March 4, 2017

I am going to start running out of dramatic one-liners to kick off these articles. So in lieu of the aforementioned one-liner, here’s a series of tweets from 45 for you to take a look at:

And his final tweet took a swing at his favorite nemesis, Arnold Schwarzenegger (he did manage to spell Schwarzenegger right, which is commendable):

Remember when I said that “Presidential” Trump would last 15 minutes to 24 hours before he broke and tweeted something incorrigible? He made it past 24 hours, so kudos to him, but not much longer. First, he tweeted that Pelosi and Schumer should be investigated for official meetings with Russians, because apparently Congress-people doing their jobs is now against the law—heaven forbid that Congress functions!

Quick tangent: Honestly, I hope someday that I will look back at this period of time and say, “Wow, remember when I was in my twenties and our government was barely functioning? I am really happy a group of bipartisan reformers worked together to get our government back on its feet!” Along that line, I’ve started telling my friends that I think there’s going to be a post-Trump consciousness in our country, kind of like the post-Vietnam consciousness: we’ll either reform parts of the electoral process to ensure a Trump never happens again, and we’ll codify and pass into law things like releasing tax records, and other unspoken conventions that Trump has broken, or we’ll slide into autocracy. Frankly, I don’t think Trump or this era will last—I think Trump himself is unique because he’s so media-literate. I really think we’ll see a period of time after he’s gone where people are working together to ensure that something like him never happens again. I don’t want that sentiment to be mistaken for elitism, though. I believe that if someone who is not a career politician wants to be president, they should be and they can. I do, however, believe we need to gird our government against corruption, autocracy, and extremism. The beauty of America, and the idea America aspires towards, is that at our best we can be innovators and collaborators—I believe we will come out of this stronger, but I believe it will be a dark time before we get there.

Anyways! Enough of my ramblings.

Today’s big scandal was Trump tweeting that Obama ordered a wiretap on his phones in Trump Tower, as the tweets above demonstrate. (I should amend that sentence: as the tweets above, riddled with spelling and grammatical errors that even a second grader would not have made, demonstrate*). According to a mixture of sources, Trump got his information from Mark Levin’s far right radio show, or perhaps read Breitbart’s article on the matter, and sent out a handful of tweets early Saturday morning. Both the radio show and the Breitbart article reported that Obama illegally ordered Trump’s phones tapped.

The problem is, there is absolutely zero evidence that Obama ordered an illegal wiretap on Trump’s phone, and CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and company covered it as a complete falsehood.  A spokesperson for Obama denied the allegations Saturday afternoon: “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 U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”

It has been widely reported that there are indeed pending FBI investigations into Trump’s associates’ contacts with Russia, so it is possible Trump’s phones were surveilled during the campaign by the FBI or another government agency. That being said, The Atlantic reported that a president cannot order a wiretap:

Ali Soufan, chair of the Soufan Group security firm and a former FBI agent, noted that such requests must be sanctioned by federal judges.

“The president cannot order criminal wiretaps or any other kind of wiretaps,” said Soufan. “No president can.”

In the same article, The Atlantic also chatted with a law professor and he said the following:

“Bruce Green, a law professor at Fordham and a former federal prosecutor said a president ordering a wiretap would be unusual, to say the least.

“It would obviously be improper for the government to seek wiretap authorization for partisan political purposes, rather than legitimate criminal investigative or national security purposes as set out in the application to the court,” said Green. “In prior administrations, if a President directed the Attorney General or another government lawyer to seek wiretap authorization for illegitimate reasons, the lawyer would have been expected to try to dissuade the President and, if the President persisted in giving this order, to refuse and/or resign.”

 So, the two big questions are: where did Mark Levin get this information about a wiretap? Is there any kernel of truth in it?

I’ll give Vox the honor of explaining:

“This daisy chain of conservative media content ultimately leads to an older article from the website Heat Street, written by Louise Mensch. The article reports that, in October, federal investigators got a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant “to examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.” Mensch’s sources told her that a computer server in Trump Tower was a main focus of the investigation, and that emails may have been examined.

 Importantly, some aspects of Mensch’s report have been confirmed by other media outlets, but others have not. For instance, the BBC’s Paul Wood reported that an October FISA warrant was issued, but in his telling it was targeted at electronic records from two Russian banks.

 So we don’t yet have solid information on 1) whether servers (or phones) in Trump Tower were or were not tapped, 2) the evidentiary justification for any tapping that did occur, or 3) exactly whose communications might have been targeted.

 Perhaps most controversially, we don’t know whether Trump’s own communications may have been targeted — and if they were targeted, what the government’s evidentiary justification may have been.”

As the article notes (and quotes Lindsey Graham), there are two potential scandals here: one, Obama illegally tapped Trump’s phones without a court order; two, Obama legally tapped Trump’s phones and found something illegal. So, as the drama continues to unfold, we have two potential Watergate-level scandals.

However, Jon Favreau, a former Obama speechwriter, made a very important critique of the media:

In order words, Obama may not have ordered a wiretap, but it is within the realm of possibility that an intelligence agency ordered a wiretap. I just read Jon Favreau’s tweets, and Twitter is literally losing its collective mind about Trump’s tweets. Favreau tweeted that he thinks the new party line will be that Obama tapped Trump’s phones, and Republicans are going to come after Obama now. I think Favreau is being pessimistic, but he’s also been around the block. (I listen to his podcast Pod Save America with a bunch of other former Obama people, and they’re all fantastic and funny, but admittedly a bit dramatic—I do vividly remember listening to their former podcast, Keepin’ It 1600, and all of them had a bad feeling about Trump somehow winning, so maybe I should listen to them—oh my, now I’M starting to panic!!!!).

As I write these journal entries, I keep thinking about Elizabeth Drew’s conversation with Ezra Klein. We do not know what’s coming, and it is impossible to know. She said that any of Trump’s many pending scandals could derail him: it could be Russia, it could be conflicts of interest, it really could be an entirely new scandal. At this moment, it feels like Russia could be the scandal that sinks the ship. At the same time, the tweets by Trump about Obama feel like a new twist added to an increasingly bizarre narrative. Honestly, every time I write one of these journal entries, I read over and over that there is so much we don’t know, and there is so much that could come to light. If Obama illegally ordered Trump’s phones to be tapped (and I don’t think he did, and I think Trump is trying to hit back for what he sees as abuses from the media), then this story will take an entirely different turn. At this point, though, I do not think things are boding well for Donald Trump, and I think he knows it. As Elizabeth Drew said, we simply do not know what comes next.

A final tweet for your enjoyment (Obama really is diabolical man, is he not?):

Sources:

http://www.vox.com/2017/3/4/14814104/trump-obama-wiretap-phones

http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/04/politics/trump-obama-wiretap-tweet/index.html

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/03/trump-obama-wire-tapping-trump-tower-phones-235679

https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2017/03/trumps-unfounded-claims-of-a-nixonwatergate-wiretapping-scheme/518625/

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