So let’s unpack this. To be sure, what Trump tweeted is almost certainly false. Since the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a president cannot just order the FBI or the NSA to eavesdrop on a U.S. citizen. Justice Department lawyers have to ask that secret court for a warrant. By Sunday evening, news outlets were reporting that FBI director James Comey had urged the Justice Department to clarify the record and say no such wiretap was ordered. In this respect Trump got it wrong.
This, though, is not the end of the story. What Trump should have tweeted is that he suspects many Obama administration alumni are selectively disclosing to the public details of his associates’ phone calls and meetings that appear related to an ongoing investigation into his ties to Russia. That’s not the same as spying on one’s political opposition. But it’s an abuse of power nonetheless.
Let’s start with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. His phone calls were incidentally collected in routine monitoring of communications of Russian nationals. This means that while there was likely no warrant to tap Flynn’s phone calls, the government listened in on his calls with the Russian Ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak, and those conversations were then made public.