This entire story about if and when the phone lines in Trump Tower were tapped by our nation’s intelligence agencies during last year’s election is spinning completely out of control at this point. On the odd chance that you’ve somehow missed it, go back and read Ed’s initial coverage when the news broke as well as Allahpundit’s follow-up on the quasi-denials coming from Barack Obama’s office. At this point we have all sorts of reports and records which indicate that something was either going on or was at least attempted along those lines. As Ed correctly noted, the idea of the intelligence community looking into possible connections between foreign governments and American political actors would be neither unusual nor illegal, assuming that the proper protocols handled by the FISA courts were followed. The million-dollar question, however, has not been answered, and now Donald Trump wants Congress to drag the entire mess out into the sunlight. (CNN)
President Donald Trump is asking Congress to look into whether the Obama administration abused its investigative powers during the 2016 election, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement Sunday.
“Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling,” Spicer said, posting the statement on Twitter. “President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.
“Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted,” he added.
Spicer did not provide further details on the President’s request of Congress.
We have more on the denial front today. On Meet the Press, James Clapper showed up and sort of, kind of said it almost couldn’t be true. But be sure to note there’s a lot of wiggle room in his comments once again. Was activity “mounted against Trump” at that time? Well, not if it took place but was “mounted against” his staff. And he won’t confirm or deny a possible FISA order either.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper addressed President Trump’s claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped before his election victory, telling NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ that, under his watch, ‘there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time, as a candidate, or against his campaign.’ When asked by ‘Meet the Press’ host Chuck Todd if he could confirm or deny a FISA court order existed for Trump Tower, Clapper declared, ‘I can deny it.’
Let’s circle back for a moment and define precisely what the “million-dollar question” I referenced above actually is. Unfortunately, even the question itself is rather complicated and would need to be broken into a couple of component parts. First of all, was there a wiretap ever installed in Trump Tower? If the answer is no, then Trump winds up with an entire grand slam breakfast worth of egg on his face. But with this much smoke emanating from the story, it beggars disbelief to think that there isn’t at least some fire underneath.
So let’s go with the assumption that there actually was a tap put in place. The next question to deal with is who originated the idea. If this was just the intelligence community going about their normal business and following leads which turned up as they routinely tracked what the Russians were up to and it wound up being a dry hole, this becomes much less of the story. Once again, President Trump winds up looking a bit foolish, albeit not nearly as much so as if there was no truth to the underlying allegations to begin with.
The final and most explosive possibility is that the idea came from the White House. Many critics will immediately rush to the barricades on this one and say that this isn’t the sort of thing that Barack Obama could or should have been involved in so obviously it must not be true. That’s clearly the attitude taken by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi this morning during a jaw-dropping interview with Jake Tapper on State of the Union. She’s claiming in no uncertain terms that Barack Obama was not involved. Of course, if I wanted to invoke the new entry in what is currently the best practices guide for cable news, we could say that she is making that assertion “without evidence.”
Speaking of which, have you noticed how often that phrase, “without evidence” is showing up in the press regarding the story? Check out the CNN chyron during the aforementioned coverage today.
Yes, we’re seeing a lot of this without evidence language scampering around the headlines. But what if this story, or at least elements of it, turns out to be true? How does the media reel that back in, assuming they even try? Sure, it could still turn out to be a huge nothingburger, but Donald Trump is no longer operating from a position where he has to rely on blogs for all of his information. If there was something going on at the FISA court, doesn’t it stand to reason that he would be able to get his hands on that information these days?
But now I’m going to turn around and essentially contradict myself. If we’re going to be applying Occam’s Razor to these questions then I’m forced to apply the same standard to Barack Obama. Do we really think that he would’ve attempted a Watergate style probe into the Trump campaign during the heat of the battle? You can say that Obama was a disappointing president in terms of actual governance and policy (at least if you’re approaching it from a conservative point of view) but one thing which pretty much everyone on both sides of the aisle agrees on is that he was one hell of a good politician. Launching something like that right before he was going to be leaving office and knowing that the target of the investigation had at least a somewhat reasonable chance of taking over the nation’s intelligence apparatus from him would be a suicidal level rookie mistake. Would Obama really have done it?
Too many questions and not enough answers. At this point, none of it really seems to make sense to me. But if Congress actually does throw open the vaults and dredges everything up which doesn’t fall under the cloak of intelligence community concerns, we’ll probably have our answers. If the Obama White House was at the bottom of this it’s going to be one of the biggest scandals in generations. If it turns out to be nothing of the sort, then it will probably just be written off as another crazy morning tweeting episode from the 45th president.