Former senior U.S. official on wiretapping Trump: "This did not happen. It is false."

A formal denial, for what it’s worth. If you don’t already know the background here, stop now and read Ed’s post from this morning first. You’ll be lost without it.

Asked about Trump’s tweets on Saturday, a former senior US official with direct knowledge of investigations by the Justice Department under the Obama administration denied there was any such investigation of Trump or that his phones were tapped.

“This did not happen. It is false. Wrong,” the former official said.

The official said clearly that Obama could not order this. It would have been taken to a judge by investigators, but investigators never did that, the former official said.

They never did that? Hold that thought. But first, more denials from the Times:

A spokesman for Mr. Obama did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though officials from his administration called Mr. Trump’s accusation shocking and untrue. They pointed to longstanding laws and procedures intended to ensure that presidents cannot wiretap a rival for political purposes.

And one more, from NBC:

Question: Has any media source claimed, as Trump did this morning, that the Obama administration succeeded in tapping his phones at Trump Tower? Heat Street claimed last November that the FBI asked the FISA Court in June 2016 for a warrant to intercept communications involving a server in Trump Tower and a Russian bank. That application “named Trump,” Louise Mensch reported, citing sources — but the FISA Court rejected it. The FBI re-applied for the warrant in October and that one was granted, “but the second was drawn more narrowly,” according to Mensch, suggesting (but not explicitly stating) that Trump wasn’t named this time.

As far as I can tell, Mensch’s story is the only one out there alleging that an FBI wiretap application included Trump himself, and according to her, the application was denied. The Guardian later corroborated her report that the FBI had sought a FISA warrant last June, but it claimed that the warrant targeted “four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials,” with no mention of Trump himself. The BBC also reported on the June FISA application, noting that while “[n]either Mr Trump nor his associates are named in the Fisa order,” three of Trump’s associates were the targets of the investigation. Only Mensch insists that Trump himself was “named” in the initial FISA application. And even that’s vague, per Andy McCarthy:

In June, an initial FISA affidavit (obviously prepared by the FBI and the Justice Department’s National Security Division) was submitted to the FISA court. It is said to have “named Trump” — but we don’t know whether that means (a) his name merely came up somewhere in the text of the affidavit or (b) he was an actual target whom the government wanted to investigate under FISA (meaning eavesdrop, read e-mail, and the like).

The NYT reported in January that Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Roger Stone were all “under scrutiny” by the U.S. intelligence for their links, which may or may not mean that they’re the “Trump associates” targeted by the FISA warrant per the Guardian and BBC reports. Manafort not only worked out of Trump Tower as Trump’s campaign manager, he lived there before Trump hired him; it may be that when Trump said Obama was tapping “his” phones, he meant phones in Trump Tower (belonging to Manafort), not his own personal phones. And if so, it would make sense that Trump was “named” in the FISA application: If they’re tapping a phone in his building, his name’s going to come up in the document.

Whatever the truth, literally no one (as far as I know) has reported that the Obama administration succeeded in wiretapping Trump’s phones. The furthest Mensch would go is to say of the FISA warrant that was eventually approved in October, “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.” But whether it actually covered Trump and whether his phones were actually tapped is a total mystery. Either Trump has information that the public doesn’t know about wiretapping, in which case he’s revealing it in a really weird way, or he’s jumping to conclusions based on the vague detail in Mensch’s story last year. In fact, according to CNN, it’s probably the latter:

The Breitbart story linked back to Mensch’s piece as evidence that “The Obama administration files a request with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to monitor communications involving Donald Trump and several advisers. The request, uncharacteristically, is denied.” Once again, not even Mensch claims that the Obama administration succeeded in getting wiretap approval in the FISA application that supposedly “named Trump,” and she doesn’t claim that Trump was “named” in the successful October warrant application. (Mensch, by the way, is an ardent critic of both Trump and Putin and recently claimed on Twitter that she thinks Putin had Andrew Breitbart killed.) Yet here Trump is on Twitter this morning, insisting repeatedly that Obama tapped his phones in October. And the weirdest part is … he could probably find this out definitively for himself if he wanted to. Emphasis: If he wanted to.

Actually, maybe the weirdest part of his tweetstorm is how, if it’s true, it potentially compromises him. After all, while it would be highly illegal for the White House to wiretap the opposing party’s presidential candidate for purely political reasons, i.e. to harass him or dig up dirt, it’s not illegal if they have a valid reason for suspecting foreign influence and meet the standard of proof required for a FISA warrant. (Or, if this were a wiretap related to a criminal probe, under other U.S. law.) That’s what Benjamin Wittes wants to know this morning — if Trump is right that there was a ‘tap of any of his associates’ phones inside Trump Tower, has he taken any steps to find out whether it was justified? The FISA Court signed off on the October warrant, didn’t it? Meanwhile, here’s the position he’s put himself in:

In lieu of an exit question, here’s Lindsey Graham at a townhall this morning echoing Rauch’s point. If Obama had Trump’s campaign wiretapped illegally, that’s a very big scandal for Obama. If Obama had Trump’s campaign wiretapped legally, that’s a scandal for Trump. Trump himself has now forced the issue. Which is it?