After months of fending off unproven allegations that members of his campaign colluded with the Russians to engineer his upset electoral victory, President Trump has gone on the offensive. Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that “President Obama . . . tapp[ed] my phones” at Trump Tower starting three weeks before the November election.
Trump compared the bugging of his phone to the Watergate break-in at the offices of the Democrat National Committee during the 1972 presidential election. That “third-rate burglary” by agents of the Nixon White House unleashed a scandal that eventually forced Richard Nixon to resign because of his efforts to cover up the connection of his White House to the crime.
Obama’s spokesman, Kevin Lewis, issued a carefully worded “denial” on Monday in response to Trump’s tweet accusing the former president of tapping his phone. Lewis said: “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.”
One of the pertinent facts in analyzing Obama’s statement is that only the FISA court can “order” surveillance, and it is only the Justice Department, rather than the White House, which presents the request to the FISA court.
Fox News national security reporter Katherine Harris challenged Obama’s claim that he never tried to interfere with a Justice Department investigation. She cited numerous public statements by Obama during the FBI investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s email server minimizing the importance of her mishandling of classified information and insisting that it did not pose a threat to national security.
The more relevant question is whether the White House was aware that the Justice Department had requested a surveillance order for Trump Tower, and whether it had anything to do with that request.
SEEKING WIRETAP WARRANTS FROM THE SECRET FISA COURT
Many media reports say that the Obama Justice Department filed two applications to put members of the Trump administration under surveillance. They were submitted to a secret national security court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978.
FISA national security investigations are more like covert intelligence operations than criminal investigations. They gather information about what foreign powers are doing on U.S. soil. Even after a FISA investigation is complete, its results are kept secret to protect American citizens who were the subject of the surveillance but were not accused of criminal wrongdoing.
The first application to the FISA court for a surveillance order was submitted last June, but was rejected by the court. That was unusual. Apparently, the evidence submitted to support the request was too weak to justify broad surveillance. Four months later, the Justice Department submitted a second, narrower request for surveillance of Trump Tower, which was approved by the FISA court.
The initial request to the FISA court reportedly mentioned Trump’s name, but it is not clear whether he was one of the targets of the wiretapping or just mentioned in passing. The application was based upon suspicions of illegal financial transactions and Trump’s business dealings with Russian banks. According to Fox News, the second FISA request was aimed at a computer server belonging to a Russian bank located in Trump Tower. It was in communication with computers at other Russian banks and was suspected of being used to make illegal transfers of funds to support Russian hacking efforts to interfere with the U.S. election. The surveillance also intercepted the “secondary communications” of Trump and his campaign team which was headquartered in the same building.
TRUMP TOWER WAS BUGGED THREE WEEKS BEFORE THE ELECTION
According to the BBC and a McClatchy new service source, the second FISA application was approved on October 15, 2016, just three weeks before Election Day. It authorized covert access to bank records and other documents related to illicit Russian campaign-related payments. The New York Times reported that the people who were placed under surveillance at the time included Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, conservative political activist Roger Stone and businessman Carter Page, who had connection to the Russian oil industry and was named by Trump a year-ago as one of his foreign policy advisors. None of the three held senior positions within the Trump campaign at the time the FISA warrant was issued.
The surveillance at Trump Tower failed to produce any evidence of criminal activity or national security violations. Yet it was permitted to continue through the election and the transition.
A front-page New York Times article published on January 20, the same day Trump was inaugurated, was entitled “Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides.” It quoted an unnamed official saying that the accelerated investigation led by the FBI, which included “intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications which had been provided to the White House,” was unable to find “conclusive evidence of wrongdoing.”
That New York Times report lends credibility to Trump’s claim that Obama was wiretapping his phone. Curiously, Michael Schmidt, one of the three authors of the January story, wrote another story over the weekend which claimed there was no evidence supporting Trump’s tweet claiming that his phone was tapped.
According to a January report by the Washington Bureau of the McClatchy news service, a total of six federal agencies were involved in the investigation of suspicious election-related Russian financial activity which began last spring, long before the first unsubstantiated rumors surfaced about a possible Russian connection to the Trump campaign.
DNI CLAPPER DENIES A WARRANT WAS EVER ISSUED
Multiple media reports agree that the intelligence wiretaps were authorized by a warrant issued by the FISA court. But in a Sunday interview, Obama’s Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper categorically denied the existence of a FISA warrant authorizing surveillance of Trump Tower in October by any of the federal intelligence agencies under his jurisdiction. “There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign,” Clapper said.
Clapper conceded that he couldn’t speak for “other authorized entities in the government or a state or local entity” which might have conducted the surveillance. But as DNI, Clapper was supervising the activities of the FBI, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA, which were the most likely candidates to run the wiretaps.
Clapper’s denial only adds to the mystery of who was carrying out the wiretaps, who they were aimed at, and who leaked them to the media. It also raises the possibility that the wiretaps themselves were illegal, which would only heighten the magnitude of the plot to discredit Trump’s presidency.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich claimed that much of the conspiracy against Trump is from inside the federal government by liberal Obama holdovers. But he believes that eventually the House and Senate intelligence committees will get to the bottom of the leak campaign.
Gingrich attributed much of the mischief to an “ongoing war of the Washington Post and the New York Times against the Trump administration.”
Gingrich also said that he is convinced that President Trump was correct in accusing Obama of having wiretapped Trump Tower by virtue of the fact that the recording of the leaked conversation between Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador in December took place while Flynn was working out of the transition headquarters in Trump Tower.
TRUMP UNDER SIEGE
Former FBI assistant director Jim Kallstrom said in an interview with Fox Business News on Monday that he had previously warned Trump that the “Fifth Column in the United States” would seek to intercept his cell phone conversations and computer data. It includes the media, the Democrats and criminal operatives paid to disrupt things.
Kallstrom said that Trump is now under attack from all sides by Obama holdovers running government agencies. He was also distressed that Obama had loosened restrictions on the NSA’s distribution of closely held secret information which used to be disseminated strictly on a need to know basis. However, Kallstrom added that the FISA court surveillance order and the evidence to support it, if they exist, would be available to the congressional intelligence committees now looking into it.
TRUMP AND CLINTON WERE BOTH UNDER INVESTIGATION
The BBC reported that the inquiry into Russian efforts to influence the presidential election was launched last March when the CIA received a recording from a source in the Baltic states indicating that the Russian government was going to funnel money into the U.S. to finance the operation.
At about the same time that U.S. intelligence agencies first sought a warrant to wiretap Trump’s headquarters, the FBI and the Justice Department were whitewashing the criminal investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s emails. There was a mountain of evidence that she had violated federal law by putting classified material on her private email server and destroying more than 30,000 emails rather than turning them over to comply with a Congressional subpoena for them. Yet a few weeks later, FBI Director James Comey closed the Clinton investigation and refused to recommend a criminal prosecution against her, clearing the way for her to receive the Democrat nomination.
Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh has suggested that it is not a coincidence that the first request for a FISA warrant to wiretap the Trump campaign came at about the same time as the infamous meeting at the Phoenix airport between former President Bill Clinton and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
RUSSIANS FORMALLY ACCUSED IN JANUARY FOR HELPING TRUMP
On January 6, Clapper released an unclassified version of an intelligence report that Obama had ordered on campaign-related Russian activities. It concluded that President Vladimir Putin did try to influence the outcome of the election, “undermine faith in the U.S. democratic process,” damage Mrs. Clinton’s election prospects and bolster Trump’s campaign by hacking the emails of top Democrats and distributing fake news stories.
After some initial resistance, Trump accepted the conclusion that the Russians did try to interfere with the outcome of the election, but insists that allegations that he or any members of his campaign assisted the Russians amounted to a “political witch hunt” and a “complete and total fabrication.”
THE FAKE NEWS DOSSIER AGAINST TRUMP
The possible Russian connection to Trump was first alleged last summer by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. He had been hired to do opposition research by Trump’s Republican opponents for the GOP nomination, and later the Democrat presidential campaign.
Steele claimed that Trump had multiple business ties to wealthy Russian businessmen with ties to the Kremlin. He also reported that Russian consulates in New York City, Washington D.C. and Miami had delivered “tens of thousands of dollars” to agents using the names of legitimate Russian-American retirees, claiming that they were legitimate pension benefits. A glaring problem with that report was the fact that Russia does not have a consulate in Miami.
Steele put his allegations about Trump and the Russians into a 35-page dossier which he gave to the FBI in July. He also gave it to various news organizations, but they refused to use it because none of his accusations could be verified.
The existence of Steele’s dossier was first reported publicly by CNN on January 10, after a summary of it was included in a high-level intelligence briefing given to president-elect Trump. Steele’s dossier was immediately published by the BuzzFeed website. None of its allegations of collusion between Russia and Trump have ever been verified, despite numerous efforts by respectable news organizations and intelligence agencies to do so.
On January 11, Trump issued a categorical denial of those allegations, declaring, “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I have nothing to do with Russia: no deals, no loans, no nothing!” Later that day at a news conference, Trump dismissed Steele’s dossier as worthless “nonsense.” Putin also rejected Steele’s accusations and suggested that the dossier had been leaked by the White House to undermine Trump’s “legitimacy” as the president-elect.
Clapper issued a statement in January declaring that the U.S. intelligence community “has not made any judgment that the information in [Steele’s] document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions.”
WHY WAS THE FBI READY TO PAY FOR FALSE INFORMATION?
Nevertheless, the Washington Post reported that the FBI had reached an agreement with Steele to pay him for continuing his investigation into the Trump-Russian connection. The Post concluded, “while Trump has derided [Steele’s] dossier as ‘fake news’ compiled by his political opponents, the FBI’s arrangement with Steele shows that the bureau considered him credible and found his information, while unproved, to be worthy of further investigation.”
This led to a demand on Monday by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley that FBI Director Comey provide his committee with complete details of the FBI’s paid arrangements with Steele, whether it relied on any information from Steele in seeking warrants, and whether the FBI has similar arrangements with any other outside investigators.
In response to the embarrassing stories based upon numerous leaks from classified investigations, Comey asked the Justice Department to issue a statement knocking down media reports of wiretaps on Trump Tower, but the Justice Department rejected his request. As a result, White House spokesman Sean Spicer refused to give a direct answer when reporters asked him twice on Monday whether Comey still enjoys Trump’s confidence.
CONSERVATIVE VOICES SUPPORT TRUMP’S ACCUSATION
Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who writes a column for the National Review, Michael Mukasey, who served as attorney general for President George W. Bush and Mark Levin, who was the chief of staff of Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, Ed Meese, all agree that Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by the Obama administration is essentially correct.
In an ABC interview, Mukasey noted, “the difference between being correct and being right. I think the president was not correct certainly in saying that President Obama ordered a tap on a server in Trump Tower. However, I think he is right in that there was surveillance, and that it was conducted at the behest of the… Justice Department through the FISA court. . .
“It means there was some basis to believe that somebody in Trump Tower may have been acting as an agent of the Russians, for whatever purpose, not necessarily the election. . . And the FBI keeps track of people who act as agents of foreign governments, [such] as agents of the Chinese, the Russians, the Israelis, everybody,” Mukasey said.
Mukasey bases his conclusion that Trump was being wiretapped from an “inadvertent blurting out” by Democrat Congressman Adam Schiff, when he expressed dissatisfaction with the briefing he received last week from FBI Director James Comey and demanded “to talk to the counterintelligence agents at the FBI who were involved in this. Now, what that means is this is part not of a criminal investigation, but of an intelligence gathering investigation.”
However, Mukasey said that he would not want to see any of the evidence which was submitted to the FISA court to obtain the warrant, or the fruits of that warrant released to the public. He fears that it could compromise national security, “and that should not be done even in a political storm as hot as this one.”
WHY OBAMA HAD TO KNOW
McCarthy writes that it is hard to believe that the Justice Department would put the opposition presidential candidate under surveillance just three weeks before the election without notifying and receiving explicit permission from the highest levels at the Obama White House.
McCarthy claims that the suggestion that Obama had never ordered surveillance against American citizens is nonsense. He had done much worse. In 2011 President Obama personally ordered the killing of American born Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of AQAP, the main al Qaeda terrorist group in Yemen, for instigating attacks aimed at the U.S. homeland and for serving as its most effective English-language recruiter over the Internet.
Awlaki was killed in Yemen by a missile launched from a U.S. drone. Obama ordered his death without a warrant from any court or any formal legal proceeding, using his authority as commander-in-chief acting to protect the country against a national security threat. So the notion that Obama would never have ordered an American citizen suspected of being an agent of a hostile foreign power placed under surveillance because is absurd.
The idea that a major party candidate for president and his staff would willingly work as agents of a hostile foreign power is even more absurd, but that hasn’t stopped Trump’s political opponents and the mainstream media from making that public assertion against him repeatedly over the past nine months.
There is nothing wrong with a president ordering national-security surveillance of a citizen suspected of acting as an agent of a foreign power to threaten homeland security and America’s national interests. In fact, that is one of the president’s constitutional responsibilities, but that awesome power must not be abused by a president to advance his personal political agenda, which is what President Trump is accusing former-President Obama of doing.
THE ANTI-TRUMP CONSPIRACY TIMELINE
Using published reports from mainstream media sources, Mark Levin has built a convincing case to back his claim that Obama is using “police state” tactics and leaked classified information to orchestrate a “silent coup” to undermine Trump’s presidency.
Levin calls himself a constitutional conservative and supported Ted Cruz rather than Donald Trump during the Republican primaries. Nevertheless, he calls the attacks on Trump’s presidency to be “unparalleled” and believes that they pose a threat to American democracy.
Levin’s chronology begins in June 2016, when the FISA court denied the first request for a surveillance warrant on Trump’s team.
In July, WikiLeaks published emails which were hacked from the computers of the Democrat National Committee. They revealed the DNC’s conspiracy to deny Bernie Sanders the nomination. At a press conference shortly thereafter, Trump made a joking comment about Mrs. Clinton’s missing emails. He said, in front of reporters, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.” The Clinton campaign seized on Trump’s joke to accuse him of encouraging the Russians to continue their hacking. This was the start of the political campaign to link Trump to Russian efforts to disrupt the election.
In October, WikiLeaks began its daily releases of embarrassing emails hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s computer, which the Democrats blamed on Trump and the Russians. Also in October, the FISA court approved the second requests for wiretaps on Trump Tower.
There were several important developments in January. The existence of Christopher Steele’s 35-page dossier of “fake news” designed to compromise Donald Trump was reported by CNN and the full dossier was then promptly leaked to the public. Obama eliminated the restrictions on the distribution of conversations the NSA had secretly recorded, and removed the privacy protections for American citizens who took part in those conversations.
The New York Times and other media outlets reported that six federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies were investigating the alleged Russian-Trump collusion. They included the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and the office of the DNI.
In February, the media reported that Trump’s National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, had misinformed Vice President Mike Pence about the content of his December 29 conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, after secret transcripts of the phone call were illegally leaked to the media. The transcripts also proved that Flynn said nothing wrong, but the public uproar over the incident ultimately forced Trump to ask Flynn for his resignation.
Reports published by the New York Times and other media outlets, based on secret information leaked by anonymous sources, have continued to claim that members of the Trump campaign had “repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials,” but the New York Times also admitted that there was “no evidence” of any coordination between the Russians and the campaign.
THE MEDIA WAR ON TRUMP CONTINUES
Last week, the Washington Post revealed that then-Senator Jeff Sessions held two meetings with the Russian ambassador during the campaign, contradicting the answer he gave to a question he was asked during his confirmation hearing. It soon became clear that Sessions had done nothing wrong. His meetings with the Russian ambassador were totally innocent and in his capacity as a U.S. Senator rather than as a surrogate for the Trump campaign. Nevertheless, the manufactured controversy over Sessions’ testimony stole the headlines and prevented Trump from reaping the full political benefits from his outstanding speech to a joint session of Congress earlier in the week.
The New York Times also reported last week that Obama had authorized the NSA to distribute its secret wiretaps. Just 17 days before he left office, Obama enabled the NSA to distribute “globally intercepted personal communications” with 16 other intelligence agencies. He also removed the requirement on the NSA to mask the identity of any American citizens recorded on those wiretaps, eliminating their privacy protections and violating their civil rights. This has made it much easier for anti-Trump activists to leak embarrassing stories based on the wiretaps, which are still secret, to the media.
OBAMA’S PLOT REVEALED
Levin’s conclusion was that “the Obama administration sought, and eventually obtained, authorization to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign; continued monitoring the Trump team even when no evidence of wrongdoing was found; then relaxed the NSA rules to allow evidence to be shared widely within the government, virtually ensuring that the information, including the conversations of private citizens, would be leaked to the media.”
Levin criticized Republicans in Congress for wrongfully focusing on the unfounded accusations against Trump, Flynn and Sessions, instead of the illegal leaks of secret information printed by a biased media and instigated by Obama and his supporters.
TWO DIFFERENT TYPES OF FBI INVESTIGATIONS
Part of the confusion in the media coverage of the surveillance of the Trump campaign was due to the complexities of the law and the dual mission of the FBI. The FBI’s criminal investigations are legally required to be totally independent of the White House to protect the right of the target to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.
But the FBI’s national security investigations fall directly under the president’s jurisdiction as commander-in-chief under Article II of the Constitution. That means that the White House would necessarily be involved in any national security-motivated surveillance of the Trump campaign, presenting obvious opportunities for partisan political mischief.
Such surveillance would be politically impossible to justify legally without overwhelming evidence of collusion by the Trump campaign with the Russians. But after months of intensive investigations, no such evidence has been found, making the Obama administration’s wiretapping of Trump’s campaign during the final weeks of the campaign even more outrageous. Nevertheless, the investigation and eavesdropping continued past the election, as proven by the continuous stream of leaks of classified information and conversations published by the anti-Trump media.
HOW OBAMA HAS SABOTAGED THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
The New York Times reported that Obama loosened the restrictions on NSA wiretaps because he feared that Trump’s people would try to destroy any evidence of their involvement with the Russians as soon as they took power. Trump supporters believe that Obama enabled the wider distribution of the secret information to make it easier for anti-Trump operatives to illegally leak it to the media without getting caught. Obama also hoped to ignite a media firestorm of accusations which would sabotage and ultimately destroy Trump’s presidency before it could get started.
In the final days of the Obama administration, its officials began discussing this information at intelligence briefings, especially items which seemed to implicate Trump with the Russian effort to influence the election. They knew it would be put in the official records of those briefings, making it readily available for subsequent congressional or media investigations of the alleged Russian-Trump plot.
The New York Times also reported that Obama administration officials attempted to hide extremely sensitive information about the identity of foreign intelligence sources and people whose conversations were being monitored. Their goal was to keep that information, as much as possible, from members of the incoming Trump administration.
Media reports say that Obama is turning the $5.3 million mansion he recently bought in Washington D.C. into a command center to lead the national liberal campaign to destroy Trump’s presidency, either through impeachment or forcing his resignation. Obama’s closest White House aide, Valerie Jarrett, is moving into the Obama mansion in order to help manage the “insurgency” against the new president. According the Daily Mail, Jarrett convinced Obama that remaining in Washington to lead the “resistance” was the only way he could “save his legacy.”
WHY TRUMP MUST GET BEYOND THE RUSSIA STORY QUICKLY
Trump’s public accusation that Obama tapped his phone has at least moved the focus of the news cycle away from the Russian conspiracy theory at a crucial moment in his presidency.
On Monday, he signed his second executive order on his immigration ban which remedied many of the legal vulnerabilities of the original order. It was issued with careful planning and coordination to minimize the potential for disruption at the airports and criticism in the media.
Later Monday, two House committees issued the long-awaited Republican plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare. It must pass the House and Senate with nearly unanimous Republican support because it won’t get any Democrat support. It is also the first essential piece of Trump’s entire economic legislative agenda.
To force it through, Trump will need to re-establish his authority over his party and Congress, and he cannot allow the media and the Obama-inspired leftist conspiracy to stand in his way.