Posted: 8:40 pm Sunday, March 5th, 2017
By Jamie Dupree
It was no ordinary news weekend, as President Donald Trump leveled an extraordinary charge against former President Barack Obama, alleging that the feds had wiretapped Mr. Trump during the 2016 election. Democrats denounced the current President, and Republicans in the Congress openly said they had no idea what he was talking about.
Confused? Let’s see if we can clear up some of this:
1. President Trump says he was wiretapped by the Obama Administration. Without offering any evidence, the President began this weekend with an early Saturday morning series of tweets in which he made the astounding charge that President Obama had targeted him with surveillance during the 2016 campaign. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp (sic) my phones during the very sacred election process,” Mr. Trump wrote. “This is Nixon/Watergate.” The President then said that a court had turned down one effort to track him. How did he know this? By Sunday night, all signs pointed to conservative media, not a leak from within the FBI to the President himself.
WH officials with whom I spoke said POTUS got the info about wiretap from media – Breitbart, Levin – not from govt sources.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 5, 2017
2. What were the Breitbart and Mark Levin stories all about? To better understand why the President reportedly was upset about this matter, let’s take a look at what media he evidently was consuming. The Breitbart story on Friday was simply a rundown of a television segment that conservative talk radio host Mark Levin had done last Thursday night, in which he tied together a number of different stories to conclude that the Obama Administration had obtained a secret intelligence warrant to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign, and then made sure that evidence was spread around the government. Levin labeled it a “silent coup.” Some might consider that conclusion to be a stretch. Watch it here:
3. But the story did not originate with Breitbart. It is important to note where this story came from – Louise Mensch, and her website Heat Street. Mensch is a former member of Parliament in Britain, who in recent months has made it her journalistic goal to expose wrongdoing of Mr. Trump and his allies. She was working hard this weekend to expand the story with the momentum from the Trump Twitter Tirade, but noted some discrepancies. “My own FISA story nowhere mentions a wiretap,” Mensch tweeted. Instead, Mensch says the U.S. investigation involves money laundering and a Russian bank that has been mentioned as having ties to Mr. Trump (Alfa Bank).
That's correct. There was as I reported a FISA warrant on any US person in relation to two Russian banks' comms https://t.co/GP4NgoNSH0
— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) March 5, 2017
4. Team Trump & backers take aim at the “Deep State.” More and more on talk radio, and within strong supporters of President Trump, you are hearing criticism of the “Deep State.” There is no such thing, but the phrase basically refers to well established intelligence personnel that critics believe are doing all they can to leak information and undermine the Trump Administration – especially when it comes to the Russia-Trump investigation. Other terms include “silent coup” and “shadow government,” mainly accusing former President Obama and bureaucrats of trying to take back power from Mr. Trump, by using the tools of the U.S. Intelligence Community against him.
A phrase I keep hearing from Trump ally after Trump ally: "deep state." Growing belief inside WH that elements of I.C. aligned against them.
— Robert Costa (@costareports) March 5, 2017
5. So, is there really a FISA warrant involving Trump? That depends on who you believe. The New York Times wrote it this way: “There is no confirmed evidence that the F.B.I. obtained a court warrant to wiretap the Trump Organization or was capturing communications directly from the Trump Organization.” Other major news organizations in the U.S. have not made that jump either. A reporter from the Washington Post said Sunday that they’ve pushed their sources, but not confirmed this. Instead, it’s Mensch, the BBC and the Guardian newspaper – all from across the Atlantic. That has some on this side of the pond wondering what is up.
One thing to stress: Should be a HUGE red flag that all the Trump/FISA stories are from British reporters with limited natsec backgrounds…
— Julian Sanchez (@normative) March 5, 2017
6. What about the FBI? Comey sends a Sunday message. If you believe that there was a wiretap or other surveillance of the Trump Campaign in 2016, then all signs point back to the FBI and Director James Comey as being in charge of that effort. Comey said nothing in public, but the New York Times reported Sunday afternoon that the FBI Director feels the President’s allegation is false, and has asked the Justice Department to publicly reject the charge. Democrats swiftly noted that Comey didn’t seem to wait to talk when it came to Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 campaign, just one of the subtexts to this whole battle, as both parties have had reason to love and hate the FBI Director in recent months.
Live by the Comey, die by the Comey.
— John Weaver (@JWGOP) March 5, 2017
7. Republicans in Congress puzzled by Trump charge. Most GOP lawmakers stayed dead silent on both Saturday and Sunday about the latest Trump kerfuffle, venturing on to social media only to tweet about high school and college basketball, local dance contests, and other items that had nothing to do with anything named Russia. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) urged Trump to reveal his sources for his charge. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) agreed, saying the Trump “allegation has serious implications.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who has been briefed by the FBI Director on the probe of Russian interference in the U.S. elections, said flatly, he didn’t know what President Trump was talking about.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 5, 2017
8. Trump was reported to be angry about the wiretap. There was no shortage of reports over the weekend about the President’s mood, which was said to be one of frustration and anger, believing in his heart that he was wrongly under law enforcement surveillance in 2016. Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reported that “Trump has repeatedly told people throughout today that he is convinced he’s right re wiretaps.” Others reported Trump had gone ballistic on Friday before he left for Mar-a-Lago, angered that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from any probe related to Russia and the elections.
Trump is angry in Florida. I’m told he fumed to friends at golf course yesterday about Obama, insisting he’s right about wiretap.
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) March 5, 2017
9. White House asks Congress to investigate Trump claim. The White House waited over 24 hours to finally comment on the tweets of the boss, as Press Secretary Sean Spicer issued a statement that asked the Congress to investigate the President’s claim that he had been wiretapped by the Obama Administration in 2016. The White House phrased it this way, asking “whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.” Spicer then flatly said the White House and the President would have no further comment on the matter. Soon after, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who served on the Trump Transition team, agreed to take up the matter.
House Intel Commitee chair Rep Devin Nunes R-CA on Trump call for probe on possible wiretap pic.twitter.com/GXKlkd3AYV
— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) March 5, 2017
10. This story is not going away soon. Congress will get a shot at this issue on Tuesday, when confirmation hearings take place for two top nominees at the Justice Department. Normally, reporters wouldn’t take that big of an interest in the hearings for the Deputy Attorney General and an Associate Attorney General. But with Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself on matters related to Russia investigations, the two nominees are certain to be asked about the Russia investigations matter, and most likely quizzed by Democrats on whether they would support a special counsel probe to handle it.
I'll use every possible tool to block DOJ Deputy AG nominee unless he commits to appoint independent special prosecutor
— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) March 5, 2017
11. What’s the bottom line? No matter whether you believe or don’t believe the President’s electric charge that he had been targeted with a wiretap during his campaign for the White House, the request by the Trump Administration for the allegations to be reviewed by Congress only insures that even more attention gets paid to the underlying issue – did associates of the President have contacts with Russia and possibly Russian intelligence agents? This would seem to be something that the White House would rather not spur renewed interest in – but that’s what happened. Whether it’s on Twitter, or in person, we’ll see when the President speaks out. Yes, there are other issues, but this Russia stuff just keeps chugging along.
So, the WH just dared Congress to… look into how many campaign people were tight with the Russians? This is an unusual strategy.
— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) March 5, 2017
About the Author
Jamie Dupree is the Radio News Director of the Washington Bureau of the Cox Media Group and writes the Washington Insider blog. A native of Washington, D.C., Jamie has covered Congress and politics in the nation’s capital since the Reagan Administration, and has been reporting for Cox since 1989.