Congress poised to investigate Trump’s wiretap claims
(CNY Central | March 6, 2017) Members of Congress appear ready to investigate allegations that the Obama administration may have authorized surveillance on Donald Trump during his candidacy, a claim the president made over Twitter on Saturday.
Without providing any evidence or context for the accusation, President Trump tweeted, “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found.” He sent out three more messages on the subject questioning whether it was legal for “a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election?”
By early Sunday morning, White House press secretary Sean Spicer called on Congress to investigate Trump’s wiretap claims into their investigation into Russian election interference to determine “whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.” He added that “neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted.”
The allegations made by the president are extremely serious — if they are true. And despite round the clock media coverage of the story, there are very few actual facts that have been made public to back up Trump’s “Nixon/Watergate” claims against former President Obama.
In fact, it appears Trump’s tweets stemmed from a Breitbart news story published on Friday. The story included analysis from conservative radio show host Mark Levin who outlined a series of open-source media reports that the Obama Department of Justice sought twice to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court order to monitor communications involving Donald Trump and several campaign advisers. The request filed in October was reportedly rejected, while another filed in August was approved. Those original claims, citing unnamed government officials, were first published by HeatStreet, a UK-based publication, citing two sources “with links to the counter-intelligence community” …
… Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) pointed to the complete lack of evidence in Trump’s claims, saying on Monday, “I have seen no evidence to substantiate the President’s claims … The White House has provided no facts to support President Trump’s rogue comments.”
Gaining access to the evidence to substantiate or refute Trump’s claims that Obama had Trump Tower bugged during the 2016 election will be an incredibly difficult feat, especially because of the highly secretive nature of the FISA Court.
The process for releasing FISA Court orders and opinions is extremely selective and really only got started after the passage of the 2015 USA FREEDOM Act, explained William Banks, Syracuse University law professor and director of school’s national security and counter-terrorism institute. Information is released either through annual reports, which include the gross number of requests and fulfilled FISA Court orders, or from time to time the court will release its opinions, if it is deemed in the public interest.
Under the law, not even the president can access current or previous court orders. “These orders are secret. They are deliberated in the court in a secret proceeding, and the president is not privy to them,” Banks stated. In that respect, the president could not have learned about the alleged FISA Court through official channels. “It just cant happen,” the professor argued. “So what he’s doing here is repeating something he read in Breitbart.”
Reports claiming that Trump learned about the FISA Court orders through his senior White House counsel are also specious. The New York Times quoted a senior White House official over the weekend claiming the Donald F. McGahn was trying to secure access to what he believed was a FISA Court order authorizing surveillance related to Trump and his associates. Banks reacted to the report saying, “That would be extraordinary. The law does not provide for it” …
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