On March 4, Donald Trump tweeted a number of claims about Barack Obama having ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.
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
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
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
You'll note that these tweets are heavy on specific claims:
- Obama had Trump's phones at Trump Tower tapped.
- This wiretapping took place during the 2016 campaign.
- Nothing was found.
- Tap is actually spelled with two p’s.
On Monday, CNN reported that Paul Manafort—who was briefly Trump's campaign chairman—has been the subject of intermittent court-approved surveillance since 2014. As you can see above, Breitbart immediately announced that the news "vindicated" Trump. Nope. Here's what CNN wrote:
- Manafort was initially being surveilled not because of his connection to Trump but because of an investigation opened in 2014 into his work as a political consultant in Ukraine.
- He was subsequently placed under surveillance again "last fall" because of his connections to "suspected Russian operatives," but it's "unclear" exactly when that happened—which is to say that it's not certain whether it happened before or after the election.
- The investigation was led by the FBI and required the approval of Justice Department officials, i.e., not Obama himself.
- Regarding Trump's "nothing found" remark, the investigation into Manafort appears to have in fact escalated; one of his homes was raided in July.
- "While Manafort has a residence in Trump Tower, it's unclear whether FBI surveillance of him took place there."
- "It's unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance."
- Tap is still spelled with the traditional single p.
What's particularly funny about the idea that Trump has been vindicated by the revelation of a literal wiretap on Paul Manafort is that the White House and its stooges in the right-wing press spent months earlier this year insisting that Trump's tweets weren't referring to literal wiretapping. Here's Sean Spicer in March:
I think there’s no question that the Obama administration, that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 election. That is a widely reported activity that occurred back then. The President used the word “wiretap” to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities during that.
At another point, Spicer also argued that Trump's comments about surveillance having taken place "just before" the 2016 election might have also been meant to suggest that surveillance took place well after the election:
If we're splitting hairs on what day of the calendar it was, that's a pretty interesting development. If the allegation is, well it was actually on the 1st of December or the 10th of December versus the 31st of October, I think we're starting to split some serious hairs here.
At the time, Breitbart made a nearly identical argument. You know, I'm really beginning to suspect that these guys are not being 100 percent honest with us all the time.