Trump claims Obama tapped his N.Y. o∞ces

Former pres­i­dent’s team flatly de­nies ac­cu­sa­tions

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY PHILIP RUCKER, ELLEN NAKASHIMA AND ROBERT COSTA

Pres­i­dent Trump on Satur­day an­grily ac­cused former pres­i­dent Barack Obama of or­ches­trat­ing a “Nixon/Water­gate” plot to tap the phones at his Trump Tower head­quar­ters in the run-up to last fall’s elec­tion, pro­vid­ing no ev­i­dence to sup­port his ex­plo­sive claim and draw­ing a flat de­nial from Obama’s of­fice.

Lev­el­ing the ex­tra­or­di­nary al­le­ga­tion about his pre­de­ces­sor in a se­ries of four early morn­ing tweets, Trump said Obama had been “wire tapping” his New York of­fices and sug­gested that the former pres­i­dent had med­dled with the “very sa­cred elec­tion process.” Obama’s sup­posed ac­tions, Trump said, amounted to McCarthy­ism. “Bad (or sick) guy!” the 45th pres­i­dent tweeted about the 44th, in­sist­ing that the sur­veil­lance ef­forts re­sulted in “noth­ing found.”

Se­nior U.S. of­fi­cials with knowl­edge of a wide-rang­ing fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion, said Satur­day that there had been no wire­tap of Trump.

Kevin Lewis, a spokesman for Obama, said in a state­ment: “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.”

Of­fi­cials at the FBI and the Jus­tice Depart­ment de­clined to com­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, White House Coun­sel Don­ald McGahn and his of­fice are in­quir­ing about pos­si­ble sur­veil­lance of then-can­di­date Trump while be­ing sen­si­tive to le­gal and na­tional se­cu­rity con­sid­er­a­tions.

White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer said McGahn “is re­view­ing what op­tions, if any, are avail­able to us.”

It could not be im­me­di­ately de­ter­mined whether there had been wire­taps of any­one in Trump’s or­bit who might be a sub­ject of the Rus­sia probe. Sen. Christo­pher A. Coons (D-Del.) told MSNBC on Fri­day that he be­lieves “tran­scripts” ex­ist that would show whether Rus­sian of­fi­cials col­luded with Trump’s cam­paign.

Wire­taps in a for­eign in­tel­li­gence probe can­not legally be di­rected at a U.S. fa­cil­ity with­out prob­a­ble cause — re­viewed by a fed­eral judge — that the phone lines or In­ter­net ad­dresses at the fa­cil­ity were be­ing used by agents of a for­eign power or by some­one spy­ing for or act­ing on be­half of a for­eign gov­ern­ment.

Ben Rhodes, a long­time na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to Obama, tweeted at Trump: “No Pres­i­dent can or­der a wire­tap. Those re­stric­tions were put in place to pro­tect cit­i­zens from peo­ple like you.”

Nei­ther Trump nor his aides of­fered any ci­ta­tion to back up Trump’s ac­cu­sa­tion about Obama. Trump may have been prompted by a re­port on the con­ser­va­tive web­site Bre­it­bart and com­men­tary from talk ra­dio host Mark Levin sug­gest­ing that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion used “po­lice state” tac­tics to mon­i­tor the Trump team. The Bre­it­bart re­port cir­cu­lated among Trump’s se­nior aides Fri­day and early Satur­day, and Trump may have sim­ply been re­act­ing to the piece when he took to his pre­ferred mega­phone, Twit­ter, to trum­pet his claim.

Trump’s tweets punc­tu­ated a gen­eral feel­ing shared by the pres­i­dent, his ad­vis­ers and al­lies that Obama and the “Deep State” of crit­ics within the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity — who they think are fu­el­ing sto­ries on Trump and Rus­sia — have been con­spir­ing to de­rail his pres­i­dency. At the heart of each of the pres­i­dent’s tweets is Trump’s ap­par­ent be­lief that Obama him­self — as op­posed to mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion — had been per­son­ally over­see­ing sur­veil­lance of Trump Tower.

The con­ser­va­tive me­dia land­scape — in­clud­ing Sean Han­nity’s show on Fox News and In­fowars, the con­spir­acy web­site run by Alex Jones, out­lets on which Trump has ap­peared — has in re­cent days given birth to tales of Obama and his clos­est con­fi­dants try­ing to spur Trump’s im­peach­ment or force his res­ig­na­tion.

But sep­a­rately, the pres­i­dent is fu­ri­ous that a slow churn of rev­e­la­tions about com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, ousted na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn and other Trump as­so­ciates and Rus­sian of- fi­cials has over­shad­owed the early weeks of his ad­min­is­tra­tion. And he has grown fix­ated on iden­ti­fy­ing leak­ers.

“He’s an­gry, and he thinks that the leaks — even for­get­ting the rhetoric on pol­i­tics — are a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem that hurts the se­cu­rity of the coun­try,” said Thomas J. Bar­rack Jr., a close friend who chaired Trump’s inau­gu­ra­tion. “He feels if he can’t rely on his team, if he were ne­go­ti­at­ing with North Korea on some­thing sen­si­tive and death by a thou­sand leaks con­tin­ued, he views that as re­ally be­ing dis­rup­tive to the se­cu­rity of Amer­ica.”

Trump has di­rected his aides to in­ves­ti­gate em­ploy­ees across the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, with a par­tic ular fo­cus on holdovers from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and ca­reer in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers, who Trump be­lieves are try­ing to sab­o­tage him.

White House chief strate­gist Stephen K. Ban­non has been in close touch with the pres­i­dent about what he has called the Deep State. Ban­non’s re­marks in a re­cent speech about the “de­con­struc­tion of the ad­min­is­tra­tive state” were de­signed in part to raise alarm among ac­tivists on the right about en­trenched bu­reau­crats in the in­tel­li­gence and de­fense agen­cies, ac­cord­ing to White House of­fi­cials.

Roger Stone, a long­time po­lit­i­cal ad­viser to Trump who does not work in the ad­min­is­tra­tion but still talks with the pres­i­dent, said he is urg­ing Trump to fire and pros­e­cute any­one who leaks dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion.

“What the pres­i­dent doesn’t un­der­stand is he has more power than he knows,” Stone said. “He needs to clean house. Just clean house! Hand the pink slips to ev­ery­body . . . . Lock them out of their of­fices and tell the FBI to start go­ing through their emails and phone mes­sages.”

Trump was in­censed over Ses­sions’s de­ci­sion to re­cuse him­self from the Rus­sia probe af­ter The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported that Ses­sions had met twice with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador but then tes­ti­fied falsely at his Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing that he “did not have com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the Rus­sians.”

In the Oval Of­fice on Fri­day morn­ing, Trump fumed at his se­nior staff about the Ses­sions sit­u­a­tion and told them that he dis­agreed with the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s move, ac­cord­ing to se­nior White House of­fi­cials who were not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly.

Trump told aides that he thought the White House and Jus­tice Depart­ment should have done more to counter the ar­gu­ment that Ses­sions needed to step away. Trump said he wanted to see his staff fight back against what he saw as a wide­spread ef­fort to desta­bi­lize his pres­i­dency, the of­fi­cials said.

Trump then de­parted for Palm Beach, Fla. — in what one as­so­ciate de­scribed as “a [ex­ple­tive] bad mood” — to spend the week­end at his pri­vate Mar-a-Lago Club, where he fired off Satur­day morn­ing’s tweets al­leg­ing wire­taps.

Trump amended his pub­lic sched­ule Satur­day to add an early evening meet­ing with Ses­sions and Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly, as well as din­ner with both men and other ad­vis­ers, in­clud­ing Ban­non.

If the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court ap­proved a wire­tap­ping or­der on one of Trump’s as­so­ciates, that would mean the fed­eral judge in­volved had de­cided there was prob­a­ble cause that the per­son was col­lud­ing with a for­eign gov­ern­ment.

Some cur­rent and former in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials cast doubt on Trump’s wire­tap­ping as­ser­tion.

“It’s ex­tremely un­likely that there would have been any sort of crim­i­nal or in­tel­li­gence sur­veil­lance of Trump,” said Jen­nifer Daskal, a former se­nior Jus­tice Depart­ment na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cial. “There’s no cred­i­ble ev­i­dence yet to sug­gest that that hap­pened. It would be an ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sure for the FBI to ask for and the court to grant a sur­veil­lance or­der on a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date of the op­pos­ing party in an elec­tion year.”

Most Repub­li­can lead­ers were quiet on the is­sue Satur­day, but Sen. Lind­sey O. Gra­ham (R-S.C.) vowed at a town hall meet­ing with con­stituents to “get to the bot­tom of this.” He said it would be “the big­gest scan­dal since Water­gate” if Obama il­le­gally spied on Trump or if a judge ap­proved a war­rant to mon­i­tor Trump’s cam­paign for pos­si­ble com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Rus­sia.

“I’m very wor­ried that our pres­i­dent is sug­gest­ing that the former pres­i­dent has done some­thing il­le­gally,” Gra­ham said. At the same time, be­cause of what it would sig­nal, “I would be very wor­ried if in fact the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was able to ob­tain a war­rant law­fully about Trump cam­paign ac­tiv­ity with for­eign gov­ern­ments.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) called for Trump to pro­vide the pub­lic more in­for­ma­tion about his charges. “We are in the midst of a civ­i­liza­tion-warp­ing cri­sis of pub­lic trust, and the Pres­i­dent’s al­le­ga­tions to­day de­mand the thor­ough and dis­pas­sion­ate at­ten­tion of se­ri­ous pa­tri­ots,” Sasse said in a state­ment.

Democrats, mean­while, blasted Trump. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the rank­ing Demo­crat on the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, said the pres­i­dent lev­eled a “spec­tac­u­larly reck­less al­le­ga­tion” against Obama with­out ev­i­dence.

Ref­er­enc­ing Trump’s de­scrip­tion of Obama as a “bad (or sick) guy,” Schiff said in a state­ment, “If there is some­thing bad or sick go­ing on, it is the will­ing­ness of the na­tion’s chief ex­ec­u­tive to make the most out­landish and de­struc­tive claims with­out pro­vid­ing a scin­tilla of ev­i­dence to sup­port them.”

Daskal, who now teaches law at Amer­i­can Univer­sity, agreed. “It is ex­tremely dan­ger­ous for the pres­i­dent to be sug­gest­ing that he was be­ing surveilled for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses, when there is ab­so­lutely no ev­i­dence of that fact,” she said.

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

TOP: Pres­i­dent Trump boards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Fri­day be­fore de­part­ing for Flor­ida, where he tweeted ac­cu­sa­tions about former pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Satur­day. ABOVE: At his inau­gu­ra­tion, Trump shakes hands with Obama, whom he has ac­cused of “wire tapping” his New York of­fices and sug­gested he had med­dled with the “very sa­cred elec­tion process.”

RICKY CARIOTI/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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