TrumpWatch, Day 44: Trump’s Latest “Obama Wiretapped Me”
Infuriated over latest claims of his possible ties with Russia, Donald Trump launches Twitter blast against Barack Obama
Developments on Day 44 of the Trump Administration:
Trump’s Twitter Blast on “Obama Wiretapping”
In his latest response to pressure about claimed ties between his associates and Russia’s officials, Donald Trump declares on Twitter that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.
Spurred by the furor over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ undeclared meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, Trump launched a burst of four tweets, beginning:
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
He continued, “Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW! I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”, then concluded:
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Trump offered no evidence for his claim, instead firing a Twitter shot at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s departure from Celebrity Apprentice — once hosted by the US President — and then playing golf at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Trump appeared to be recycling chatter begun on Thursday by conservative radio polemicist Mark Levin, who put out the allegation that Obama’s “deep state” — now a favored phrase of those defending the President against the Russia claims — was undermining the Administration. The unsupported claim was spread by Breitbart News, which White House chief Steve Bannon edited, and by Fox News.
But Trump’s Twitter outburst turned the focus of analysts to the top-secret FISA Court, established in 1978 to consider requests for surveillance warrants against foreign agents inside the US. The court was approached by the FBI and other US agencies last summer as the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election developed. It eventually approved the agencies’ request for surveillance and enquiries into Russian officials and banks for possible links with the Trump campaign, as well as Moscow’s interference through computer hacking and dissemination of material damaging to Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton.
Journalists and analysts speculated that Trump may have effectively “declassified” a decision of the FISA Court to allow surveillance of communications with foreign individuals inside New York’s Trump Tower, the base of the President’s campaign.
But a “former senior US official with direct knowledge of the Justice Department’s investigations” said agencies never sought a warrant to monitor Trump’s phones. He added that a federal judge would only have approved a warrant if he or she found probable cause that Trump had committed a federal crime or was a foreign agent.
Another former US official confirmed there was no wiretap, and a spokesman for Obama, Kevin Lewis, issued a statement:
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. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.
Ben Rhodes, a senior member of Obama’s National Security Council, responded on Twitter:
No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you. https://t.co/lEVscjkzSw
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) March 4, 2017
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, tweeted, “The Deflector-in-Chief is at it again. An investigation by an independent commission is the only answer.”
“Several senior administration officials” said White House Counsel Donald McGahn “is reviewing what options, if any, are available to us”. A “senior White House official” said McGahn was seeking to get the FISA court order; however, it would be a breach of the Justice Department’s traditional independence on law enforcement matters for the White House to command the handover of an investigative document.
A “senior administration official” said colleagues did not know about Trump’s tweet storm in advance.
Trump’s Angry Row with Senior Staff
Before Saturday’s Twitter storm, Donald Trump had a heated argument with senior staff, according to “senior White House sources”.
The sources said Trump was furious that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from leading an investigation of Trump-Russia links, following the revelation that Sessions did not mention his two meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the Attorney General’s confirmation hearings.
Trump reportedly summoned his senior staff to the Oval Office on Friday and went “ballistic”. according to the sources.
Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon were present during the dressing-down. They reportedly were to accompany Trump to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Friday, but did not do so. (Bannon travelled to Florida on Saturday to finish plans for a revised “Muslim Ban”, to be issued on Monday.)
Trump son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump, White House Counsel Don McGahn, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, newly-hired Communications Director Mike Dubke, were also in the Oval Office encounter.
With the Marine One helicopter waiting on the South Lawn, Trump was captured by press pool cameras — peering through the windows from the White House South Lawn — gesturing angrily. He then left the office for the helicopter, taking the hands of his young grandchildren as he was joined by daughter Ivanka and Kushner.
Trump to Sign Revised Version of “Muslim Ban”
Donald Trump will sign a revised version of the “Muslim Ban” suspended by a US Circuit Court, say “senior government officials familiar with the matter”.
Trump will issue the revised executive order, which bans entry to the US by refugees and visa holders from seven mainly-Muslim countries, at a ceremony at the Department of Homeland Security, the officials said.
White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, believed to be the driving force behind the ban, travelled to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida “for an EO launch meeting” with a team from the Justice Department, a source said. They will tgeb meet with DHS officials and the president, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The officials did not set out the changes which would ensure compliance after a Circuit Court judge and a three-judge appeals panel struck down the original order, rejecting the Administration’s argument over national security and holding up the due process rights of the visa holders under the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution.
White House Slashing Budget of Top Climate Science Agency
The Trump Administration seeks a 17% cut in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget.
The proposed cuts eliminate funding for a variety of smaller programs, including external research, coastal management, estuary reserves, and “coastal resilience” to withstand major storms and rising seas. Reductions will affect spending oneducation, grants, and research. The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research will lose 26% of its budget, with its satellite data division cut by 22%.
NOAA is part of the Commerce Department, which is being cut by 18%.
Contrary To Trump Promise, Keystone Pipeline Won’t Have to Use US Steel
The Keystone XL oil pipeline will not have to use American steel in its construction, despite repeated promises by Donald Trump about his executive order.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the directive applies only to new pipelines or those under repair, and that the steel has already been acquired for Keystone.
Trump said as recently as last week that Keystone and the Dakota Access pipeline, renewed under his January order despite environmental concerns and construction across sacred Native American land, must use US steel “or we’re not building one”.
TransCanada, the company building Keystone, has said the majority of steel in the pipeline will be from North America, which includes Canada and Mexico.