The White House refuses to give up on its unfounded claims that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 election, even as the country’s leading law enforcement and intelligence officials flatly stated that they have no evidence of such spying.
Today, FBI director James Comey and NSA director Mike Rogers told the House Intelligence Committee that they’ve seen nothing to confirm the allegation President Trump made in a tweet March 4. Yet the White House stands by a story various Trump surrogates have repeated in the weeks since.
“There’s a lot more questions that need to be asked about what was being done in terms of surveillance,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a press briefing today. “Who was being surveilled? Why were they being surveilled? What were the techniques? I get that you guys want to know the end of the book right now, but we’re in the first chapter of this process.”
No, actually. The story has moved on. Hours before Spicer addressed the press, Comey definitively rejected the president’s baseless tirade. “The department has no information that supports those tweets,” Comey said as Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, repeatedly grilled him on Trump’s accusations.
The administration’s insistence on sticking to Trump’s story represents a stunning dismissal of the country’s intelligence apparatus. This is not unprecedented. Even after US intelligence declared that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee, candidate Trump insisted the hacker could be a 400-pound guy sitting on his bed. Now Spicer keeps pushing an allegation with no basis in fact. You don’t suppose he’s trying to distract from the ongoing FBI investigation into collusion between the president and the Russians, do you?
The tall tale about wiretapping started on talk radio. Then Breitbart repeated it on March 3. Trump appeared to take the story as fact and tweeted the allegation a day later. In the weeks since, Trump and his aides have compounded the rumor on cable news. In one baffling turn, Trump and Spicer argued that because the president’s tweet featured the term “wire tap” in quotes, no one should take it literally.
The House intel committee seemingly thinks otherwise. Even as Comey confirmed that the FBI started investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia in July, the committee spent a significant amount of time during today’s hearing addressing those tweets.
More specifically, Comey addressed the fact that those tweets had no basis in reality. He explained that ordering surveillance on United States citizens is “a rigorous, rigorous government process that involves all three branches of government.” Schiff pressed on, asking whether President Obama could have ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower. “No president could,” Comey replied.
‘The department has no information that supports those tweets.’ James Comey
Rogers joined Comey in refuting Trump’s claims. He specifically denied suggestions from Trump and Spicer that the Obama administration enlisted British intelligence to spy on Trump. “I’ve seen nothing on the NSA side that we’ve engaged in such activity nor that anyone ever asked us to engage in such activity,” said the NSA director, whom Trump briefly considered for the role of director of national intelligence. Asked if he agreed with the British government labeling such allegations “nonsense and utterly ridiculous,” Rogers answered flatly, “Yes, sir.”
The irony is that Spicer is trying to diffuse speculation about the FBI investigation into Russian collusion by using the same logic that undercuts any claim of a wiretapping conspiracy. According to Spicer, everyone briefed on interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian officials—including former director of national intelligence James Clapper—maintains they’ve found no evidence of collusion between the two. For Spicer, those assurances from intelligence officials are enough to extinguish the collusion story altogether. But he doesn’t apply the same standards to the wiretapping story.
“There is no evidence, according to the people who have been briefed,” Spicer said of the collusion rumors. “That’s an important point that gets overlooked over and over and over again.”
It does, indeed.