Trump doesn’t need Congress to probe wiretap charge,
President need only ask intel operatives if his claim is true.
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.