Put this together with the statement yesterday by Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff, the ranking members of the House Intelligence Committee, and we seem to have a definitive verdict from those in the know. No wiretapping at Trump HQ, either before or after the election.
Actually, let me rephrase. Per Burr and Warner, there’s no evidence of any “surveillance” at Trump Tower.
“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016,” Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) said…
FBI Director James Comey is expected to be asked to clear up the issue when he appears Monday for a public hearing before the House panel.
If you’ve been following the Republican spin lately, you should have known this is how it would turn out. Three days ago, Sean Spicer (who put out a statement on the day of Trump’s “wiretapping” tweets insisting the White House would have no further comment) warned the media that when Trump said “wiretapping” he didn’t literally mean wiretapping. He meant surveillance of any kind, which jibed with stories in the media of U.S. intelligence picking up conversations between Trump aides and Russian officials. Nunes doubled down on that point yesterday: No, he said, there were no wiretaps at the Tower, but he hinted that it may be that Trump staffers were caught on wiretaps of foreign agents and that the feds didn’t do what they were supposed to in order to “minimize” the exposure of their identities. Then Trump himself told Tucker Carlson last night that he put “wiretap” in quotes in his tweets for a reason — just like Spicer said, he was supposedly using the term to describe any form of surveillance, not just literal wiretaps. The goalposts have clearly moved here.
If it turns out that, say, the FBI targeted certain Russians for wiretapping only because they knew those Russians were talking to Trump staffers and thought that’d be an easy way to monitor the staffers, that in itself would be a major scandal. The feds aren’t supposed to abuse their power to monitor foreigners by using it as a backdoor way to monitor American citizens. Only if the communications involving Americans are truly “incidental” to monitoring the foreigners is that okay. And even then, as Nunes said yesterday, the feds are supposed to conceal the Americans’ identities in preparing transcripts unless disclosing them is absolutely necessary to understanding the intelligence value. If you’re wondering how this story might blow up even with Trump’s claim on wiretapping having fizzled, that’s how. And that’s why he, Nunes, and Spicer are rhetorically pointing in that direction. But that’s what makes the phrasing in the excerpt above potentially significant: Burr and Warner aren’t merely denying wiretapping, they’re denying any form of surveillance at Trump’s home base. It could be that Trump staffers were surveilled elsewhere — we’ll hear from Comey on Monday — but they seem to be saying that even if you read Trump’s “wiretapping” tweets loosely, he’s still wrong on the facts. No surveillance at the Tower, period.
Here’s Paul Ryan this morning being asked about wiretapping and noting what Burr and Warner later confirmed, namely, that based on everything that’s been told to the Intelligence Committees, it’s just not true.