Trump tones down Obama wiretap claims
Trump administration officials this week backed away from the president’s accusation that former President Barack Obama tapped his phone during the election, claiming that Trump was referring figuratively to a broad range of surveillance techniques. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump didn’t reall y think that Obama “tapped his phone personally,” even though Trump had tweeted two weeks ago that his “bad (or sick)” predecessor “had my ‘wires tapped.’” Senior adviser Kellyanne Conway suggested in a TV interview that the FBI or CIA could have eavesdropped on Trump through a number of devices, including “microwaves with cameras”—a claim she later walked back. The White House has asked Congress to investigate the alleged wiretap as part of its probe into Russian interference in the election, but House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said he had found no evidence so far to support Trump’s claim. He added that it was “very possible” that Trump associates may have been swept up in surveillance targeting Russian nationals suspected of meddling in the November election.
House and Senate intelligence committees had given the administration until this week to provide evidence about Trump’s allegations, but the Justice Department requested more time and the deadline was extended to March 20. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime and terrorism, said he was prepared to subpoena administration officials if he didn’t get answers. He also threatened to block the nomination of Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general unless FBI Director James Comey clarified whether the bureau was investigating alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. “The entire country,” Graham said, “needs to know if there’s something there.”
What the editorials said
It’s absurd that Congress is running around trying to find evidence for Obama’s alleged wiretapping, said the Los Angeles Times. They won’t find any: remember that the president tossed out this baseless conspiracy theory after reading a report on the right-wing news site Breitbart.com, which in turn cited a commentary by a right-wing talk-radio host. Trump then regurgitated those fact-free claims in tweets that he hoped would “shift public attention away from persistent questions about his campaign’s ties to Russia.”
The administration’s handling of Trump’s wiretapping claims “insults the public,” said the Asbury Park, N.J., Press. After arguing that Obama might have used kitchen appliances as spying devices, Conway had the nerve to say she is “not in the job of having evidence.” Team Trump hopes Americans will “smirk and chuckle” over how great she and Spicer are at “spinning their spin.” But instead of ridiculous explanations, voters deserve the truth: “Trump meant what he said the first time, but he had no proof.”
What the columnists said
Does Trump believe the conspiracy theories he peddles? asked Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. That’s probably the wrong question. “In these cases, Trump does not support things because they are true; they are true because he supports them.” And he expects everyone who works for him “to embrace his version of reality.” In the process, “we are seeing the corruption of the Republican Party” as it enables Trump’s paranoia.
Actually, it’s possible Trump “holds the winning hand,” said P.H. Guthrie in TheFederalist.com. The BBC and other news outlets have reported that the FBI received a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order last October to probe two Russian banks allegedly linked to Trump’s campaign. Obama’s attorney general, Loretta Lynch, could have ordered this surveillance with his tacit approval. The Obama administration knew details of that surveillance would leak “given the sieve-like nature of the national security apparatus,” raising questions over candidate Trump’s integrity and aiding his rival, Hillary Clinton. “There is no smoking gun so far,” but the dots will eventually be connected and “the truth will come out.”
“We’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends,” said Eric Zorn in the Chicago Tribune. “Trump’s talent for blame deflection and Orwellian historical revisionism is unmatched.” When he finally dropped his birther smear against President Obama, Trump “took credit for resolving the controversy.” So when Congress fi- nally disproves his wiretapping fantasy, he’ll likely claim he’s “done a great service to this country by bringing closure to this issue.”