*March 19 // March 4 2017
* One of the few stories we've recapped so far that seems to keep rolling on.....
Tweets and Taps and Trying to sort it all out.
Well, were we listening in or not? And since it seems like we were, who was on the line, what did they say and what were they really trying to find out?
Remember when we heard that wiretapping was going on? No, not in the early ‘70s. In 2016, during the presidential campaign. Apparently, the worst part of this story was the allegation that the Obama Administration was listening in on the Trump campaign. That revelation - from the President himself - happened only two weeks ago but the story goes back further than that. We’re sorted through dozens of news stories to get where we are. It might help to set up some kind of timeline to track the information we have so far on whether or not President Trump was wire-tapped by the former administration during his candidacy. (And for the sake of time, staying on point, and saving everyone’s sanity, we’re leaving off the timeline about Michael Flynn’s rise and fall as National Security Advisor.) Here we go:
Jan 19: The New York Times published a story with this headline: Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates.
Jan 20 (Inauguration Day): A second version of this article appeared on the front page with a new headline: Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides. The story examined ties with Russia and indicated that “law enforcement and intelligence agencies were examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump…” It included this caveat: “It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign or Mr. Trump himself.”
TWAN: Waitaminutewaitaminutwaitaminute….Isn’t a headline supposed to sum up and introduce the content / point of the story? Maybe it’s just us, but don't the words “Trump Aides” imply campaign? Maybe the Times thought people would read “aides” and picture Donald Trump’s golf coach and his wardrobe consultant? That seems unlikely.
Key players in the story: Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, with business ties to Russia, along with Carter Page, businessman and former Trump adviser regarding foreign policy and Roger Stone, a Republican operative, and Trump confidant.
TWAN: Waitaminutewaitaminutwaitaminute….If those guys are all connected to the Trump campaign, wouldn't that seem to indicate that the intercepted communications would have something to do with the Trump campaign?
The investigators: The F.B.I., the National Security Agency, the C.I.A. and the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit. The Times story indicated that “investigators have accelerated their efforts in recent weeks but have found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing.”
This investigations continued over a few more weeks. Then the twitter universe lit up one Saturday morning, dateline: Mar-a-Lago, Florida.
March 4: President Trump posts four tweets on twitter, alleging that the Obama Administration wiretapped him / conducted surveillance at Trump Tower during the campaign.
That same day, a statement from the Obama Administration denied the allegations: no interference in investigations; no surveillance ordered.
March 5: James Comey, FBI Director: Denies his agency conducted the surveillance and “asked the Department of Justice to publicly rebut Trump’s allegations out of concern that the president’s tweets might make it look as though the bureau acted improperly.”
March 6: James Clapper, President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence: “There was no wiretap against Trump Tower during the campaign conducted by any part of the National Intelligence Community ... including the FBI.”
March 7: White House – no comment. The House Intelligence Committee will look into all of it.
March 10: House Intelligence Committee tells the Justice Department to turn over any and all evidence of the allegation re surveillance and wiretapping.
TWAN: Waitaminutewaitaminutewaitaminute…Isn’t the Justice Department trustworthy? Why do we need a House Intelligence Committee to look over their evidence? Whatever.
March 12: Kellyanne Conway takes to the airwaves and suggests surveillance could take place through phones, televisions, and “microwaves that turn into cameras.” Later she claims this statement was taken out of context and a joke. But not before the requisite Kellyanne memes made the rounds. (We’re predictable that way.)
March 13: The Department of Justice also asked for more time to find evidence. The new deadline? Before the March 20 hearing on Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. election.
TWAN observation: So what – they needed another week? After more than month on this? What did they turn over to House Intelligence? Whatever.
March 14: Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano’s suggested that President Obama circumvented all U.S. agencies in this surveillance effort and instead turned to Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters to spy on Trump.
To put it mildly, the Brits were not amused.
March 15: The President tells Tucker Carlson of Fox News that he was using “wiretapping” in quotes because ‘that’s pretty old-fashioned stuff.’ When asked how he found out about it and why he wouldn’t wait to gather evidence and substantiate his claim before tweeting about it, the President said he learned about all of it by reading the news and watching TV news.
TWAN: Waitaminutewaitaminutewaitaminute. The PRESIDENT finds out what’s going on from newspapers and TV? What? Doesn’t he have some kind of “inside track” on what the news is since he’s in the White House and the boss of everyone?
The President also suggested there would in “very interesting items” coming to the forefront in the next two weeks.
The conclusions….finally, because our head hurts:
March 16: House intelligence Committee: No proof supporting a claim that the Obama Administration conducted surveillance on the Trump candidacy in any way. Representative David Nunes, R-California and Representative Adam Schiff, D-California acknowledge that because there is a parallel investigation going on regarding the Russians possibly influencing the 2016 campaign, it’s possible that Trump campaign communication may have been intercepted as part of that intelligence collection, aimed at Russian officials, not the President.
TWAN: It’s hard to keep track of all the investigations. Basically, we were checking into Russia about that other thing, and sure, Donald Trump may have been mentioned, but he wasn’t the focus. So there’s that.
Senate Intelligence Committee: Same conclusion. Chairman Richard Burr, R-North Carolina and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Virginia, found “…no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”
WH: Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicates in a press conference that the President will be vindicated in his beliefs. (The man is loyal, you gotta give him that.)
March 17: President Trump references wiretapping by the last administration in his appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as “something they have on common.” (Awkward!)
Let’s sum up a bit.
On January 19 and 20, The New York Times publishes a story outlining the investigation by American agencies (law enforcement and intelligence) into links between President-elect Trump’s associates (people connected to his campaign) and Russian officials, although it was unclear if anything they were investigating had anything to do with the Trump campaign. Got that? Good. Because we don’t but moving on….
Presumably, this investigation continued for the next several weeks but boiled over on Saturday, March 4th with the President’s tweets alleging that he was the subject of surveillance by the previous administration.
It’s now two weeks later – our favorite time – and we still aren’t done with this. Honestly, if there is some kind of “April Surprise” from the White House that blows this thing up like none of us can imagine, that would be something.
If it turns out to be outrage about surveillance and wiretapping that never happened, what a profound waste of time, money and government resources. >> Update: In today's testimony, James Comey found "no information" to support the President's claims of misconduct by the previous administration. <<
It’s nice to know some things in Washington never change.