Trump launched his political career by accusing Obama of being born outside US. Now he starts his presidency by accusing him of lawbreaking.— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) March 4, 2017
Feeling under siege from further revelations about members of his team having met, and subsequently concealed those meetings, with Russian envoy Sergey Kislyak, Donald Trump headed down to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend (again), where he spiraled frighteningly on Twitter before heading off for a round of golf. The thrust of his rant was to accuse President Obama of having wiretapped Trump Tower.
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
The President does not have the authority to legally order wiretaps on anyone, so Trump was making an explosive charge against Obama. The presumption was that Trump was actually referring to surveillance under a FISA warrant, which would not have been ordered by President Obama, and certainly not for political reasons, but by an intelligence agency monitoring contacts with foreign governments.
But representatives of the Obama administration had no idea to what Trump was referring, and neither did intelligence officials.
A senior US official tells @NBCNightlyNews' Pete Williams that he and others in a position to know have no idea what Trump is talking about.— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) March 4, 2017
Snr. US official also tells Pete Williams: Trump apparently did not consult with people in the government who would know, before tweeting.— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) March 4, 2017
The question then became: How did Trump "find out" (as he said in his tweet) this information? If it wasn't from an intelligence briefing, where did it come from?
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper went on Meet the Press Sunday morning to publicly state that he had no knowledge of any FISA order for surviellance on Trump Tower.
At this point, it had become clear that Trump's source was a story in Breitbart News, the white supremacist media outlet formerly run by Steve Bannon, now White House chief strategist.
Per Clapper, logical conclusion is Trump used the weight of his office to tar his predecessor with a scurrilous claim he read on Breitbart.— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) March 5, 2017
WH officials with whom I spoke said POTUS got the info about wiretap from media - Breitbart, Levin - not from govt sources.— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 5, 2017
As it became clear that Trump had made a gross accusation against the former president, and that accusation could not be substantiated, his various spokespeople and surrogates tried to spin it as though Trump was calling for an investigation of the possibility. (That is clearly not at all what he did.) Deputy White House Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried this tactic with ABC News' Martha Raddatz, and it did not go well.
RADDATZ: These are extremely serious charges the president is making. Where is he getting this information?Incredible. Also note Sanders describing the wiretapping story as "something that's positive in this administration." That is an incredible passing admission: The Trump White House views accusing the former president of an illegal abuse of power as a "positive." It was a fleeing moment, but a very revealing one. Remember it. This administration's objective is not governance; it's destruction. That's why Trump's unsubstantiable accusation against Obama is a "positive" for them. They have successfully further eroded public trust. Because now, no matter what, a substantial number of Americans will always believe Obama tapped Trump Tower.
SANDERS: Look, I think there have been quite a few reports. I know that Jonathan and others earlier in the program mentioned that it was all conservative media, but that's frankly not true. The New York Times, BBC have also talked about it and reported on the potential of this having had happened. I think the bigger thing is, let's find out. Let's have an investigation. If they're going to investigate Russia ties, let's include this as part of it. And so that's what we're asking.
RADDATZ: Was the principal source the Breitbart story, which links to the New York Times? But the New York Times doesn't say anything definitive. Donald Trump does. There is nothing equivocating about what he says. "I just found out that Obama had my wires tapped." That's not looking into something. He says it happened.
SANDERS: Look, I think the bigger thing is you guys are always telling us to take the media seriously. Well, we are today. We're taking the reports that places like the New York Times, FOX News, BBC, multiple outlets have reported this. All we're saying is let's take a closer look. Let's look into this. If this happened, if this is accurate, this is the biggest overreach and the biggest scandal—
RADDATZ: But you're not saying let's look into this! The President of the United States is accusing the former president of wiretapping him.
SANDERS: I think that this is, again, something that, if this happened, Martha—
RADDATZ: If, if, if, if!
SANDERS: I agree.
RADDATZ: Why is the president saying it did happen?
SANDERS: Look, I think he is going off of information that he's seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential. And if it is, this is the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that I think we have ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself. And the American people have a right to know if this took place.
RADDATZ: Okay. The president, let me say again, the president said it did take place. Why does he believe these articles that you say you cite and I'm saying, they are not definitive—the Breitbart brings them all together, a Heat Street, they have two sources with links to the counterintelligence community. That's it. Anonymous sources. The president constantly says he doesn't like anonymous sources, and he doesn't like leakers!
SANDERS: I love how anonymous sources don't count when it's something that's positive in this administration and against the former one. You guys use anonymous sources every single day.
RADDATZ: Is that the bar? Yes, yes, we do. Yes, we do. But the president believes this is—but what's the bar there? What does the president believe?
SANDERS: Look, I think he's made very clear what he believes. And he's asking that we get down to the bottom of this. Let's get the truth here. Let's find out. I think the bigger story isn't who reported it, but is it true? And I think the American people have a right to know if this happened, because if it did, again this is the largest abuse of power that I think we is have ever seen.
Anyone who cared about this country and wanted to protect it would not view that erosion of trust as a "positive." And that's the whole point: This administration neither cares about this country nor wants to protect it.
This morning, Sarah Huckabee Sanders again appeared on ABC News, this time with George Stephanopoulos. By this time, FBI Director James Comey had said Trump had made a false claim, too. Stephanopoulos challenged her point-blank: "That has been denied by President Obama, by the former Director of National Intelligence, and now we know as well by the FBI Director. They are all saying it did not happen. So is the president calling all three of those individuals liars?"
Sanders responded: "Not at all," then went on to say he's asking for a Congressional investigation. But he is implicitly calling them liars, and he is further asking Congress to investigate some bullshit he read in Breitbart News.
This is where we are. And it is not good.