The former Director of National Intelligence refuted President Donald Trump’s claim that Barack Obama personally ordered an illegal wiretap of Trump Tower in 2016, saying on Sunday he wasn’t aware of any wiretaps at Trump’s residence — much less any ordered by the former president.
On Saturday morning, Trump tweeted — without evidence — a claim that President Obama had the then-candidate’s phones tapped during the 2016 election. Former Obama aides were quick to point out that the president doesn’t have the authority to order such an action, and an Obama spokesperson released a statement calling the accusation “simply false.” Trump’s own aides were also flummoxed by the claim, saying they weren’t consulted before the president issued the tweet.
It is true that American intelligence agencies — not the president — could conduct surveillance on someone like Trump if they were granted a warrant by a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Act) court. A warrant would require finding probable cause that Trump campaign members were colluding inappropriately with Russian officials.
On Meet the Press on Sunday, Former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper denied that Trump’s phones had been tapped.
“For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect [Trump] at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign,” he said.
Clapper noted that he cannot speak for all parts of the government that are authorized to conduct wiretaps, but said he would “absolutely” know if the FBI was granted a FISA court order to conduct surveillance on Trump. When asked if he could confirm or deny the existence of such an order, he was unequivocal: “I can deny it.”
When host Chuck Todd pressed if there was “anything at Trump Tower,” Clapper offered a one word answer: No.
While the FBI may not have bugged Trump Tower, however, it’s possible anyone having conversations with Russian agents who were under surveillance may have had their conversations captured.
Later on in the program, Clapper explained that an intelligence report released in January did not find any evidence “at the time” of explicit collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, although he stood by the claim that Russia intentionally tried to help Trump win.
Still, he acknowledged that new evidence of collusion could have been uncovered since he left office, adding that there is a need to “clear the air” on the extent of connections between Russia and the Trump campaign.
“It is in everyone’s interests—the current president’s interest, in the Democrats’ interests, in the Republican’s interests, and in the country’s interest—to get to the bottom of all this,” he said. “Because it’s such a distraction.”
The White House on Sunday called on Congress to investigate the previous administration’s actions. Currently, the only source for Trump’s accusations appears to be a conspiracy theory floated on conservative talk radio and the right-wing outlet Breitbart.