The director of the CIA under President Bush said he believes President Trump trumpeted allegations that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential campaign to “distract attention from what was a very, very bad news cycle” about campaign contacts with the Russian ambassador.
Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, who also served as director of the National Security Agency, told MSNBC this morning that “we’ve been in continuous crisis now for 45 days and none of it has been externally stimulated.”
“This is all an intramural game within our own government. No one’s tickled us from abroad so I can only imagine what this is going to look like when we actually start to get pressure — events start to happen that do require that sober, methodical response from a government that doesn’t appear as if it’s gotten self-organized yet,” he added.
Trump tweeted Saturday: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism! 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!”
“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!” he continued. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
Hayden said “if you take literally what the president tweeted, the plumbing just doesn’t work that way,” noting the president “hasn’t been able to do that since the mid-1970s.”
“You’ve got to go to an Article III judge. You’ve got to have probable cause that the target of the surveillance is either an agent of a foreign power or is very likely involved in criminal activity. So, on its face, that’s just incorrect,” he added. “Now, did that happen in another way — and now we’ve had the two agents that would have made it happen, Jim Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, personally and explicitly saying he didn’t do it. And indirectly, you’ve got the director of the FBI, through The New York Times, saying he didn’t do it, either. So there may not be much there, there.
“…My gut is I think the president forgot for a moment, in the morning Saturday, that he was actually president and that he actually could have called the acting director of National Intelligence and the director of the FBI and asked them questions if the Breitbart article or the other articles –which, frankly, didn’t say — which they’ve alleged to have said — he simply could have asked.”
Hayden added that “the president of the United States put his own reputation, the reputation of his predecessor, and the reputation of his nation at risk to get at least a draw out of the next 24 hours’ news.”
Washington Post reporter Robert Costa told the network that Trump “left the White House in a huff on Friday, unhappy with his staff,” golfed at Mar-a-Lago and was in a better mood Sunday after “his allegations against President Obama were dominating the news,” then “became unhappy, later Sunday, when he sees most Republicans and elected officials don’t really stand by him and his claims.”
“If there were wiretaps of then-candidate Trump’s organization or campaign, then it was either with FISA court authorization or without such authorization. If without, the president should explain what sort of wiretap it was and how he knows this. It is possible that he was illegally tapped. On the other hand, if it was with a legal FISA court order, then an application for surveillance exists that the court found credible,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said. “The president should ask that this full application regarding surveillance of foreign operatives or operations be made available, ideally to the full public, and at a bare minimum to the U.S. Senate.”
“We are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust, and the president’s allegations today demand the thorough and dispassionate attention of serious patriots,” the senator added. “A quest for the full truth, rather than knee-jerk partisanship, must be our guide if we are going to rebuild civic trust and health.”
Hayden said that by throwing “gasoline on the fire” with his tweets, Trump ensured “the continuation of these investigations” about Russia “just got a lot more energy — they’re going to go on for a long time.”
“In order to target a U.S. person, anyone in the Trump Tower, the Trump campaign, and even the computers in Trump Tower, you need a warrant. Now you do not need a warrant if, in your targeting of a legitimate foreign intelligence target, you pick up information to, from, or about what we call a protected person. You can continue the coverage. I mean, that’s why you’re collecting foreign intelligence. You just have to protect the privacy of the U.S. person that is involved, talking to or being talked about, in the conversation,” the former CIA boss explained.
“We minimize. We remove the U.S. identity. They’re usually are referred to as U.S. Person No. 1, U.S. Person No. 2… unless the U.S. identity is critical to understanding the meaning of the intelligence. And then NSA, at a level well below the director, NSA then has the authority to what is called unmask the U.S. identity. It happens all the time and it’s not new. It’s not the Obama administration. It’s how we have handled this since about 1952 when the agency was established.”
If, in surveillance of foreign targets, one gets “a body of evidence that leads you to believe that either, one, a crime is being committed, or these U.S. persons are actually an agent of a foreign power,” then a FISA court needs to clear targeted surveillance of the U.S. individuals.
“What the president then is saying is that a federal judge believed he had probable cause, that someone the president cares about, is involved in a criminal activity or is an agent of foreign power. I don’t think that is a good news story either,” Hayden added.
He noted that with Trump’s allegations “you’re going to have the permanent government, in the FBI and in the intelligence community, go to battle stations now to defend themselves and their integrity against the allegations that the president made.”
“I’m not accusing these guys of leaking but these people are human beings. They’ve been accused of something,” said Hayden. “The natural human response amongst tens of thousands of loyal government employees will be to defend themselves and their institutions.”