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From Russian Diplomats to Obama Wiretaps (Updated)

These are amazing times in which we live. The government is basically at war with itself. There are battles between the current and former administration, battles between different government agencies, and battles between the usual partisans on both sides. In what appears to be a move aimed at countering the constant dribble over the “Russia helped Trump” partisan hunt, the President tweeted on Saturday that he had acquire knowledge that the prior administration, perhaps approved by President Obama, had bugged Trump tower back in October of last year, just days before the crucial Presidential vote in November.

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The Washington Examiner reports:

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said President Trump may have access to information backing up his claim that President Obama asked for a court order to tap phones in Trump Tower.

Conway said on Fox News Monday that, as president, Trump has access to information that others don’t, and that might be a reason why he decided to tweet accusations at Obama for wire taps at Trump Tower. The president and his administration have not provided any evidence for those claims, which have been denied by Obama.

“He’s the president of the United States, he has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not,” she said on Fox News.

That may be true, but Trump’s statement is pretty bold, and will need some backing of fact, or at least the appearance of some circumstantial evidence to merit such a claim.

Andrew McCarthy, a conservative writer at National Review, tries to provide some of the evidence that Trump hasn’t shared:

To summarize, reporting indicates that, prior to June 2016, the Obama Justice Department and FBI considered a criminal investigation of Trump associates, and perhaps Trump himself, based on concerns about connections to Russian financial institutions. Preliminary poking around indicated that there was nothing criminal involved. Rather than shut the case down, though, the Obama Justice Department converted it into a national-security investigation under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA allows the government, if it gets court permission, to conduct electronic surveillance (which could include wiretapping, monitoring of e-mail, and the like) against those it alleges are “agents of a foreign power.” FISA applications and the evidence garnered from them are classified – i.e., we would not know about any of this unless someone had leaked classified information to the media, a felony.

In June, the Obama Justice Department submitted an application that apparently “named” Trump in addition to some of his associates. As I have stressed, it is unclear whether “named” in this context indicates that Trump himself was cited as a person the Justice Department was alleging was a Russian agent whom it wanted to surveil. It could instead mean that Trump’s name was merely mentioned in an application that sought to conduct surveillance on other alleged Russian agents. President Trump’s tweets on Saturday claimed that “President Obama . . . tapp[ed] my phones[,]” which makes it more likely that Trump was targeted for surveillance, rather than merely mentioned in the application.

In any event, the FISA court reportedly turned down the Obama Justice Department’s request, which is notable: The FISA court is notoriously solicitous of government requests to conduct national-security surveillance (although, as I’ve noted over the years, the claim by many that it is a rubber-stamp is overblown). Not taking no for an answer, the Obama Justice Department evidently returned to the FISA court in October 2016, the critical final weeks of the presidential campaign. This time, the Justice Department submitted a narrowly tailored application that did not mention Trump. The court apparently granted it, authorizing surveillance of some Trump associates. [Emphasis added]

If the last emphasized statement is true, it would backup Trump’s claim that the Justice Department, under President Obama, was in fact spying on Trump associates, and perhaps indirectly on Donald Trump himself. I can’t imagine that Trump would level such allegations without something to backup his claims, but, this is Donald Trump we’re talking about so anything is possible.

Here are the tweets that set things in motion on Saturday:

Senator Chuck Schumer sees the wiretap claim as a diversion, and Democrats are thinking they have some serious scandal on their hands to exploit, from The Hill:

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday raised questions about President Trump’s claims that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower before the election.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Schumer said Obama has “flatly denied that he has done this.”

“And either way, Chuck, the president’s in trouble. If he falsely spread this kind of misinformation, that is so wrong,” Schumer said.

“It’s beneath the dignity of the presidency. It is something that really hurts people’s view of government.”

Schumer said if this is the case, it shows the president doesn’t know how to “conduct himself.”

“On the other hand, if it’s true, it’s even worse for the president,” Schumer said.

“Because that means that a federal judge, independently elected, has found probable cause that the president, or people on his staff, have probable cause to have broken the law or to have interacted with a foreign agent.”

Schumer called that possibility “serious stuff.”

And to think, it’s only Monday of a new week. By Friday I’m sure we’ll have an entirely new set of Trump/Obama scandals to discuss.

Update

The Weekly Standard now reports that the White House admitted it has no idea if Trump’s allegations over Obama’s wiretaps are true:

White House sources acknowledge that Trump had no idea whether the claims he was making were true when he made them. He was basing his claims on media reports—some of them months old—about the possibility that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court may have authorized surveillance of Trump associates, presumably pursuant to a federal investigation of their ties to Russia.

Later Saturday morning, White House Counsel Don McGahn told staffers to avoid discussions about the president’s tweets or any possible investigation—an order that effectively paralyzed the White House staff for much of the day. Staffers were afraid to talk to one another for fear of running afoul of McGahn’s guidance and even those authorized to talk to the media were nervous about doing so.

Still developing…

Nate Ashworth :Nate Ashworth is the Founder and Senior Editor of Election Central. He's been blogging elections and politics for almost a decade. He started covering the 2008 Presidential Election which turned into a full-time political blog in 2012 and 2016.