Last week, the world was rocked by yet another outrageous claim by President Donald J. Trump: He asserted that former President Barack Obama had tapped his phones during the presidential campaign.
“How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” blared Trump’s March 4 tweet.
The claim hit the media like a hurricane, but you might have noticed that Trump and his inner circle have remained mum about it over the past few days. Undoubtedly, that’s because the evidence that this happened is non-existent.
Despite a complete lack of evidence, the Religous Right is backing President Trump's claim that former President Obama tapped his phones.
Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler looked into the matter and concluded that the Trump allegation was based on poorly sourced stories, many from right-wing sites – in other words “fake news.” (Other news sites have reached the same conclusion.)
Kessler concluded that only two of the stories Trump cites are relevant to his claim and added, “Even if these media reports are accepted as accurate, neither back up Trump’s claims that Obama ordered the tapping of his phone calls. Moreover, they also do not back up the administration’s revised claim of politically motivated investigations. We’re still waiting for the evidence.”
Nevertheless, Religious Right leader Gary Bauer, who years ago ran the Family Research Council and now heads a political action committee called the Campaign for Working Families (guess what – it has nothing to do with working families!) is sure Trump is on to something. A hysterical piece on OneNewsNow, a site run by the American Family Association, quotes Bauer as saying there is “plenty” of evidence that Obama tapped Trump’s phone.
Funny thing, though: Bauer doesn’t actually cite any evidence. Instead, he points to the same flock of discredited, fake news accounts. (Bauer is far from the only Religious Right leader backing Trump here.)
To be sure, there is a process by which law enforcement officials can tap someone’s phone. Anyone who watches police dramas knows this. But the cops can’t just break into your home and start recording everything. They must first appear before a court and show probable cause that illegal activity is going on.
At the national level, a piece of legislation called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows the FBI to seek wiretaps in suspected cases of terrorism or illegal activity that involves contact with “agents of foreign powers.” Again, to get approval for a wiretap, the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department must seek approval from a special court and get a warrant.
The president plays no role in this process. And, as several commentators have pointed out, if the FBI was seeking a wiretap of Trump’s phones, it would have had to show the court it has probable cause to believe that illegal activity was going on. James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, says no such warrant was issued during his watch.
To be sure, this business gets convoluted, but the bottom line is that Trump leveled a serious accusation against an ex-president, essentially accusing him of criminal behavior, on the basis of no evidence. (No, blogs run by right-wing cranks don’t count as evidence.)
Someone must have gotten it through to Trump that this was not a smart thing to do, which explains the radio silence emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The president issued a startling accusation. If he had any real evidence, he’d have produced it by now.
The fact that Bauer is desperately trying to cover for Trump shows that the Religious Right is going to stick with this guy no matter how much he lies, no matter how low he goes and no matter how much crazy stuff he unleashes on our political world.
I’m no political pundit, but it seems to me we can’t go on like this. Trump often behaves as if he’s unhinged, and many political observers believe sooner or later he’ll fall.
If that happens, let’s hope he takes Bauer and all of the sanctimonious hacks of the Religious Right’s “values” brigade with him.