On Saturday morning, without presenting evidence, tweets by Donald Trump accused former president Barack Obama of illegal wiretapping.
On Saturday, the president launched a series of tweets that began at 5.35am. In one he wrote: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
He followed up with a string of tweets in the next half-hour that claimed Obama had defied a court rejection to tap his office, and invited a “good lawyer” to make a case against the alleged process.
The president then compared the alleged surveillance of his communications to Watergate – the scandal in which a 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters led to revelation of crime and cover-up at the highest level of government and, ultimately, the resignation of Richard Nixon.
“How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process,” Trump tweeted. “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
Obama’s former deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, tweeted back at Trump: “No president can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you.”
No evidence was provided to substantiate the president’s claims that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower, and it was not clear on what information Trump was basing his allegations.
A US official told the Guardian there was “no evidence to support that claim” of Obama ordering Trump to be wiretapped.
Just before last November’s election, the British former MP and novelist Louise Mensch reported that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) court had granted a warrant to enable the FBI to conduct surveillance of “US persons” in an investigation of possible contacts between Russian banks and the Trump Organization.
These two tweets follow days and weeks of news articles questioning ties between Trump and his associates and Russia, the resignation of General Flynn for lying about his connections with Russian and Jeff Sessions recusing himself due to lying about his meetings with Russians.
It would not be legal for a sitting president to unilaterally order surveillance; a federal court would have to approve the surveillance. Trump seems to acknowledge this in an oblique way, with an allusion to the report that the Fisa court at first turned down an initial request for a warrant.
Though Trump claimed he “just found out” about reported surveillance, he is privy to intelligence briefings in which officials would have informed him about such operations. Both Obama and Trump received these briefings during the transition, for instance, reportedly, about an unsubstantiated dossier regarding links between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
One has to ask oneself why Trump would invoke the possibility of wiretaps of Trump Tower at this time.
By suggesting wiretaps of Trump Tower isn’t Trump implying wiretaps are the source of leaks about Russia? Isn’t Trump then also tacitly admitting Trump and his associates did indeed have multiple contacts with Russians and that those contacts were included in the alleged wiretaps of Trump Tower?
Some newspaper reports suggest Trump is tweeting about wiretaps in order to turn attention away from investigations into Trump White House and Trump organization. This may be true. It may also be true Trump’s tweet inadvertently told the truth about Russia and Trump.