Trump doesn’t need Congress to probe wire­tap charge,

Pres­i­dent need only ask in­tel op­er­a­tives if his claim is true.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Eric Tucker and Eileen Sullivan

If Don- ald Trump wants to know whether he was the sub­ject of sur­veil­lance by the U.S. gov­ern­ment, he may be uniquely po­si­tioned to get an an­swer.

A se­ries of week­end tweets by the pres­i­dent focused pub­lic at­ten­tion on in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion ef­forts long shrouded in se­crecy. He ac­cused for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama of or­der­ing wire­taps on his phones but of­fered no proof to back the claim, and the White House then called on Congress to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions.

But for­mer gov­ern­ment lawyers say Trump hardly needs Congress to an­swer this ques­tion.

“The in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity works for the pres­i­dent, so if a pres­i­dent wanted to know whether surveil- lance had been con­ducted on a par­tic­u­lar tar­get, all he’d have to do is ask,” said Todd Hin­nen, head of the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Di­vi­sion dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and a Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil staff mem­ber un­der Ge­orge W. Bush.

The lat­est storm be­gan Satur­day when Trump tweeted: “Is it le­gal for a sit­ting Pres- ident to be ‘wire tap­ping’ a race for pres­i­dent prior to an elec­tion? Turned down by court ear­lier. A NEW LOW!” He fol­lowed up with: “How low has Pres­i­dent Obama gone to tapp my phones dur­ing the very sa­cred elec- tion process. This is Nixon/ Water­gate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

The Jus­tice De­part­ment, not the pres­i­dent, would have the au­thor­ity to con- duct such sur­veil­lance, and of­fi­cials have not con­firmed any such ac­tion. Through a spokesman, Obama said nei- ther he nor any White House of­fi­cial had ever or­dered sur­veil­lance on any U.S. cit­i­zen. Obama’s top in­tel­li­gence offi- cial, James Clap­per, also said Trump’s claims were false, and a U.S. of­fi­cial told The As­so­ci­ated Press that the FBI asked the Jus­tice De­part­ment to re­but Trump’s as­ser­tions.

Why turn to Congress, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer was asked Mon­day.

un­der­stand­ing is that the pres­i­dent di­rect­ing the De­part­ment of Jus­tice to do some­thing with re­spect to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that may or may not oc­cur with ev­i­dence may be seen as try­ing to in­ter­fere,” Spicer said. “And I think that we’re try­ing to do this in the proper way.”

He in­di­cated that Trump was re­spond­ing to me­dia re­ports rather than any word from the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity. Other of­fi­cials have sug­gested the pres­i­dent was act­ing on other in­for­ma­tion.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chair­man of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said Mon­day that Trump needs to give more in­for­ma­tion to the Amer­i­can peo­ple and Congress about his wire­tap­ping ac­cu­sa­tions. “The di­men­sions of this are huge,” McCain said. “It’s ac­cus­ing a for­mer pres­i­dent of the United States of vi­o­lat­ing the law. That’s never hap­pened be­fore.”

As for the ge­n­e­sis of a pos­si­ble wire­tap, it is pos­si­ble the pres­i­dent was re­fer­ring to the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act, a 1978 law that per­mits in­ves­ti­ga­tors, with a war­rant, to col­lect the com­mu­ni­ca­tions of some­one they sus­pect of be­ing an agent of a for­eign power.

The gov­ern­ment’s use of that act is secret, the war­rant ap­pli­ca­tion process clas­si­fied. But, as pres­i­dent, Trump has the au­thor­ity to de­clas­sify any­thing. And were such a war­rant to ex­ist, he could make it pub­lic.

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