This is the second time in the span of 48 hours that a top White House aide has spun a very specific claim about surveillance as being much more general than anyone understood.
As the saying goes: Take him seriously, not literally. Even when he seems to be alleging Watergate-magnitude scandals.
“I think there’s no question that the Obama administration, that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 election,” Spicer said. “The President used the word wiretaps in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities.”…
Spicer also said that Trump was referring to the Obama administration broadly — and not accusing Obama of personal involvement — when he tweeted that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” and accused Obama of being a “bad” or “sick guy.”
There’s been plenty reported since the election about Trump aides being surveilled, notes Spicer, which is true. For starters, the New York Times claimed that Trump staffers including Paul Manafort had been caught on “wiretapped communications,” although the paper pointedly didn’t say who the targets of the wiretaps were. (Answer: Almost certainly Russians, not the Trump aides themselves.) That Times report was published on January 19th, though; when Trump took to tweeting about Obama and wiretaps last weekend, he said he “just found out” about it. If he was referring in his tweets to reports of surveillance that had been filed over the span of months, how can it be that he “just found out”? Probably he was referring to a recent Breitbart story summarizing the various surveillance allegations that someone had slipped into his stack of things to read. How can it be that he hadn’t heard the reports about Manafort et al. before then?
Anyway. If you’re wondering why Spicer is walking back Trump’s tweets now, downgrading them from Obama wiretapping him for political reasons to the previous administration conducting unspecified surveillance against him or his associates, it’s because the DOJ was due today to produce any evidence they’ve found to substantiate Trump’s charges. Spicer was obviously worried that the Department would come back and say “we found nothing on wiretapping” and Trump would be embarrassed, so he’s broadening what Trump said expecting that there’ll be something about Manafort or Carter Page or whoever being surveilled in some form. There’s been a twist this evening, though — the DOJ is asking for more time:
The House Intelligence Committee had set a Monday deadline for the agency to provide the evidence, a source familiar with the matter has told CNN, and has sent letters throughout the intelligence community this week to obtain records related to Russia.
“This afternoon, the Department of Justice placed calls to representatives of the Chairman and Ranking Member of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to ask for additional time to review the request in compliance with the governing legal authorities and to determine what if any responsive documents may exist,” Department of Justice spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement.
How hard can it be for them to find a FISA warrant that names Manafort or Page — or Trump(!)? Maybe there is something targeting Trump’s aides in their files and they’re working out how much they can disclose publicly without jeopardizing an investigation. Stay tuned. Here’s Spicer, followed by McCain urging Trump to prove what he said or retract.