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Some curious language in both Trump’s “wiretap” accusation and Obama’s defense

Some curious language in both Trump’s “wiretap” accusation and Obama’s defense

This may turn on what the meanings of “wiretap” and “order” are.

The hot dispute of the weekend is Donald Trump’s tweets this morning about alleged “wiretapping” by the Obama administration. Some thoughts below.

I don’t think you can view today’s tweets in isolation.

For the past several months (at least) we have lived in a world of non-stop innuendo suggesting that Donald Trump and/or his closest associates are compromised in some way by the Russians

There is no proof, just innuendo attributed to the intelligence community, as I explained in The fact-free Intelligence Community-Media trial of Trump by innuendo:

I don’t know whether Donald Trump or his aides had any improper contacts with Russian Intelligence officers.

Neither do you, or the media. The Intelligence Community might know, but they have provided zero facts either officially or through leaks to prove any improper, much less illegal, conduct took place.

Instead, we have trial by innuendo based on there being “contacts” between Trump campaign aides and Russian intelligence….

In this fact-free environment, imaginations and malicious intentions can run wild. We have round-the-clock media and social media speculation and frenzy throwing around terms like impeachment, treason, and so on.

It is, in some ways, worse than harmful facts, because there is no clear accusation against which to defend, and no factual basis upon which the public can judge.

I can’t prove the innuendo is wrong, because there are no facts to evaluate. I also can’t prove it’s right, because there are no facts to evaluate.

The innuendo based on “contacts” moved into overdrive with the disclosure that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had two “meetings” with the Russian Ambassador (who seemingly has had a “meeting” of one sort or another with dozens if not hundreds of members of Congress).

Those contacts, however, were hardly secretive or suggestive of misconduct. One was at the Republican convention when the Obama administration arranged for dozens of foreign diplomats to attend. The second was at Sessions’ Senate office in the presence of Senate staffers. There has not been, at least as revealed so far, any private one-on-one meetings between Sessions and the Russian Ambassador — but that has not stopped the media frenzy. CNN even suggested, in a backhanded way, that the Ambassador may have been trying to recruit Sessions.

It’s no secret that Trump believes Sessions and others targeted by Democrats and the media have been treated poorly. He is a counter-puncher, and he appeared to punch back via his favorite method, Twitter.

Trump tweeted today that the Obama administration wiretapped him or his campaign (the allegations are not crystal clear, but that seems to be the gist).

A couple of words and phrases jumped out at me.

The first is “[j]ust found out” — which suggests some conveyance of information or newly-found understanding.

While many are attributing Trump’s revelation to a Breitbart News article, we don’t know that (yet) for a fact. Here is the relevant portion of the article, based on this Mark Levin monologue, Mark Levin to Congress: Investigate Obama’s ‘Silent Coup’ vs. Trump:

Drawing on sources including the New York Times and the Washington Post, Levin described the case against Obama so far, based on what is already publicly known. The following is an expanded version of that case, including events that Levin did not mention specifically but are important to the overall timeline.

1. June 2016: FISA request. The Obama administration files a request with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to monitor communications involving Donald Trump and several advisers. The request, uncharacteristically, is denied.

2. July: Russia joke. Wikileaks releases emails from the Democratic National Committee that show an effort to prevent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) from winning the presidential nomination. In a press conference, Donald Trump refers to Hillary Clinton’s own missing emails, joking: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.” That remark becomes the basis for accusations by Clinton and the media that Trump invited further hacking.

3. October: Podesta emails. In October, Wikileaks releases the emails of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, rolling out batches every day until the election, creating new mini-scandals. The Clinton campaign blames Trump and the Russians.

4. October: FISA request. The Obama administration submits a new, narrow request to the FISA court, now focused on a computer server in Trump Tower suspected of links to Russian banks. No evidence is found — but the wiretaps continue, ostensibly for national security reasons, Andrew McCarthy at National Review later notes. The Obama administration is now monitoring an opposing presidential campaign using the high-tech surveillance powers of the federal intelligence services.

5. January 2017: Buzzfeed/CNN dossier. Buzzfeed releases, and CNN reports, a supposed intelligence “dossier” compiled by a foreign former spy. It purports to show continuous contact between Russia and the Trump campaign, and says that the Russians have compromising information about Trump. None of the allegations can be verified and some are proven false. Several media outlets claim that they had been aware of the dossier for months and that it had been circulating in Washington.

6. January: Obama expands NSA sharing. As Michael Walsh later notes, and as the New York Times reports, the outgoing Obama administration “expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.” The new powers, and reduced protections, could make it easier for intelligence on private citizens to be circulated improperly or leaked.

7. January: Times report. The New York Times reports, on the eve of Inauguration Day, that several agencies — the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Treasury Department are monitoring several associates of the Trump campaign suspected of Russian ties. Other news outlets also report the exisentence of “a multiagency working group to coordinate investigations across the government,” though it is unclear how they found out, since the investigations would have been secret and involved classified information.

8. February: Mike Flynn scandal. Reports emerge that the FBI intercepted a conversation in 2016 between future National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — then a private citizen — and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The intercept supposedly was part of routine spying on the ambassador, not monitoring of the Trump campaign. The FBI transcripts reportedly show the two discussing Obama’s newly-imposed sanctions on Russia, though Flynn earlier denied discussing them. Sally Yates, whom Trump would later fire as acting Attorney General for insubordination, is involved in the investigation. In the end, Flynn resigns over having misled Vice President Mike Pence (perhaps inadvertently) about the content of the conversation.

9. February: Times claims extensive Russian contacts. The New York Times cites “four current and former American officials” in reporting that the Trump campaign had “repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials. The Trump campaign denies the claims — and the Times admits that there is “no evidence” of coordination between the campaign and the Russians. The White House and some congressional Republicans begin to raise questions about illegal intelligence leaks.

10. March: the Washington Post targets Jeff Sessions. The Washington Post reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had contact twice with the Russian ambassador during the campaign — once at a Heritage Foundation event and once at a meeting in Sessions’s Senate office. The Post suggests that the two meetings contradict Sessions’s testimony at his confirmation hearings that he had no contacts with the Russians, though in context (not presented by the Post) it was clear he meant in his capacity as a campaign surrogate, and that he was responding to claims in the “dossier” of ongoing contacts. The New York Times, in covering the story, adds that the Obama White House “rushed to preserve” intelligence related to alleged Russian links with the Trump campaign. By “preserve” it really means “disseminate”: officials spread evidence throughout other government agencies “to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators” and perhaps the media as well.

In summary: 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.

The other thing that jumped out at me from Trump’s tweets was that in most instances he put words wire tap (or a variant) in quotation marks. Which might indicate that “wire tap” was a colloquialism for whatever the surveillance was.

The Andy McCarthy post referenced in the Breitbart article, from January, is worth a read, FISA and the Trump Team. The sub-headline is: “The idea that FISA could be used against political enemies always seemed far-fetched. Now it might not be.”

In response to Trump’s tweets, today everyone has become an instant expert on FISA (The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978). The defense of Obama is that it would be impossible under FISA for a President to order wiretapping, that could only come from a FISA court. I’ll assume that’s true.

The lack of an “order” from Obama to surveil Trump is the defense by the former president.

“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,” said Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for Mr. Obama. “As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen.”

None other than Ben Rhodes, who has admitted that he deliberately mislead the Congress and public about Iran in order to secure the Iran deal, is leading the defense of Obama. It was and is believable to me that Rhodes and others would manipulate the public for Obama, even if never “ordered” to do so.

(added via Zero Hedge) That does not mean, however, that there was no wiretap, only that Obama is claiming neither he nor the White House “ordered” it, as tweeted by a former Obama speechwriter:

I’m not going to be one of those instant experts on FISA, the general activities of the intelligence community, or the ability of the Obama administration (perhaps with a nod and a wink) to target political opponents.

It’s believable to me that people in the Obama administration or the permanent bureaucracy would target Trump and his campaign in some way. Whether it technically is “wiretapping” and done under FISA seems like a distraction to me.

It’s believable just like it was believable to me, as ultimately was proven, that Lois Lerner and others at the IRS would target the Tea Party and conservatives even though there were years of denials and the law forbade such conduct.  Though neither Obama himself nor the White House have been proven to have”ordered” her to do it, it still happened, and I don’t believe Obama’s claim he first read about it in the newspaper.

One last piece of the puzzle, the NY Times reported that in early January as Obama was preparing to leave office, then Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed an order authorizing the wide dissemination of surveillance information throughout the government purportedly to prevent Trump from destroying it (though more likely, to assure leaks):

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch signed the new rules, permitting the N.S.A. to disseminate “raw signals intelligence information,” on Jan. 3, after the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., signed them on Dec. 15, according to a 23-page, largely declassified copy of the procedures.

Note the statement in the Times article:

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws.

According to the NY Times there is surveillance that may not technically be a “wiretap” but might be scooped up by intelligence community surveillance, and then was widely disseminated in the final days of the Obama administration:

In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.

Why would Obama seek to preserve information about Trump if there were no information?

Where does this leave us?

This may turn on what the meanings of “wiretap” and “order” are.



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Morning Sunshine | March 4, 2017 at 7:48 pm

Thank you for this analysis. I have been withholding judgement on this development until further information is available. As always I appreciate your level-headed look.

PersonFromPorlock | March 4, 2017 at 7:50 pm

“Why would Obama seek to preserve information about Trump if there were no information?”

What makes you think the information circulated would necessarily be true? We are talking about a corrupt administration.

Why would Trump open a can of worms if he has something to hide? Seems to me that the obama administration tried and failed to get a fishing licence in june. Strangel near the time Lynch ang Bill Clinton had their rendezvous on the tarmac. I expect there was never any good justification for the surveillance, and this will come out.

Only thing I am fairly certain of is this: When Trump tweeted about this today, he did so with a plan for following up on the expected reaction.

VladimirPutin | March 4, 2017 at 7:53 pm

>Why would Obama seek to preserve information about Trump if there were no information?

There was the Flynn call–that would have been captured by the NSA, and thus spread around by Obama’s order. And maybe the purpose of spreading the information around as much as possible wasn’t to ensure a leak, but to make it harder to find the leaker. The more people had access, the harder it is for Trump to narrow down who the leakers are.

    Bruce Hayden in reply to VladimirPutin. | March 5, 2017 at 3:55 am

    The problem is that the information could not be legally spread around – FISA requires minimization, and in the case of a US Person, that means protecting the identity of the person whose communications are intercepted and the contents thereof. My reading of the statute suggests that this isn’t something that the President can override (and, I think that the order loosening this up may not be completely legal).

    Jackie in reply to VladimirPutin. | March 7, 2017 at 7:11 am

    We do know Obama’s assistant attorney general Sally Yates had Flynn’s side of the conversation. Since Flynn is an American citizen and didn’t break any law, that should be illegal. Flynn’s statement should have been redacted. Bring her in to testify and find out who she got it from. If she broke the law put her in jail or make a deal with her to reveal other leakers.

This is Trump on offense… you want to talk Russia?… Nah, let’s talk wire tap!… lol

The very idea of a FISA court should be abhorrent to all of us. That it isn’t demonstrates how far our country has fallen from its founding ideals.

Could “just found out” also refer to the results of an internal investigation as Trump has more people in the administration that would be able to access the information?

Sessions mentioned that he had been talking with his staff concerning recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Could he have found out that a FISA warrant had been issued and that Trump was in fact under some form of surveillance?

These tweets have a familiar feel to them – vague comment, media goes nuts, then some new information appears to confirm. It worked with the comment on Sweden.

If Trump is referring to getting info from the networks and papers, he may also be trolling Obama who told us that he found “things out” via the media.

    It strikes me as the difference between “read it in the newspaper” and “Had reliable people go check out the accusation and determine just what exactly happened.” After all, only a complete idiot would take everything a newspaper prints as the truth.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to Liz. | March 6, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    That part – “just found out” – made me immediately think of no-count, worthless Obama and his big whoopers along those lines…….

It seems the drive-by media is becoming Charlie Brown, to President Trump’s Lucy. They rush in confidently thinking they’re finally gonna kick the ball, and President Trump pulls it away again.

I don’t think they’ll ever learn.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to rinardman. | March 6, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    …and President Trump has been hot-footing the media this way for close to 2 years now.

    It’s true. Old, low-energy media dogs just can’t learn new tricks…..

WaPo has become Nixon, minus the charming personality and the genuine accomplishments.

“The lack of an “order” from Obama to surveil Trump is the defense by the former president.”

*Godwin Alert* So what if Obama didn’t specifically order a wiretap? We’ll never find a specific order on paper from Hitler directing the Holocaust because that’s not how he operated–he always gave himself plausible deniability by communicating his wishes orally and with “a wink and a nudge.” Obama ain’t Hitler, but it’s clear he took the same approach in order to keep himself insulated from potentially explosive actions and decisions.

During the Third Reich there was a term frequently used by Nazi functionaries: “Working Towards the Fuehrer.” Hitler often gave very vague or cryptic directives to his subordinates, so they would fall all over themselves competing with each other to fulfill his perceived wishes. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same system was in place among Obama flunkies regarding wiretapping Trump: The Bamster made some vague comment about keeping an eye on Trump and his flunkies took the hint and proceeded apace.

    Conservative Beaner in reply to MarkJ. | March 4, 2017 at 10:52 pm

    Just like Lerner knew to use the IRS as a weapon against Conservative groups.

    DLDarrow in reply to MarkJ. | March 5, 2017 at 12:54 am

    Will no one rid me of this troublesome Donald?

    In today’s environment of “Serve in an administration, publish a book when you retire,” a wise appointee will keep a private journal to write down That Which Should Not Be Recorded. So it is entirely possible that Obama passed on the ‘order’ to a subordinate by verbal means, thinking that means he was free and clear later, AND the subordinate then quietly went back to his/her office and added it to the private record for Chapter 17, Anti-Nixon: How I Was Ordered To Bug The Republicans.

    DaveGinOly in reply to MarkJ. | March 5, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    I made this comment about Lois Lerner months ago – true believers don’t need instructions. They understand the agenda and they work towards it knowing that the leadership requires isolation from sketchy operations. They are willing to take the fall, if necessary, for the “greater good” of their party and its goals. In taking a fall, they become martyrs. Eric Holder – contempt of Congress. Where is he now? Sally Yates – does anyone think she will not land a cushy job somewhere? As far as martyrdom goes, it’s a sight better than blowing oneself up and possibly being rewarded with 72 white raisins.

This country is being driven by “phobia” fears. Never mind Islamphobia…the Russian are coming! In what could be an important asset in this charged environment, an alignment of some degree with the Russian people (not the Russian Deep State) is being manipulated to scorched earth avoidance. Almost every hint of action or attempt to even look in such a direction is met with massive deflection campaigns. That alone should alert one to the need to break this barrier down.

So, Professor, I think it boils down to: What did Obama know and when did he know it?

    Bruce Hayden in reply to Leslie Eastman. | March 5, 2017 at 4:03 am

    I do think that Obama very likely has plausible deniability. He had no previous management experience, and seemed to run the country very loosely, with minimal, almost non-existent supervision. Cabinet positions were filled by political hacks and cronies, and left to run their departments as private fiefdoms. He did put people he could trust to do what he wanted in key positions, like Holder and Lynch as AG. So, how I read this is that Obama very likely didn’t know, and didn’t want to know, but that AG Lynch was up to her eyeballs in it, and was doing it essentially at his (non-spoken) behest.

I like vodka.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to Anchovy. | March 6, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    New York Times, headlines tomorrow morning, top, page 1:


“Is the FBI Director being forthcoming enough with the intelligence committees?” Mitchell asks. Sen. Coons replies, “I think it’s important that the outcome of that counter-intelligence investigation be fully shared with the intelligence committees, both in the House and the Senate.

“There are transcripts that provide very helpful, very critical insights into whether or not Russian intelligence and senior Russian political leaders, including Vladimir Putin, were cooperating, were colluding with the Trump campaign at the highest levels to influence the outcome of our election. And if that information is stonewalled or hidden away and if we are not able to get that on the Senate intelligence committee, House intelligence committee then I think that has real consequences for our democracy.”

Sen. Coons then urged Director Comey to complete the investigation and share all of the “products” with the intelligence committees. Andrea Mitchell then asked Coons to clarify what he was saying. “Do such transcripts exist? Is that what you’re saying?” she asked.

“I have not seen them. I believe they exist,” Coons replied.

Our government is now faith based … who knew ?

    SDN in reply to Neo. | March 5, 2017 at 6:30 am

    Coons whole purpose there was to lay the groundwork for “transcripts” as authentic as Rather’s “Bush ANG” documents.

DouglasJBender | March 5, 2017 at 12:39 am

“It sure would be nice if someone here would see to it that Trump was wiretapped. But that’s not an order, mind you.”

Bucky Barkingham | March 5, 2017 at 7:47 am

As the pressure on the Obama Administration builds look for them to play the well dog-earred Race Card. For me that will be the clincher that there is some meat here on these bones.

Hmmm. I think I hear the faint rumble of the carriages as the big guns are wheeled up. The barrage won’t begin until Trump’s forces are in position and dug in; the puny Dems think they’re engaging in asymmetrical warfare, tying Gulliver down with their web of lies, but all the accusations and tweeting are insignificant; just skirmishing to flush out the enemy’s strong points.

Illegal surveillance by Big Government is a touchy subject in the US, and it’s a great club to use against ex-Government bigwigs. Some prominent people are going to be facing some major charges, and they don’t seem to grasp that there’s no President Obama to protect them. Obama himself is at risk; he can’t pardon himself for his crimes.

We’ll hear loads of noise about “show trials”, but so what? The Lefties already have their Outrage dials cranked up to 11, and they won’t go any higher. Unless maybe one of them sets fire to the Capitol building … though I don’t really expect them to go that far. Too obvious, even for them.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to tom swift. | March 6, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    Tom Swift, you win the “Inter-Tubes” for today!!!!

    RE: “Obama himself is at risk;….can’t pardon himself for his crimes…”

I couldn’t give a crap about investigating anything Trump has done until Obama and Holder are held accountable for Fast and Furious!

This is the most egregious crime ever committed by a sitting President and Attorney General. They should be hung for Fast and Furious!

Is this effort by team Obama simply to preserve his legacy? Or if Trump has his way and abolishes, ACA, Iran Deal, bathroom rights for men to wee wee with little girls it is a nation restored to a time pre-Obama. Will Progressives ever recover from such a humiliating defeat? Especially if Trump is successful and stock market keeps going up and up and jobs keep multiplying. This isn’t “Resistance”, it is Insurrection”.

NYT puts an ad in the Super Bowl to self congratulate and admonish the rest of us on how good reporting requires hard working, virtuous professionals like themselves. But yesterday they report: “TRUMP SAYS OBAMA ORDERED WIRETAP, BUT OFFERS NO EVIDENCE” when, with a little virtuous hard work, the evidence is clearly out there. Thank you Prof for actually doing the virtuous hard work that the deluded NYT fails to do. And thanks to Andy McCarthy, Breitbart and the others linked in your report.

    sflcat in reply to Mark30339. | March 5, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Maybe those who work at the NYT should do a better job of reading their own paper. [URL=][IMG][/IMG][/URL]

inspectorudy | March 5, 2017 at 11:30 am

What’s that noise I hear? It sounds like a shredder running at high speed. I can just imagine all the moles from the obama admin getting rid of anything that leads back to jug ears. One other thing that I did not hear about this morning on the talking heads shows is the sneaky way obama’s DoJ rescheduled the order of command if the AG recused him/herself from an investigation. It was found by someone in the DoJ that obama’s people had done this so that if the new AG were to be assigned a special prosecutor it wouldn’t be by one of Trump’s people but one of obama’s choices. It was corrected but this shows signs of planning for exactly what is happening right now including setting Sessions up with the Russian amb. This just might be the crumbling of the obama legacy.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to inspectorudy. | March 6, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Obama and all his Obama flunkies are going to have to eat legacy crow from now to doomsday……..

Something tells me the leaky faucet is going to be found in Obama’s OFA office just like Clinton’s illegal server was found in her bathroom. The tweets are classic Trump. Throw out some shiny things to get the media digging holes and playing all their cards. Once they’ve exposed all their arguments and excuses for Obama, Trump will show his hand and I don’t think he’s bluffing on this one. Obama has declassified the whole file making it impossible for the gatekeepers in the NSA to keep anything from Trump. Heck, the media has had it for months, so how can you keep it from the new President?

Best question!! “Why preserve information on Trump If there were no information?”

Maybe someone is trying to set President Trump up for a fall by stirring him up on this! Can’t believe anything I read from any side! How sad that our country has come to this.

I don’t know what other Tweets Ben Rhodes may have done, but the tweet …

No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you.

… is curious that it doesn’t deny that Trump may have been “tapped” but rather gives a “plausible deniability” defense of Obama.

Need Proof ?? Let’s go to the NYTimes …

The F.B.I. is leading the investigations, aided by the National Security Agency, the C.I.A. and the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit. The investigators have accelerated their efforts in recent weeks but have found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, the officials said. One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.