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Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Why Trump’s Latest Obama Accusation Could Backfire - The New Yorker

Trump can say virtually anything, however false or outrageous, without suffering any political consequences with his base. In his tweets this weekend, however, he may have gone too far.



"In his tweets this weekend, however, he may, just possibly, have gone too far. Trump has now added his voice to the calls for a proper public investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. The only way for Congress to properly assess the truth of Trump’s claim about Obama would be to call on Comey and other senior officials to provide a full accounting of the interagency investigation into alleged contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. Is that really what the White House wants?



Much of what we know about the investigation is based on stories citing anonymous sources. But there are some indisputable facts, including the big one—attested to by seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies—that the Russian government was behind the hacking operations that helped the Trump campaign.



Trump, we also know, has long done business with Russians. We know that Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, worked for years for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. We know that, in the run-up to last year’s Republican National Convention, Trump associates insisted that the language about Ukraine in the Party platform be softened substantially. And we know that a former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, put together an opposition-research document about Trump last year in which he claimed that the “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years.”



Details of the actual investigation into Russia’s relationship with the Trump campaign remain murky. In January, a story in the Guardian claimed that “the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus.” The Guardian‘s report echoed a story published last November by Heat Street, a news site run by Louise Mensch, a former Conservative M.P., which claimed, “the FBI sought, and was granted, a fisa court warrant in October, giving counter-intelligence permission to examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.”



These unconfirmed stories weren’t picked up by major U.S. news organizations, but they appear to have shaped the allegations made by Levin and Breitbart. On Sunday, however, the Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler, in a fact-checking piece about Trump’s claims, wrote, “The Washington Post for months has sought to confirm this report of a fisa warrant related to the Trump campaign but has been unable to do so.” Clapper, on “Meet the Press,” stated flatly that there was no wiretapping of Trump’s campaign, and no application for a fisa warrant to bug Trump Tower.



However, Clapper’s interview did leave open the question of how far the F.B.I. and other agencies went in monitoring Russian individuals, or entities, that they suspected of having ties to Trump. A few weeks ago, the BBC’s Paul Wood published a report that he said was based on information “given to me by several sources and corroborated by someone I will identify only as a senior member of the US intelligence community.” Last April, according to Wood, Obama’s director of the C.I.A., John Brennan, “was shown intelligence that worried him. It was—allegedly—a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign. It was passed to the US by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States.”



Subsequently, Wood’s story went on, Justice Department lawyers drew up an application to the fisa court seeking permission to “intercept the electronic records from two Russian banks.” The court rejected that application, Wood reported, and it rejected another application in July. “Finally, before a new judge, the order was granted, on 15 October, three weeks before election day. Neither Mr Trump nor his associates are named in the Fisa order, which would only cover foreign citizens or foreign entities—in this case the Russian banks. But ultimately, the investigation is looking for transfers of money from Russia to the United States, each one, if proved, a felony offence.”



Wood’s reporting hasn’t been confirmed, either; that should be noted. A key point, though, is that neither Wood’s article nor any of the other articles claiming to have discovered details of the investigation—not even the one at Breitbart—has asserted that Trump Tower was bugged, or that Obama personally ordered any wiretaps. It seems evident that Trump simply made up these claims, as he makes up many things.



We can only hope that, this time, his pernicious diversionary tactics backfire: the Justice Department or Comey might come out and repudiate the President publicly, and more Republicans on Capitol Hill might find the spines to support a proper investigation of the Russia matter. On Monday, Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said to CBS News, “Thus far, I have not seen anything directly that would support what the President has said.” Chaffetz, you may recall, was a key figure in the Republicans’ Benghazi witch hunt. Even he may be suggesting that Trump’s latest claim could turn out to be a conspiracy theory too far."



Why Trump’s Latest Obama Accusation Could Backfire - The New Yorker

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