Two weeks ago, President Trump began his “crusade” against former President Obama for wiretapping Trump Tower before the 2016 election, as he claims. The President has accused Obama for tapping his phones in an effort to help the Democratic party.
To date, no one has seen or found any evidence to support Trump’s wiretapping accusations. And, the President himself has yet to produce any, although he took to Twitter, making his claims go viral.
Now, many speculate that Trump’s theory was developed based solely on a Breitbart News report. It’s said that this report was based on “speculative commentary.”
So, for the past two weeks, the media has dug its heels into the theory. And, the Trump Administration has dug its heels even deeper by simply refusing to prove or debunk the claims. It even went so far as to suggest that Obama listened in on Donald Trump’s calls with the help of British intelligence. But, once again, with no proof.
This led to the British intelligence agency GCHQ having to debunk the claims in order to clear its name. GCHQ issued a public statement, very rare for the agency, ensuring the public that the claims being made by the Trump Administration “should be ignored” because they are “nonsense.”
For a while, it wasn’t clear how this matter would be resolved. Some objective observer needed to weigh in and explain what had really happened.
During congressional testimony today before the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, two such observers weighed in. FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Admiral Michael Rogers made clear that there is absolutely no evidence to support Trump’s wild claims. Comey testified that “The FBI and the Justice Department have no information to support” Trump’s accusation against Obama. Rogers seconded what Comey said on behalf the NSA.
As for the suggestion British intelligence could have helped wiretap Obama, Rogers strongly dismissed the notion that this could have occurred, explaining that such action would be “expressly against the construct of the Five Eyes agreement that’s been in place for decades.” “Five Eyes” is an intelligence partnership between the United States, Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia that provides for intelligence sharing between the countries.
British Member of Parliament Dominic Grieve issued a statement last week explaining that, under the partnership, Five Eyes countries “cannot ask each other to target each other’s citizens or individuals that they cannot themselves target, or in any other way seek to circumvent their own or each other’s legal and policy considerations.”
This is important stuff. Trump and his administration made serious allegations against both his predecessor in office and a close American ally. He and his administration offered no evidence to support these claims, and U.S. intelligence officials have now flatly debunked them.
It is understandable that many of us would prefer to move on from this uncomfortable episode, trying our best to put this all in the rear view mirror.
That would be a mistake. If Trump gets the message that he can make preposterous claims with impunity, he will have every reason to do so again in the future.
Such claims can be very damaging. Rogers testified today that the claim the Trump administration made was not helpful to the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.
Rogers similarly testified that Trump’s suggestion during a public meeting with German Chancellor Angel Merkel that he and Merkel shared something in common as each had supposedly been wiretapped by Obama “certainly complicates things.”
Take a moment to let this sink in. The NSA director testified before a congressional committee that the U.S. President has taken action at odds with some of our closest international alliances. If Trump reported to Rogers, it would be difficult to imagine that Rogers could have any confidence in Trump.
Of course, Trump does not report to Rogers. But, under our constitutional democracy, the President is neither above the law nor beyond reproach. Congress plays an essential role in setting limits on presidential power.
With Republicans controlling the House and Senate, it is up to them to decide whether there will be any consequences for Trump’s reckless actions.
Comey testified that the FBI’s investigation of links and possible cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia is ongoing, and that he can’t see when it will conclude. We don’t know, of course, what that investigation will or won’t turn up. But we already know enough, based on public testimony today, to tell us that our government is facing an urgent challenge defined by a President who has shown no compunction about defaming his predecessor and jeopardizing longstanding American alliances.
It is hard to imagine a more difficult or unpleasant task for Republicans: They have no choice other than to determine whether they are confident that the President is fit to carry out the duties of his office. No one can take any pleasure in this, but if Republicans in Congress do nothing, they will be making a dangerous mistake.