The Jury Talks Back

9/2/2017

DoJ’s Friday News Dump: Trump’s Tweets About Being Wiretapped Are Unsupported (Plus Bonus RANT)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Patterico @ 2:00 pm

On March 4, 2017, President Donald J. Trump took to his Twitter account and issued a series of baseless tweets accusing President Obama of having “tapped” his phone. For example:

A spin machine went into overdrive trying to justify Trump’s irresponsible and baseless accusations.

Well, guess what? Last night, in a Friday news dump, the Department of Justice confirmed that there is no basis for Trump’s accusations. The Washington Examiner reports:

The Department of Justice has acknowledged in a court filing no evidence of any wiretaps on Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign, directly contradicting a claim President Trump made in March.

The Justice Department filed a motion Friday evening acknowledging that it didn’t have any evidence to back up the president’s assertion.

The motion was filed in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the transparency group American Oversight. It found that neither the National Security Division or the FBI had any records of wiretapping that President Trump alleged.

“The FBI and Department of Justice have now sided with former [FBI Director James] Comey and confirmed in writing that President Trump lied when he tweeted that former President Obama ‘wiretapped’ him at Trump Tower,” the group said.

You can read the original court filing here. The relevant statement in the filing reads as follows:

Both FBI and NSD confirm that they have no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets.

Here is a screenshot:

doj-admission

In light of this, it is instructive to revisit the spin effort that was mounted on behalf of Trump in the wake of the tweets — because much of the so-called evidence traced back to certified lunatic Louise Mensch.

After Trump published his tweets, the Washington Post‘s Fact Checker asked the administration for the basis of Trump’s claims. Administration officials said they were relying on reports “from BBC, Heat Street, New York Times, Fox News, among others.” These reports fell into two broad categories.

The first category was a series of reports showing that DoJ did engage in wiretapping, and that Trump aides were captured on some of those wiretaps. For example, every person who has ever discussed this issue on Twitter with a Trump supporter has had the following screenshot tweeted back at them:

nyt-headline

But that story never said that the Trump aides were the targets of any wiretaps. It said merely that “American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions” as part of the Russia investigation. Trump supporters who use that screenshot conflate the issue of whether wiretaps were used at all with the issue of whether Trump or his aides were actually the targets of the wiretaps. Indeed, the article specifically warned: “It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself.” Thus, the New York Times article and reports like it did not support Trump’s accusations.

The second category of articles relied on by Trump all trace back to a Heat Street article by Louise Mensch, which said:

Two separate sources with links to the counter-intelligence community have confirmed to Heat Street that the FBI sought, and was granted, a FISA court warrant in October, giving counter-intelligence permission to examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.”

. . . .

The FISA warrant was granted in connection with the investigation of suspected activity between the server [in Trump Tower] and two banks, SVB Bank and Alfa Bank. However, it is thought in the intelligence community that the warrant covers any ‘US person’ connected to this investigation, and thus covers Donald Trump and at least three further men who have either formed part of his campaign or acted as his media surrogates.

Mensch’s article did not mention wiretaps. But in January (before Trump’s tweet), Andrew C. McCarthy seized on the Heat Street report to proclaim: “the idea that FISA could be used against political enemies always seemed far-fetched. Now it might not be.” On March 3, the evening before Trump’s March 4 tweets, both the McCarthy piece and the Heat Street article itself were linked by a Breitbart article (based on a Mark Levin radio rant) that was reported to be the impetus for Trump’s tweets.

After Trump farted out his accusations on Twitter on March 4, many, many folks on the right used the Heat Street report as evidence Trump was right. For example, McCarthy doubled down on his accusations on March 5, after Trump issued his tweets. And at the Daily Wire, John Nolte seized on the Heat Street report as evidence that Trump was “exonerated” on the wiretapping issue.

One problem: Louise Mensch turns out to be a loon who was widely ridiculed when she said the “Marshal of the Supreme Court” had told Trump about articles of impeachment that had been drafted against him. And to nobody’s surprise, it has recently been revealed that Mensch was the dupe of a hoaxer who had pretended to be an employee in the New York Attorney General. Mensch never took even rudimentary steps to verify the hoaxer’s identity, merely parroting the hoaxer’s claims uncritically.

I said from the beginning of this sorry episode that 1) the notion that Obama or his DoJ might have targeted Trump or his aides for a politically motivated investigation was not outlandish, and 2) there was a danger that an investigation nominally directed at Russians might have been truly motivated by a desire to investigate Trump. These remain valid concerns.

But I also said, right out of the gate, that there was no evidence that Trump’s accusations were actually true:

There’s Good Trump, who nominates great Justices and rolls back regulations, and Crazy Trump, who is uninformed and TV-obsessed and has a short attention span and goes around saying bizarre things. The fact that we like Good Trump doesn’t mean we have to defend Crazy Trump’s insane rants.

So investigate away. When you uncover new actual evidence that Barack Obama actually wiretapped Trump’s phone — something that we all know he’s capable of, but we have no evidence he actually did — then get back to me. (Yes, I meant to use variants of the word “actual” three times in that sentence.) Until then, I’m going to go back to ignoring this.

Now that we have solid evidence on the record from DoJ saying that there was no basis for Trump’s tweets, it would be nice if the people who fiercely defended him on this point issued a mea culpa — for relying heavily on Louise Mensch, and for pretending that reports of incidentally intercepted communications proved that Trump had been wiretapped by Obama.

I’m not holding my breath.

[Cross-posted at RedState.]

12 Comments »

  1. Trump’s support is based on emotion so there can’t be a mea culpa because that is based on reason. I don’t say that as a criticism. There are many good things based on emotion — a mother’s fierce protective instinct, a father’s desire to provide for his family, love of country. But people don’t change emotions because of a new fact. They have to feel betrayed to make a change like that.

    Comment by DRJ — 9/2/2017 @ 2:47 pm

  2. It reminds me of Houston’s pastor Joel Osteen whose popularity plummeted when he refused to open his church as a shelter during Hurricane Harvey. He eventually relented but the damage was done. Years of good will evaporated in an instant because some felt he had betrayed their trust.

    People want to believe in big talkers until something equally big happens to make them doubt.

    Comment by DRJ — 9/2/2017 @ 2:52 pm

  3. After a brief exchange with Patterico and Beldar last night, I thought about the “softening” of my attitude towards Trump. I have been praying for him at church almost every Sunday since he got elected. One of the antiphons of the Greek Orthodox Liturgy is:

    — For our country, for the president, and for all in public service, let us pray to the Lord.
    — Lord have mercy.

    For one thing, prayer does produce an altered state of consciousness. And for another, well, I shouldn’t say it if I don’t mean it, right?

    Comment by nk — 9/2/2017 @ 4:19 pm

  4. We pray for the President and all leaders in the Anglican church. I view it as praying for them to listen to God and do His Will. To me, it has nothing to do with believing in Trump but in believing in God.

    Comment by DRJ — 9/2/2017 @ 4:35 pm

  5. Of course.

    Comment by nk — 9/2/2017 @ 4:54 pm

  6. What am I missing? I sympathize with Trump. It’s hard to be a leader. I understand identifying with the challenges he faces and wishing he will do well, but it doesn’t make me feel like overlooking the questionable things he does. As Christians, we are supposed to be righteous people and to me that means while we understand we all fail, we don’t applaud it.

    Comment by DRJ — 9/2/2017 @ 5:58 pm

  7. I’m not a lawyer, but I find much to be suspicious of in the linked court filing. For example, a great many reliances on the FISA exemption and the ongoing investigation exemption. As a result, we get a very narrow response regarding only Trump’s claim of “wiretaps”, and not the many other means by which Trump Tower or Trump operatives could have been spied upon. .

    If, for example, there was no wiretapping (and I’m prepared to accept that there wasn’t) but, instead, a laser bug was used on Trump Tower (a co2 laser directed against a window and the reflection used to discern vibrations caused by speech within the room and reconstruct it) would the response here preclude that? By my reading, no. Would it preclude remote electromagnetic monitoring to discern keystrokes on a keyboard? By my reading, no. Does this mean it happened? Of course not – but it can’t be used as proof it didn’t, either.

    The related issue of the unmasking ordered by Samantha Powers is paramount here; there is no functional difference between incidental conversations incidentally gathered and then unmasked and wiretapping. The result is the same; interested parties get a full recount of who said what. This is what I’ve always maintained probably occurred, and nothing here counters that, so no mea culpa from me, yet. (though, of course, if I’m proven wrong, I’ll unreservedly say so)

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 9/2/2017 @ 6:38 pm

  8. I don’t buy into the spin that the DOJ denying that Trump was the “target” of a ‘wiretap’ thereby debunks Trump’s claim of being wiretapped.

    Part of the problem is that the terminology is obsolete, no one literally taps into a copper wire any longer. Conventional phone lines digitize the actual voice component of a conversation and the switches now used by phone companies are just computer systems running phone system specific software (once upon a time, I worked on such). Today a ‘wiretap’ is a software function to copy off that electronic data.

    Secondly, we still don’t have the full story on ‘unmasking’ (where administration personnel requested the actual identify of persons whose ID was ‘masked’ in intelligence reports they received). If the Obama administration arranged substantial surveillance of Trump aides / associates and used that intel and unmasking of other intercepted communications, to support leaked stories about Trump during the campaign, then I don’t think anything has been debunked. And this DOJ denial does not extend to such at all, even if you trusted it.

    Comment by SPQR — 9/4/2017 @ 9:57 am

  9. I agree with SPQR. And Jazz Shaw at Hot Air is correct too: Trump’s “initial tweet put the words ‘wires tapped’ in scare quotes and later went on to explain that he was referring to surveillance efforts in general. Also, as to questions of other surveillance activity, either direct or indirect, the DoJ goes on to say that they can’t discuss those other methods.” So DOJ has not (contrary to the title of this blog post) said that Trump’s assertion is false.

    Comment by Andrew — 9/4/2017 @ 8:09 pm

  10. There were not scare quotes on all the tweets and you can verify that by looking at the ones in this post.

    Comment by Patterico — 9/4/2017 @ 9:40 pm

  11. The word “wiretap” has multiple definitions or senses, Trump said which one he meant, but you’re picking a different one for your own purposes. Per the American Heritage Dictionary, Fifth Edition:

    wire·tap (wīr′tăp′)
    n.
    1. An act of secretly listening to or recording a person’s telephone or internet conversations, often as part of a police investigation.
    2. A device that is connected to a communications circuit in a concealed fashion in order to enable a wiretap.

    tr.v. wire·tapped, wire·tap·ping, wire·taps
    1. To listen to or record in secret (a conversation carried on over a telephone line or other communications channel), often as part of a police investigation.
    2. To wiretap the conversations on (a telephone line or other communications channel), often as part of a police investigation.
    3. To wiretap the conversations of (a person) or the communications devices in (a place).
    4. To connect a concealed listening or recording device to (a telephone line).

    wire′tap′per n.
    American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

    Comment by Andrew — 9/5/2017 @ 7:08 am

  12. Trump: “wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff — but that really covers surveillance and many other things.”

    Comment by Andrew — 9/5/2017 @ 7:38 am

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