WASHINGTON – Headlines have screamed the denials by former President Obama and former members of his administration that he had wiretapped the Trump campaign.
But a closer look shows the denials actually may have been non-denials, using artful language that may be more notable for what they did not say, than what they said.
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.”
The same splitting of hairs is evident in the two other big denials, issued by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
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.”
In fact, in his column on Monday, McCarthy pointed out how Trump’s tweet had flipped the script on the Democrats’ narrative: The topic has suddenly changed from whether the Russians hacked the election to just where did the media get all that leaked information from the Obama administration, if it was not spying on the Trump campaign?
Indeed, reporting by the New York Times backs the contention that President Obama actually did see information on Trump aides obtained by wiretap.
In an article with the print version headline of “Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides,” the Times reported Jan. 20, that a source said “intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.”
But an example of recent headlines denying the wiretaps is NBC’s: “Former DNI James Clapper: ‘I Can Deny’ Wiretap of Trump Tower.”
Looking closely at what Clapper told the network, 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 Court 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 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 later claimed he did not lie but misspoke.
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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.”