January 22, 2020

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: The FBI Scandal.

Donald Trump published the most consequential tweet of his presidency on March 4, 2017. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process,” the chief executive pondered. “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

The response from Trump’s opposition was outrage. The Washington Post fact checker gave it four Pinocchios. The director of the FBI, James Comey, rebuked Trump and said such a thing had never happened. James Clapper, Obama’s director of national intelligence, assured NBC’s Meet the Press that no warrants had been issued in 2016 to surveil members of the Trump campaign.

In a narrow sense, the pushback against Trump’s tweet was correct; Trump himself was never personally the target of an FBI wiretap. In any case, the president doesn’t order such a thing; the FBI applies for a warrant to eavesdrop on Americans from a secret court. No such warrant was issued to bug the president’s offices.

But the furious denials were misleading. To paraphrase a cliché from 2016, Trump’s tweet should have been taken seriously, not literally. Obama did not tap Trump’s phones. But his FBI did spy on Trump’s campaign. That fact is no longer in dispute. The question is whether the FBI was justified in treating the Trump campaign itself as a suspect in this crime against the 2016 election.

I’d quibble with a couple of points — for example, it does appear FBI was monitoring phones in Trump’s campaign HQ and transition team, which sure sound like “Trump’s phones” to me — but it’s a good review.

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