Is there anyone inside the White House, starting with Trump himself, who’s excited about this?
And is there anyone inside — or outside — the White House who thinks Graham is doing this to help Trump rather than to call what he thinks is a bluff? From his (and Sheldon Whitehouse’s) letter to Comey:
The President’s request was for the intelligence committees to look into this, but it is the Department of Justice’s criminal division that obtains warrants for wiretaps, and oversight of the criminal division lies with the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism. Therefore, we request that the Department of Justice provide us copies of any warrant applications and court orders—redacted as necessary to protect intelligence sources and methods that may be compromised by disclosure, and to protect any ongoing investigations—related to wiretaps of President Trump, the Trump Campaign, or Trump Tower. We will be glad to review any such applications and orders once they are disclosed, and proceed as appropriate with the oversight the President has requested.
As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, we would take any abuse of wiretapping authorities for political purposes very seriously. We would be equally alarmed to learn that a court found enough evidence of criminal activity or contact with a foreign power to legally authorize a wiretap of President Trump, the Trump Campaign, or Trump Tower.
That echoes the point Graham made at a town hall on Saturday after Trump started tweeting about Obama. If Trump is right that O had him wiretapped illegally for political reasons, said Graham, it’s the biggest scandal since Watergate. But if it turns out that Trump or his aides were wiretapped lawfully, because a judge concluded that there’s probable cause to believe they were breaking the law, that’s also the biggest scandal since Watergate — and it would be a Trump scandal, not an Obama scandal. (A wiretap under FISA, unlike a Title 3 wiretap, actually doesn’t require evidence of lawbreaking, merely evidence that the target is acting as an agent of a foreign power.) Trump made an explosive charge and now we need to know the truth, even if it boomerangs on Trump.
And based on how a lot of Republicans in the know have been acting, it seems like it’s likely to boomerang on Trump. When Jeff Sessions was asked if any wiretap orders were issued against Trump or his campaign, he ducked with a “no comment.” John Kelly? “I don’t know anything about it.” Sean Spicer? “Above my pay grade.” How about Mitch McConnell? Nope, doesn’t know anything about a wiretap. Maybe Richard Burr, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee that’s been investigating Russian interference? No, he hasn’t heard of any wiretap either. Devin Nunes, head of the House Intelligence Committee and stalwart Trump defender? He … also doesn’t know of any wiretaps on Trump or his aides, but warned the media not to take a “neophyte” like Trump “literally” when he, er, accuses a former president of bugging his phone during a presidential campaign. If I’m not mistaken, literally not a single member of Trump’s own party on the Hill has come to his defense by suggesting that there might be something to what he tweeted. Meanwhile, a YouGov poll out today finds just 30 percent of the public believes that Obama “probably” ordered wiretaps on Trump’s phones versus 50 percent that believes he probably didn’t. Even Trump’s allies understand that he’s prone to going off half-cocked sometimes. He doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt anymore.
How about Trump himself, though? Does he at least still stand by his tweets? Well … sort of:
Mr. Trump, advisers said, was in high spirits after he fired off the posts. But by midafternoon, after returning from golf, he appeared to realize he had gone too far, although he still believed Mr. Obama had wiretapped him, according to two people in Mr. Trump’s orbit…
People close to Mr. Trump had seen the pattern before. The episode echoed repeated instances in the 2016 presidential campaign.
During the primary contests, Mr. Trump seized on a false National Enquirer article that raised a connection between the father of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Later, Mr. Trump justified it to skeptical campaign aides by saying, “Even if it isn’t totally true, there’s something there,” according to a former campaign official.
Over the weekend, aides to Mr. Trump decided the only real solution to the presidential Twitter posts was to kick the allegations to Congress.
Spicer put out a statement Saturday calling on Congress to investigate possible wiretapping and adding, “Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted,” which sounds like spin-speak for “The president’s out over his skis on this so let’s let the matter drop now, okay?” But Graham’s not letting it drop. And not only is he not letting it drop, he’s specifically asking for comment from the one guy in all of this who (a) knows the answer to the wiretapping mystery and (b) apparently wants to debunk Trump’s accusation against Obama. That’s Comey. News broke last weekend that he was leaning on the Justice Department to confirm publicly that Obama never ordered the FBI to wiretap Trump or anyone on his team, but the DOJ won’t do it. And Comey, having had some, shall we say, bad experiences with commenting publicly on open investigations in the past, probably doesn’t want to take it upon himself to weigh in on another one, especially knowing that it’ll piss Trump off if he refutes the wiretapping claims. But if Graham insists that he do it? If Graham actually resorts to subpoenaing documents about wiretaps, as he threatens to do in the clip below? Well, then, Comey sort of has to speak up, doesn’t he?
That’s what I think Graham’s after here. He’s not trying to prove Trump right about the wiretaps. He’s trying to prove him wrong by giving Comey a pretext to say something refuting Trump’s charges. Stay tuned. Exit question: Surely White House counsel has had an opportunity by now to request any FISA applications targeting Trump of his aides from the DOJ, with an eye to Trump declassifying them if they backed up his claim about Obama. What inference should we draw from the fact that nothing’s been declassified yet? Is that just good ethical practice by the White House in deciding not to politicize an ongoing investigation, or is there another reason?