” on the wiretapping issue.
One problem: Louise Mensch turns out to be a loon who was widely ridiculed when she said the “Marshal of the Supreme Court” had told Trump about articles of impeachment that had been drafted against him. And to nobody’s surprise, it has recently been revealed that Mensch was the dupe of a hoaxer who had pretended to be an employee in the New York Attorney General. Mensch never took even rudimentary steps to verify the hoaxer’s identity, merely parroting the hoaxer’s claims uncritically.
I said from the beginning of this sorry episode that 1) the notion that Obama or his DoJ might have targeted Trump or his aides for a politically motivated investigation was not outlandish, and 2) there was a danger that an investigation nominally directed at Russians might have been truly motivated by a desire to investigate Trump. These remain valid concerns.
But I also said, right out of the gate, that there was no evidence that Trump’s accusations were actually true:
There’s Good Trump, who nominates great Justices and rolls back regulations, and Crazy Trump, who is uninformed and TV-obsessed and has a short attention span and goes around saying bizarre things. The fact that we like Good Trump doesn’t mean we have to defend Crazy Trump’s insane rants.
So investigate away. When you uncover new actual evidence that Barack Obama actually wiretapped Trump’s phone — something that we all know he’s capable of, but we have no evidence he actually did — then get back to me. (Yes, I meant to use variants of the word “actual” three times in that sentence.) Until then, I’m going to go back to ignoring this.
Now that we have solid evidence on the record from DoJ saying that there was no basis for Trump’s tweets, it would be nice if the people who fiercely defended him on this point issued a mea culpa — for relying heavily on Louise Mensch, and for pretending that reports of incidentally intercepted communications proved that Trump had been wiretapped by Obama.
I’m not holding my breath.