In his Saturday morning tweet storm from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump accused his predecessor, President Barack Obama, of a “Nixon/Watergate”-style action by wiretapping Trump Tower in October, before the election, without any evidence. The aftermath of Trump’s tweets became clear the next day, as it was reported by The New York Times that the FBI asked the Justice Department to reject Trump’s claims. However, it will not do so after the White House asked that any Congressional investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election include determining if “executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.”
Trump was apparently referencing a claim from conservative radio host Mark Levin, who suggested that Obama should be the target of a congressional investigation for “police state” tactics.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump tweeted. He then added, “Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!”
“I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election,” Trump continued. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [SIC] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
It has been reported by the Washington Post that Trump’s tweets came as a surprise to his own aides. NBC News also reports that a senior U.S. official wasn’t sure what Trump was referring to exactly. In addition, NBC News reports that Trump didn’t speak with anyone within the government about the issue.
Obama’s spokesman, Kevin Lewis, also issued a statement, which reads:
A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.
To show how serious Trump is about the allegations he made against Obama, press secretary Sean Spicer issued a statement Sunday morning. In it, he says that the president has requested that Congressional investigations into the 2016 election also “determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.” Here’s the full statement:
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.
Hours after Spicer’s statement, the The New York Times reported that FBI Director James Comey asked the Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department to reject Trump’s claims. However, the Justice Department has yet to do so. If the Justice Department did call out the President for making an unverified claim, it would be unprecedented.
Levin’s comments on his radio show on March 2 were picked up by Brietbart on March 3. The host outlined a case – further turned into 10 points by Brietbart – for a congressional investigation into Obama. One of Levin’s points was an October 2016 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) request from the Obama administration, which was focused on a Trump Tower computer server that was believed to have links to Russian banks, The National Review later reported in January 2017.
As RealClearPolitics also notes, Levin accused Obama of conducting a “silent coup,” adding, “They are not going to stop.”
There was also a report in The New York Times on March 1 that Obama administration officials rushed to make sure the evidence of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign were not swept under the rug and remained in the official record.
Back on January 19, the New York Times reported that law enforcement and intelligence agencies did intercept “communications and financial transactions” during their investigation into potential ties between Trump and Russian officials. The FBI is leading the investigation, with the help of the NSA, the CIA and the financial crimes unit within the Treasury Department.
The Times did report that some wiretapped communication did come from the White House, but the Times didn’t say if this wiretapping was ordered by Obama himself. It also wasn’t clear if the wiretapped communications had anything to do with Trump himself or his campaign. In addition, the Times report doesn’t specify if these communications were acquired by wiretaps of Trump Tower.
In between Trump’s accusations about wiretapping, Trump again commented on the situation with Attorney General Jeff Sessions‘ decision to recuse himself from investigations relating to the Trump campaign. Trump tweeted that Sessions’ first meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016 was “set up by the Obama Administration under education program for 100 [ambassadors].” Trump then wrote, “Just out: The same Russian Ambassador that met Jeff Sessions visited the Obama White House 22 times, and 4 times last year alone.”
However, the Washington Post’s report on Sessions’ meetings with Kislyak states that the two first met in 2016 in July during the Republican National Convention. It was the second meeting between the two in September 2016 that took place in Sessions’ Washington, D.C. office.
Before he left Washington on Friday afternoon, Trump tweeted to both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to remind them that, they too, had met with Russian officials at one point in their lives. For Schumer, Trump tweeted a 2003 picture of Schumer and Vladimir Putin eating doughnuts when the Russian president visited New York City after the photo resurfaced on conservative websites the day before.