A clever answer by Conway in that she insinuates Trump has classified information that proves his suspicions about Obama are correct, but she never clearly asserts that he does. In fact, she begins her response to the question about how Trump knows what he knows by saying, “Let me answer that globally,” i.e. let me make a general statement that may or may not apply to this specific circumstance. This is her way of suggesting to Fox viewers that Trump is on firm ground in accusing Obama without explicitly saying so — just in case it turns out that his suspicions were based on nothing.
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) March 6, 2017
According to the reporting this weekend, though, Trump’s suspicions were based not on classified information but on publicly available stuff like Breitbart and Heat Street.
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
Per an official, I've confirmed that several people at the White House have been circulating this Breitbart story. https://t.co/WT4bdWNhSK
— Robert Costa (@costareports) March 4, 2017
I wrote about the Breitbart and Heat Street stories here. Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard also hears that Trump was reacting to media reports when he accused Obama, not to any sensitive intelligence about FISA orders that he’d come to know:
President Trump’s tweets Saturday morning were not part of a deep strategy or clever misdirection play—at least not one known to anyone other than the president himself. The tweets set off a frantic effort inside the White House to substantiate retroactively what the president had tweeted. Aides collected stories published in sources ranging from Breitbart to the New York Times in order to make their case that he might have been right…
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.
The Times reported on Saturday that White House counsel Don McGahn, inspired by Trump’s tweets, was seeking access to any FISA orders that might have targeted Trump or other people at Trump Tower. Question: If Trump’s suspicions about Obama are based on classified information rather than on media reports, why would McGahn need to seek access to anything? Trump would already have the material.
Another question: if it’s true that the FBI applied for a FISA order (which was supposedly rejected) last June that “named Trump,” as Heat Street alleged last November, why hasn’t a major U.S. paper been able to corroborate that? Neither the New York Times, the Washington Post, nor the Wall Street Journal has reported it, as far as I know, and “these guys are sourced up the wazoo,” as Julian Sanchez put it. The omission is even stranger if you believe that major American media is out to get Trump. What could be juicier to the MSM than a scoop that the FBI — Comey’s FBI! — had such strong suspicions about Russian influence over Trump that they sought a FISA order to investigate it? Why hasn’t the Times, which has run multiple stories alleging contacts between Trump campaign staffers and Russians, broken that news?
They did run a story alleging wiretapping involving Trump aides back on January 19th, but read this passage closely:
Mr. Manafort is among at least three Trump campaign advisers whose possible links to Russia are under scrutiny. Two others are Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign, and Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative.
The F.B.I. is leading the investigations, aided by the National Security Agency, the C.I.A. and the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit. The investigators have accelerated their efforts in recent weeks but have found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, the officials said. One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.
There are wiretapped conversations apparently involving Trump aides — but that doesn’t mean they were the targets of the ‘taps. Michael Hayden, former CIA chief, made that point too this morning:
Gen. Hayden says he views Clapper's denial as ONLY a denial of TARGETING Trump aides, not of routine surveillance directed at foreign powers
— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) March 6, 2017
It may be that the FBI was wiretapping Russian officials and those officials ended up in contact with Manafort et al. for whatever reason. That’s how the feds allegedly found out about Mike Flynn’s ill-fated call with the Russian ambassador, which “was captured on a routine wiretap of diplomats’ calls, the officials said.” It was Kislyak’s phone that was ‘tapped, not Flynn’s, but Flynn ended up on tape when he spoke to Kislyak. Is that what happened to Manafort too?
Alternatively, read this smart post by J.E. Dyer attempting to explain how the feds might have had access to communications involving Trump aides even without a wiretap. Back in early January, Loretta Lynch signed an order authorizing the NSA to share data collected in its mammoth information dragnet with various federal intelligence agencies, including the FBI. Allegedly, even conversations between Americans could be accessed by the feds so long as they were identified “incidentally” in this data. Maybe communications inside Trump Tower were collected that way and are now in Comey’s possession. Or, as I say, maybe Trump’s just blowing smoke based on what he read in Heat Street. Remember, this is a guy who, as a billionaire and a candidate for president, told Chuck Todd in 2015 that he got his military advice by watching “the shows.” Maybe he gets his advice on wiretapping from “the sites.”
Here’s an interesting idea from Sean Davis, by the way:
Trump has the power as president to declassify information (in fact, he may have already inadvertently declassified some things via his tweets this weekend). If the FBI applied for a FISA order last June that “named” him, why not make it public, especially if it was rejected by the FISA court? The FBI might not like that, but if in fact the FBI was targeting Trump and his aides for shoddy, politically motivated reasons, all the more reason for that fact to be exposed. (Never mind would that mean for Trump’s relationship with Comey and the FBI going forward, which isn’t great to begin with.) So long as he’s prepared for accusations that he’s interfering in an ongoing investigation by publishing a previously secret order, it’s worth considering.
The other risk, though, would be to Trump himself. If he declassifies an old FISA application that named, say, him and Paul Manafort as targets, the public will naturally want to know why the FBI was so suspicious of both of them as to have sought court approval for surveillance. Unless the Bureau’s application is obviously thin and political — and maybe it is, given that the court rejected it — it’ll only deepen the suspicions around Trump about Russia. What does he do then? Declassify more stuff to try to answer those questions? Drop the matter and hope that everyone forgets about it? We’re already at the point where nearly two-thirds of the public thinks a special prosecutor is warranted in the Russia matter. Publicizing FBI machinations against Trump’s team, however dubious, is likely to make that worse for him, not better.