Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday to answer questions about President Trump’s twitter tirade accusing President Obama of having “’wires tapped’ in Trump tower. In an exchange with host Chuck Todd, Clapper categorically denied that there was a FISA court warrant to conduct surveillance on the Republican presidential candidate.
Todd: Let me start with the President’s tweets yesterday, this idea that maybe President Obama ordered an illegal wiretap of his offices. If something like that happened would this be something you would be aware of?
Clapper: I would certainly hope so. I can say… Obviously I can’t speak officially anymore but I will say for the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the President, the President-Elect at the time or as candidate or against his campaign. I can’t speak for other Title III authorized entities in the government or state or local entities.
Todd: I was just going to say, if the FBI for instance, had a FISA court order of some sort for surveillance, would that be information you would know or not know?
Todd: You would be told this?
Clapper: I would know that.
Todd: If there was a FISA court order…
Todd: On something like this?
Clapper: Something like this absolutely.
Todd: And at this point you can’t confirm or deny whether that exists?
Clapper: I can deny it
Todd: There is no FISA court order?
Clapper: Not to my knowledge.
Todd: Of anything at Trump Tower?
Scott Hounsell of Red State notes that Clapper’s statement and Trump’s claims offer three different possibilities. First is the possibility that a warrant was obtained without the knowledge of the DNI. Hounsell notes that this could have been “conducted by rogue intelligence officials, or it was ordered by someone higher up than the DNI, and he was circumvented from the process.” Second, wiretaps could have been conducted by rogue elements of the government without a warrant. The final possibility is that there were no wiretaps at all. “This [possibility] makes Trump into a delusional crazy person,” Hounsell writes.
There is a fourth possibility. One or both of the two the men could be lying. In March 2013, James Clapper lied before Congress, telling Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oreg.) that the government was “not wittingly” collecting information on Americans. A few months later, after Edward Snowden absconded to Russia with reams of classified information on the NSA’s surveillance programs, Clapper admitted, “My response was clearly erroneous.”
Donald Trump’s problems with truth-telling are numerous and well-documented.
Meanwhile FBI Director James Comey, who was served under President Bush, was appointed by President Obama and retained by President Trump, came down on the side of James Clapper. The New York Times, citing “senior American officials,” reported that Director Comey has been working with the Justice Department to debunk Trump’s claims because they falsely portray the FBI as working outside the law.
The White House has offered no evidence to substantiate President Trump’s claims of wiretapping. Republicans Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have called upon the president to clarify his comments.
“I’d imagine the president and the White House in the days to come will outline further what was behind that accusation,” Rubio said in Politico. “The president put that out there, and now the White House will have to answer as to exactly what he was referring to.”
Fortune suggests that the president’s tweets might refer to a story published on Breitbart the day before his tirade. The Breitbart report focused on a report in the Guardian that the FBI had applied for FISA warrants to monitor members of the Trump campaign last summer. The Breitbart report focused on a report in the Guardian that the FBI had applied for FISA warrants to monitor members of the Trump campaign last summer. A first request that named Trump was reportedly denied twice before narrower request dealing with Russian banks was granted.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer spoke for the White House in a tweet that said, “Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight [of President Obama’s abuse of executive authority] is conducted.”