Barack Obama's Trump Tower Wiretap Denial Reeks of Orwellian Doublespeak
On Saturday, President Donald Trump shook the world by accusing former President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election — a scandal comparable to "Nixon/Watergate." While news outlets reported that Trump cited "no evidence" to support his claims, there is a disturbing trail of breadcrumbs suggesting that the Obama administration did indeed do this.
Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for the former president, denied these allegations, but the very denial was disingenuous at best. In fact, one might even call it Orwellian. Here it is:
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.
This declaration is disingenuous on at least three levels, as pointed out by National Review's David French. First, the process which Obama's administration allegedly used to wiretap Trump Tower (if indeed it happened) was using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Technically, it is the FISA court which "orders" such surveillance, and the Justice Department (not Obama or the White House) represents the government in proceedings before that court.
"The issue is not whether Obama or some member of his White House staff 'ordered' surveillance of Trump and his associates," French explained. Rather, the important questions are "whether the Obama Justice Department sought such surveillance authorization from the FISA court, and whether, if the Justice Department did that, the White House was aware of or complicit in the decision to do so." Reports suggest the answer to the first question is yes, and it seems very unlikely, given the explosive nature of this surveillance request, that Obama would not have known about it.
Second, it is a virtual certainty that Obama has ordered surveillance against American citizens — he has even had American citizens killed in drone operations. As French argued, "the notion that Obama would never have an American subject to surveillance is absurd." Indeed, as he left office, President Obama gave the National Security Agency (NSA) broad powers to spy on Americans.
Finally, FISA national security investigations are significantly different from criminal investigations. The intention is not to build a criminal case, but to gather information about what foreign powers are doing — especially on U.S. soil. It is the president's prerogative to order surveillance of a potential foreign agent. Nevertheless, as French noted, "it would be a scandal of Watergate dimension if a presidential administration sought to conduct, or did conduct, national-security surveillance against the presidential candidate of the opposition party."