On Wednesday, House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) announced, according to Politico, that “Members of the Donald Trump transition team, possibly including Trump himself, were under surveillance during the Obama administration following November’s election.” Nunes added that the surveillance was legal, since it was incidental – meaning that the intelligence community was monitoring foreign sources and Trump’s team was on the other side of the line.
I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community collected information on U.S. individuals involved in the Trump transition. Details about U.S. persons involved in the incoming administration with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reports.
This means that President Trump was not wrong to suggest that Obama administration employees were surveilling his team, as Daily Wire’s John Nolte has been pointing out repeatedly.
Trump’s wording on Twitter was more specific than that:
Trump should have immediately broadened the claim to state that Obama appointees had surveilled communications including his campaign team. That would have been fully accurate, and would have also led the media and the public to seek the truth about leaks from Obama’s intelligence community. Instead, Trump doubled down on his original claim, then attempted to rely on empty reporting from Judge Napolitano of Fox News regarding supposed British involvement in such surveillance.
This has always been the problem with the Trump/Obama wiretapping story: Trump’s non-specific allegation – that Team Obama was surveilling members of Trump’s team – was true. We know that from the director of the FBI, James Comey, who testified that there was an active FBI investigation since July into connections between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. We know that America’s intelligence agencies routinely catch up Americans in calls with foreign surveillance targets, and we know that Flynn was caught up in just such a net.
And Nolte has pointed out that media reports – still not retracted – made far more damning allegations than these about the nature of the surveillance.
So, here’s what should happen.
First, Trump should immediately shift his argument from the specific, unverified allegation that Obama himself personally ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower – a silly contention that Trump himself likely didn’t mean – to the broader, correct argument that Trump associates were monitored by Obama’s surveillance operations, and that far worse, Obama’s intelligence officials leaked that information to the press, damaging US citizens.
And the media should acknowledge that the Obama intelligence apparatus doesn’t have clean hands when it comes to the leaks – those are serious violations of law that require more than a flick of the wrist evidenceless allegation of Trump as a Manchurian candidate for Vladimir Putin.