Sunday 30 April 2017

The leaks about Russia and Trump could be acts of political warfare, not whistleblowing

'Surely, if the US intelligence agencies had real evidence that Mr Trump’s associates were collaborating with Russian spies, they would have gone to the FISA court.' Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria
'Surely, if the US intelligence agencies had real evidence that Mr Trump’s associates were collaborating with Russian spies, they would have gone to the FISA court.' Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria

Eli Lake

Washington is in need of fainting couches. On Saturday, US President Donald Trump tweeted that his predecessor, Barack Obama, ordered a wiretap on him before the election. Legislators and pundits are horrified. The swamp is stunned.

So let's unpack this. To be sure, what Mr Trump tweeted is almost certainly false. Since the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), a president cannot just order the FBI or the NSA to eavesdrop on a US citizen. Justice Department lawyers have to ask that secret court for a warrant. By Sunday evening, news outlets were reporting that FBI director James Comey had urged the Justice Department to clarify the record and say no such wiretap was ordered. In this respect, Mr Trump got it wrong.

This, though, is not the end of the story. What Mr Trump should have tweeted is that he suspects many Obama administration alumni are selectively disclosing to the public details of his associates' phone calls and meetings that appear related to an ongoing investigation into his ties to Russia. That's not the same as spying on one's political opposition. But it's an abuse of power nonetheless.

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