Two weeks ago, President Trump announced that Barack Obama had “tapped” his “phones,” during the final month of the 2016 presidential campaign.
This claim was not based on conclusive intelligence, but, rather, on Trump’s wild extrapolations from news reports he misread.
That may sound like the snarky presumption of a liberal blogger. But it isn’t. It’s the president’s official story. Asked by Tucker Carlson how he came to discover that his predecessor had spied on him, Trump replied:
Well, I’ve been reading about things. I read in, I think it was January 20 a New York Times article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier the day previous where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said, ‘Wait a minute; there’s a lot of wiretapping being talked about.’ I’ve been seeing a lot of things
… So if I tweet two or three or four or five times a day, and if most of them are good — and I really want them all to be good — but if I make one mistake in a month — this one, I don’t think is going to prove to be a mistake at all.
The Times article that Trump cites — as his primary source — did have the words “wiretapped data” in its headline. But the story was about intelligence agencies monitoring Russian officials — and how, through that regular surveillance, they may have discovered contacts between those officials and Trump associates. The article says nothing about Trump Tower being surveilled, let alone about Obama wiretapping Donald Trump, himself.
Notably, the president has previously described precisely this kind of article — a report by the “failing” New York Times, based on anonymous sources, insinuating a connection between Trump and Russia — as “fake news” that should not be believed.
In that same interview with Carlson, Trump said that the word wiretap “covers a lot of different things” — a claim that makes little sense, given that the president repeatedly said his phones had been tapped.
So, to review, the president says that his claim:
(1) Was based solely on news reports (which do not support his claim).
(2) Should not be interpreted literally.
(3) Probably wasn’t a mistake, although, if he makes “one mistake in a month” on Twitter, that’s actually pretty good.
On Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee joined the House Intelligence Committee in saying it had found no evidence to support Trump’s claim.
Considering that the president has (essentially) admitted that he doesn’t have any evidence to support it either, you’d think the White House would throw in the towel. After all, if we’re not supposed to take Trump literally, then, ostensibly, the president is merely accusing the Obama administration of investigating ties between his associates and Russia. This is probably true — but it is, also, a claim that the Trump administration has previously denied.
In other words: The Trump administration doesn’t want to admit that the president made a bad tweet. But it also doesn’t want to admit that American intelligence agencies found cause to investigate ties between the president and Russia. And it’s hard to see how it can do both.
But on Thursday, Sean Spicer found a way — and soured diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom, in the process.
“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command,” the White House press secretary said Thursday, quoting Fox News commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano. “He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ. What is that? It’s the initials for the British intelligence-finding agency. So, simply by having two people saying to them president needs transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump’s conversations, involving President-elect Trump, he’s able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this. Putting the published accounts and common sense together, this leads to a lot.”
Obama deputized the redcoats!
Apparently, Spicer was so taken by how elegantly this reconciles the president’s contradictory claims, it didn’t occur to him that accusing a core ally’s intelligence service of participating in the illegal surveillance of an American presidential candidate might not sit well with said ally.
“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense,” GCHQ said in a rare public statement. “They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”
The White House has promised the British government that it will not accuse its spies of wiretapping Donald Trump ever again, U.K. prime minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said Friday.