Trump continued “keeping people on their toes,” as he as has often remarked, by accusing his predecessor of wiretapping him and today has asked Congress to delve into the issue. The president has offered few other details. As is the case with much of what Trump does, this too is unprecedented in several ways, but let’s get into the wiretapping part of this. So what did the FBI do exactly?
As part of the investigation on the Trump campaign’s Russian connections, the FBI asked for a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), according to news reports. The FISC issues FISA warrants, basically the surveillance order. This court was created back in 1978 and the purpose was to authorize surveillance of foreign spies. The president cannot order a wiretap.
So the FBI wanted a warrant to keep an eye on transactions between Russian banks and four members of Trump’s campaign team. News media reported that the court turned down the FBI’s request to monitor the Trump campaign individuals because they’d have to first demonstrate that those individuals were acting as agents of a foreign power, i.e. spies. So the FBI narrowed its request to specifically target the banks but some media also claimed that included emails and messages and not just transactions. Did the FBI get the warrant to be able to target the Trump campaign members indirectly, i.e. by targeting their Russian contacts? We don’t know. If they did, it’s not illegal to do that, just well, morally dubious perhaps. But it they weren’t in touch with those banks there would be no surveillance right? Trump doesn’t claim his phone was tapped though that’s the suggestion based on his tweets and we don’t have mention of phone tapping in the stories.
So now: why is Trump doing this? That’s the million dollar question. My guess is that Trump is desperate to try and change the channel on the Russian investigation especially after Sessions recused himself of involvement last week. So he goes to the well he’s gone to before, blaming the intelligence community(IC) of wrongdoing, and blaming Obama of something. It worked for him before (the whole birth certificate nonsense). He knows that in the media this investigation into his campaign has been compared to Watergate and Nixon, and so he’s trying to reverse the story to say “it’s not me that’s being like Nixon but the intelligence community and Obama! I’m the victim of the new Watergate!” This is aimed at his supporters to try to whip them up. He also has to make things “official” by going to Congress and asking for investigations and such. Expect Trump’s administration to be throwing the Watergate/Nixon analogy out often. They want to redefine it’s recent use and to own the analogy in order to to shift the meaning to one where they are the victims and it’s Obama and the IC that are acting like “Nixon.” But for his supporters and Congress, ask yourselves the tough questions here. Why would the FBI be asking for FISA warrants? Why were they granted one for Russian bank contacts? These things are not handed out like candy. The more troubling question for Trump is: why would you be part of that investigation? Trump may have just given the Senate the excuse they need to appoint a special prosecutor. So let’s do it, and clear the air right? This isn’t going to go away. A full independent investigation is needed to bring everything out and onto the table both for those supporting Trump and his opponents.
There is another possible reason for those Tweets. Trump also may have fired out the Tweets to try and get ahead of something he knows may be coming. There may be something that someone found through surveillance, and it would come out soon, and he knows it, and he’s trying to prepare his “conspiracy” story to “explain it” before it is revealed. Either way, he needs to be asked directly on what he has done to warrant being a part of any wiretapping, and if it’s illegal wiretapping, prove it or stop disparaging the highest office in the country. Congress cannot allow it to continue.
For those interested in the legalities of this, Just Security also has a good write up on this story here.