Trump has stirred the pot yet again with the claim of President Obama wiretapping him before the election at the Trump Tower. This claim came sudden and without support, however, the accusation is serious. If it was true, this would have been a huge deal, but without any evidence to support his claim, Trump is operating as he often has, on baseless grounds. Here are a few key things to know:
- The tweet made it sound personal, but Presidentsdo not usually order wiretaps. The FBI requests and carries out wiretapping without the President’s involvement. President Obama did not personally wiretap nor asked to wiretap Trump at Trump Tower, at least, there is no evidence suggesting so at this time.
- In order to be able to wiretap, FBI has to first seek a warrant by providing that there is enough of ‘probable cause’,the case is then presented to the FISA court by DOJ lawyers. The FBI did in fact request to wiretap SOMEONE, namely ‘Two Russian Banks’ according to a BBC report, at the Trump Tower. However, this does not mean that Donald Trump or his campaign was wiretapped. The first request made by the FBI was struck down in June. According to a conservative news source, the FBI’s request was approved the second time around in October. This claim has not been verified. In theory, it is possible that someone in Trump Tower, especially one that has Russian connections, was wiretapped and Trump could possibly be recorded without being the target of the wiretapping. Being an ego-maniacal person that he is, Trump always puts himself in the center of everything. Even so, it does not make Obama responsible for the wiretapping.
- What is the FISA court? FISA, or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is a federal law which regulates the physical and electronic surveillance and collection of “foreign intelligence information” between “foreign powers” and “agents of foreign powers” (which may include American citizens and permanent residences suspected of espionage or terrorism). The Act created the FISA Court to oversee requests for surveillance warrants by Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This act was introduced by Ted Kennedy in 1977, and signed into law by President Carter in 1978 as a result of the Watergate scandal. The law came to the nation’s spotlight in 2005 when the NY Times exposed that the NSA has been collecting data on the American people without warrants.
- James Clapper, the Former Director of the NSA has denied that the FISA court has issued any court order for wiretapping Trump. So, this is super interesting, on one hand, James Clapper held the position that would have known if a warrant was ever issued. On the other hand, it was known that he has lied in front of the Congress and UNDER OATH that the NSA was not carrying out mass surveillance on American citizens. Without accountability, who do we trust?
- What does this all mean? According to Wikipedia, the President may authorize through the Attorney General to electronically surveillance a foreign entity for the period of one year without warrant, but it has to be for protecting the nation against grave danger and it has to be against foreign powers. So, say if, and that’s a big if, Obama did order the wiretapping, it would be because Trump, or someone in his building, was acting as a foreign agent, for example, reporting to the Russia government, which would be illegal in the first place. On the institutional level, the government has been given the power to surveillance its citizens since the Patriot Act signed by George W. Bush and is still in effect to this date. If Donald Trump really has a problem with this surveillance issue, he could very well end this practice with his executive power. Instead of appealing the Affordable Care Act, why not appeal the Patriot Act instead? Or perhaps, we should be more concerned about his abilities to start a national conversation with just a series of tweets?