Culture

Trump says Obama wiretapped his phone, offers no evidence

Commentary: On Saturday morning, the president goes on the attack against his predecessor, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Under pressure? Or the most wronged president in history?

Alex Wong/Getty Images

When you're on the back foot, thrust your fingers forward and tweet to distraction.

That seems to be President Donald Trump's policy on many occasions.

This week, his administration has been mired in reports that its members Jared Kushner and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn met with the Russian ambassador in Trump Tower. Flynn had already resigned after being accused of misleading the vice president about such meetings.

Moreover, Attorney General Jeff Sessions agreed to recuse himself from investigations into Russian contacts by Trump campaign associates after it was revealed he had two meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and may not have been quite candid with Congress about such get-togethers.

This comes after intelligence services investigated whether the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee with the goal of swinging the election toward Trump. Indeed, in January the intelligence services released a declassified version of a report (PDF) in which they concluded Vladimir Putin actively attempted to influence the election and that Russia had "a clear preference for President-elect Trump."

On Saturday morning, the president stretched his digits and offered a tweetstorm of counterpoint to this ever-unfolding narrative.

"Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory," tweeted Trump. "Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!"

Surely he didn't mean Melissa McCarthyism.

Trump continued: "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!"

The president's use of inverted commas often suggests emphasis, rather than pejorative speech. For example, when he called intelligence services "intelligence."

There was more. "I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!" Trump tweeted. I suspect there are several good lawyers currently preparing all sorts of cases with respect to the election and other matters.

Trump, though, went on to compare President Barack Obama with a somewhat tainted predecessor.

"How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!, he sniffed.

The "bad or sick" question is one that has dominated many a bar debate over the last year. There is usually, I suspect, little agreement.

Obama's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for supporting evidence that might enlighten Trump's claims.

What, though, is this all about? What did Trump mean when he said he'd "just found out" his phones were tapped? And, if there could be any truth to it, what secrets might have been revealed?

There is speculation that the president might have been referring to an article on Breitbart that made brightly colored accusations, culled from radio host Mark Levin, that Obama had been conducting a covert operation against Trump. The article suggested that the Obama administration applied twice to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) for permission to wiretap Trump Tower.

A former senior official with the Justice Department told CNN that no such investigation took place and that Trump's phones weren't tapped. For a wiretap to have been authorized, there would have to have been serious evidence of either a crime or influence from a foreign power.

Later, an Obama spokesman offered CBS News this statement: "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."

Reaction on Twitter was swift. Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted: "The Deflector-in-Chief is at it again. An investigation by an independent commission is the only answer."

Former CIA officer Evan McMullin, a Republican who ran as an independent in the election, offered a terser view: "This is a president unhinged."

The unhinged, however, merely behave erratically and unpredictably. The president, on the other hand, behaved entirely consistently and ended his morning Twitter hurricane with a swipe at Arnold Schwarzenegger.

On Friday, the former governor of California said he was quitting the "New Celebrity Apprentice" because the Trump brand -- the president is an executive producer of the show -- has become toxic.

And here came the Trump riposte: "Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show."

An exclamation point without an exclamation point.