Trump’s Obama Wiretap Claims: Distraction or Questionable Sources?
Trump’s latest round of controversial tweets have targeted his predecessor, Barack Obama. He offered no evidence, except for stating they came from ‘multiple sources’. It is becoming apparent the source was Mark Levin, a right-wing conspiracy theorist of Breitbart. Numerous intelligence community leaders have denied the existence of such surveillance, yet the president’s words carry weight. Will common sense prevail or is a costly investigation forthcoming?
- Trump’s unsubstantiated outburst
- Clapper and Comey reject claims outright
- A Russian distraction or a president with no intelligence briefings?
While the transition of power was decorated with handshakes and smiles, in recent weeks the relations between the two president’s has deteriorated substantially. Trump, apparently reeling from the negativity surrounding his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions’ forced recusal from Russia investigations lashed out on Saturday.
It appears that having started the week strongly with his first speech to Congress, the president is furious at the immediate usurpation of this high point by the Sessions scandal. It is alleged that his staff is taking much of the heat for their handling of the issue.
It was reported last week that Obama’s team had ensured that ‘bread crumbs’ were left in order to assist intelligence officials in their investigation of Russian election interference. It should come as no surprise that Trump has begun a sustained twitter attack on Obama and his policies.
However, the accusations that he has thrown at his predecessor, as yet, have not been backed up by any evidence. The alleged wiretapping was first reported by Mark Levin, a renowned right wing conspiracy theorist.
Both sides attempt to resolve Trump’s problematic claims
As a result of the claims, two leading intelligence officials both made statements. The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior officials said on Sunday.
Comey has been working to get the Justice Department to refute the claim because it falsely implies that the F.B.I. broke the law, the officials added. This should not be understated: the top law enforcement official of the nation is questioning the veracity of a president’s claims.
Former Intelligence Director James Clapper stated: “There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time, as a candidate or against his campaign,” Mr. Clapper added.
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, was also left wondering what Trumps sources were: “I’m not sure what the genesis of that statement was,” Mr. Rubio said. Trump’s team for their part backed the president’s claims.
Sean Spicer stated “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.” He offered no evidence or sources.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy White House press secretary called it potentially the “greatest abuse of power” that the country had seen.“Look, I think he’s going off of information that he’s seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential.”
A costly investigation into these, as yet, baseless accusations is now likely. Given Trump’s campaign promises to limit unnecessary spending, these actions, along with his weekly trips to Florida, are not setting much of an example.
The reason behind the Obama attacks
While Trump’s animosity to Obama and his policies is well known, the reasoning and timing of this prolonged attack is important. With unrelenting media pressure on his administration regarding ties to Russia and calls for another appointee to resign, Trump could be attempting to distract the public. He knows how media cycles work, and potentially is hoping fervour for Session’s resignation will subside.
Trump has no issue with publicly airing statements that have not been investigated and substantiated. His public doubting of Obama’s nationality is just one of a multitude of examples.
A more worrying interpretation is that Trump is incapable of obtaining his intelligence from intelligence briefings, preferring to get a concise summary from the right wing media. This included conspiracy theorists Mark Levin and Infowars creator, Alex Jones.
The fact that these are the two options that the public needs to consider when understanding Trump’s claims is a damning indictment of this administration. Of course, there is a third option – that Trump’s claims are true. We have yet to see a modicum of evidence to back this up though. We should look to Trump’s behaviour to decide.
Today he has claimed that Obama released 122 Guantanamo prisoners onto the battlefield. A report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that of the 122 Gitmo detainees who returned to the battlefield, only nine of them were released after Obama took office in January 2009.