WASHINGTON – “Have you seen any evidence yourself?” asked Glenn Thrush, chief White House political correspondent for the New York Times.
Thrush was asking the White House press secretary about President Trump’s accusation that the Obama administration had wiretapped and spied on his campaign.
“No,” replied Sean Spicer at Tuesday’s daily press briefing, but he might have referred Thrush to his own paper.
As WND reported on Monday, the evidence for Trump’s contention appeared to be published by the New York Times on Jan. 20, in an article with a print-version headline: “Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides.”
The article cited an official who said “intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.”
Others appeared to notice the irony of the Times apparently ignoring or discrediting its own story.
On Sunday, radio talk-show host Mark Levin asked, in reference to the wiretapping: “You wanna know how I know? It’s in the newspapers! It’s right there!”
Alluding to that Times story and others, Levin quipped, “The media seems to be confused about their own reporting!”
On Monday, radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh targeted one of the three writers of the Times story, Michael Schmidt, who “wrote that Team Trump had Russia connections, and to support his point, said that Trump’s people were wiretapped, and that’s in the New York Times in January.”
“So,” Limbaugh continued, “Trump tweets over the weekend that Obama’s wiretapping him, and how low that is and what Trump thinks of it and so forth. This same reporter comes back and says there’s no evidence of that. Trump’s a lunatic. There’s no evidence that. Trump’s insane.
“Now, what’s going on at the New York Times?” wondered the talk-show host. “How in the world – do they know what they’re doing, or did they just forget what they did?”
But it’s not just the New York Times that appears to be ignoring its own reporting.
The rest of the mainstream media appear largely unaware, or forgetful, that the Times has already reported the Obama White House obtained wiretapped information on the Trump camp.
Here are some of the questions other members of the mainstream media asked Spicer on Tuesday:
- Jonathan Karl, ABC News: “Has the White House come up with any evidence whatsoever to prove that allegation?
- Jonathan Karl, ABC News: “Do you believe that President Obama ordered something like that?”
- Jim Acosta, CNN: “Where’s the evidence? Where’s the proof that President Obama bugged President Trump?”
- Jim Acosta, CNN: “Since yesterday, has there been any new proof? Any new evidence?”
- Jim Acosta, CNN: “Will the president withdraw the accusation?”
- Jim Acosta, CNN: “No regrets from him about raising this accusation?”
- Hallie Jackson, NBC News: “Why would the president want Congress to investigate information he already has?”
Every time a reporter asked about the wiretaps, Spicer would reply with a version of his original answer:
“The president put out a statement on Sunday saying that we’d have no further comment and were asking the House and Senate intelligence committees to look into this concern and report back.”
But each reporter would persist, so Spicer would repeatedly add a version of this answer:
“There’s clearly a roll that Congress can play in its oversight capabilities. They made it very clear that they have the staff, the resources, the process. I think that’s the appropriate place for this to be handled.
“I think if we were start to get involved, you would write stories about how we’re getting involved. So it’s a no-win situation.
“I think the smartest and most deliberative way to address the situation is to ask the House and the Senate intelligence committees, who are already in the process of looking into this, to look into this and other leaks of classified information that are troubling to our nation’s national security.”
Peppered incessantly with essentially the same questions by different reporters, Spicer kept his cool but appeared to become mildly annoyed.
Karl asked Spicer if he believed President Obama had really “ordered something like that.”
Spice refused to take the bait, answering, “I get that that’s a cute question to ask. My job is to represent the president and to talk about what he’s doing and what he wants.”
When Acosta asked if there was any new proof of wiretaps, Spicer merely responded, “No.” Then he reiterated the importance of the congressional investigations.
When the CNN reporter then asked if the president would withdraw his accusation, a seemingly startled Spicer responded, “Why would he withdraw until it’s adjudicated?”
“No regrets from him about raising this accusation?” asked Acosta.
“No! Absolutely not.” shot back an adamant Spicer.
He added: “I think what he wants them to do is look into wiretapping, other surveillance, and again, as I mentioned before, the other leaks that are threatening our national security. You’re seeing the leaks happen over and over again. Throughout the administration, throughout the government. Undermining national security. And I think the appropriate thing to do is ask the House and the Senate to look into it.”
As WND reported on Monday, denials of wiretapping by Obama, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest might have looked more like non-denials, once the language was parsed.
As evidence of that, even former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau tweeted: “I’d be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. Statement just said that neither he nor the WH (White House) ordered it.”
Andrew McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor who has dissected the wiretap story in detail since January, told WND by email: “I think the way they will parse this is to say that the spying (they won’t call it that, of course) was done on Trump associates, not on the Trump campaign proper.
“This is a dodge, naturally, because the media has hyped the connections of the associates to the campaign, no matter how attenuated,” he added.
McCarthy noted, “Back when the media were happy about a vigorous FBI investigation because it helped the ‘Trump conspired with Russia to hack the election’ narrative, Democrats were delighted to allow everyone to believe — based on the studious leaking — that it was the campaign that was under investigation.
McCarthy added, tongue in cheek: “And, being Democrats, they have the chutzpah to look you in the eye and say, ‘Whatever makes you say such a thing?’”
“Now that they’re being called on the scandal of investigating the opposition party’s candidate, they are in retreat and claiming that there was no investigation of the campaign.”
One example of a recent headline denying the wiretaps is NBC’s: “Former DNI James Clapper: ‘I Can Deny’ Wiretap of Trump Tower.”
But looking closely at what Clapper told NBC, he specifically did not deny what the headline said he did.
That is, Clapper did not deny there had been a wiretap of a computer server in Trump Tower.
In fact, that’s about the one thing he did not deny.
What he said Sunday on “Meet the Press” was, “There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president (Trump), the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign.”
But published reports do not allege a wiretap order specifically mentioned Trump.
The New York Times identified three named targets as Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page.
Manafort had been Trump’s campaign manager but was dumped in August, well before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, order allowing the wiretap was reportedly issued in October. Stone is a friend of Trump and Manafort’s former political-consulting business partner. Page is an investor.
Clapper first told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd he could deny that a FISA order against Trump or his campaign existed.
But, when Todd pressed him as to whether there had been a FISA order to monitor Trump Tower, Clapper was anything but unequivocal, replying, “Not to my knowledge.”
Instead of outright denying such a wiretap occurred, he merely said he would “certainly hope” that he would be aware of one, in his former capacity.
Clapper also made the disclaimer, “I can’t speak for other authorized entities in the government or a state or local entity.”
Furthermore, when asked outright if he had any evidence that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russian government, Clapper replied, “Not to my knowledge,” and he said, “There was no evidence of that included in our report.”
Additionally, critics note that Clapper did not tell the truth under oath in a Senate hearing in 2013 when he denied the U.S. was collecting data on millions of Americans.
Documents later leaked by Edward Snowden showed that was not true. Clapper claimed he did not lie but misspoke.
Like Clapper, former Obama press secretary Josh Earnest flatly denied reports that the former president ordered a wiretap.
But he would not answer ABC’s Martha Raddatz on Sunday when asked to “categorically deny” that Obama’s Justice Department sought a FISA court order to wiretap the Trump campaign.
Earnest dodged by denying that the administration had interfered with an FBI investigation.
After Raddatz cut him off and asked a second time, Earnest replied that, like Clapper, he did not know.
“I don’t know, and it’s not because I’m no longer in government,” he stated.
Earnest conceded, “The fact is, even when I was in government, I was not in a position of being regularly briefed on an FBI criminal or counterintelligence investigation.”
As a former federal prosecutor, McCarthy found the wiretapping denial issued by Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis to be “disingenuous on several levels.”
“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.”
Writing in National Review, McCarthy parsed the lawyerly language to explain that Obama officials would be well aware that, under the FISA process, the president never “orders” surveillance. It is the FISA court that orders the surveillance.
McCarthy said the real issues are: “(a) whether the Obama Justice Department sought such surveillance authorization from the FISA court, and (b) whether, if the Justice Department did that, the White House was aware of or complicit in the decision to do so.”
McCarthy concluded, given the political enormity of applying for a wiretap on the presidential candidate of the opposition party, “It seems to me that there is less than zero chance that could have happened without consultation between the Justice Department and the White House.”
The former federal prosecutor also ridiculed the notion that Obama had never ordered surveillance against American citizens, calling it nonsense.
McCarthy cited the American citizens killed overseas in drone strikes ordered by Obama. Although not done under FISA, the targets obviously had been surveilled to determine their location.
He also noted it was possible Obama could have ordered warrantless surveillance, as President Bush did after 9/11.
The bottom line for McCarthy was that, “at the very time it appears the Obama Justice Department was seeking to surveil Trump and/or his associates on the pretext that they were Russian agents, the Obama Justice Department was also actively undermining and ultimately closing without charges the criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton despite significant evidence of felony misconduct that threatened national security.”
He concluded, “This appears to be extraordinary, politically motivated abuse of presidential power.”
Video of White House press briefing, March 7, 2017: