White House sources acknowledge that Trump had no idea whether the claims he was making were true when he made them. He was basing his claims on media reports—some of them months old—about the possibility that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court may have authorized surveillance of Trump associates, presumably pursuant to a federal investigation of their ties to Russia.
Later Saturday morning, White House Counsel Don McGahn told staffers to avoid discussions about the president’s tweets or any possible investigation—an order that effectively paralyzed the White House staff for much of the day. Staffers were afraid to talk to one another for fear of running afoul of McGahn’s guidance and even those authorized to talk to the media were nervous about doing so.
At 8:55 on Sunday morning, the White House issued a statement about the president’s tweets and the ensuing controversy. “Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling. 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.”
The formal language masks the rather extraordinary work that this statement is doing: The White House is asking Congress to investigate in order to determine whether President Trump’s tweeted claims were true.