President Donald Trump, under scrutiny for possible ties between his campaign and Russia and increasingly fixated with rooting out leaks, on Saturday sought to deflect attention by accusing former president Barack Obama of tapping his Trump Tower phones prior to the election.
He offered no evidence to support his claims, which appear to be based on commentary rising in conservative media circles—and, above all, the president’s own agitation over the metastasizing Russia controversy.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump tweeted, as part of a six-tweet screed.
Trump went on to ask, “Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!”
“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!” Trump continued, also tweeting, “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
An Obama spokesman forcefully pushed back against the accusation. “A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” said Kevin Lewis, an Obama spokesman. “As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”
Obama’s former speechwriter, Jon Favreau, pointed out in a tweet that the former president’s avowed lack of involvement does not mean that a legal FISA warrant could not have been granted to tap Trump’s phones if the intelligence community had reason to do so. “I’d be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. Statement just said that neither he nor the WH ordered it,” Favreau tweeted.
Former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes also tweeted back at Trump: “No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you.”
Trump’s top aides were caught off guard by the tweets Saturday morning, a senior administration official said. The president was scheduled to spend a quiet day golfing and relaxing at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. After several days without a controversial tweet and a relative message discipline following his speech to Congress Tuesday evening, Trump’s angry Twitter tirade marked a return to form—and a trusted tactic of turning around the exact words being used against him on his opponents.
Trump’s allegation that Obama carried out “Nixon/Watergate”-like wire-tapping comes at a time when his own administration’s constant leaks and controversies have drawn comparisons to Nixon’s White House. His complaints of McCarthyism come from a president who was mentored by McCarthy adviser Roy Cohn and whose focus on rooting out undocumented immigrants has troubled critics who fear allegiance tests.
It was not immediately clear what specifically prompted the outburst, but the accusations parrot those made by conservative radio host Mark Levin, who on Thursday evening asserted that Obama used “police state” tactics to undermine Trump in the last months of his presidential campaign.
It appears that the crux of that argument comes from reporting that U.S. officials secretly monitored a computer server in Trump Tower to determine if there were links to Russian banks. A New York Times article published on Jan. 19 — just one day before Trump’s inauguration — reported that U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies had intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a probe of links between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
There has been no definitive reporting, however, that any phone lines belonging to the Trump campaign were tapped. If a judge found probable cause to conduct such secret monitoring, it likely would have been after being presented with enough evidence to suspect illegal conduct or communication with a foreign leader.
Trump and his team have been dogged by allegations of contacts between his campaign and Russian intelligence officials that occurred as Russians were allegedly attempting to tilt the election in Trump’s favor by hacking Democratic targets.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told attendees at a raucous town hall in Clemson, South Carolina, that he was “very worried” about the allegations. “The president of the United States is claiming that the former president of the United States ordered wiretapping of his campaign last year,” Graham told the crowd. “I don’t know if it’s true or not, but if it is true, illegally, it would be the biggest political scandal since Watergate.”
After several in the crowd began to boo and yell, Graham asked them to calm down so he could continue. “If the former president of the United States was able to obtain a warrant lawfully to monitor the Trump campaign for violating law, that would be the biggest scandal since Watergate,” he noted.
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, who opposed both Trump and Hillary Clinton in the president campaign, called the current political atmosphere a “civilization-warping crisis of public trust” after Trump’s allegations.
“The president today made some very serious allegations, and the informed citizens that a republic requires deserve more information,” Sasse said. “If without [an authorization], the President should explain what sort of wiretap it was and how he knows this. It is possible that he was illegally tapped.”
Democrats were also blunt.
“If there is something bad or sick going on, it is the willingness of the nation’s chief executive to make the most outlandish and destructive claims without providing a scintilla of evidence to support them,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “No matter how much we hope and pray that this President will grow into one who respects and understands the Constitution, separation of powers, role of a free press, responsibilities as the leader of the free world, or demonstrates even the most basic regard for the truth, we must now accept that President Trump will never become that man.”
The scandal flared up this week when it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador twice last year despite telling senators during his confirmation hearing that he had no communication with the Russians during the campaign.
Sessions was a key adviser to Trump’s campaign.
On Saturday morning, Trump attempted to turn the scrutiny to the Obama administration.
“The first meeting Jeff Sessions had with the Russian Amb was set up by the Obama Administration under education program for 100 Ambs……” Trump tweeted, adding, “Just out: The same Russian Ambassador that met Jeff Sessions visited the Obama White House 22 times, and 4 times last year alone.”
Trump’s aggressive accusations comes as his team has tried to battle numerous leaks regarding law enforcement and intelligence agency investigations into not only allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election but also potential ties between his campaign and the Kremlin.
Trump has raised eyebrows by repeatedly singling out Russian President Vladimir Putin for praise; and former national security adviser Michael Flynn had to resign last month for misleading Vice President Mike Pence and others about the nature of his post-election conversations with Russian officials. Trump himself has denied that his people were in regular contact with Russian officials, but the controversy has spawned multiple congressional investigations and has fueled calls for a special prosecutor.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Saturday said the current congressional probes are not enough. “The Deflector-in-Chief is at it again. An investigation by an independent commission is the only answer,” she tweeted.
Trump finished off his tweet storm on Saturday with an unrelated parting shot for a rival who has nothing to do with the Russia scandal. A day after Arnold Schwarzenegger blamed Trump for the dismal ratings of his version of Celebrity Apprentice, Trump tweeted: “Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show.”
It had been less than four full days since he said, in his address to Congress Tuesday night, that “the time for trivial fights is behind us.”
Burgess Everett contributed to this article.
Powered by WPeMatico