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What’s behind Trump’s charge that Obama ordered Trump Tower wiretap?

March 6, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
President Trump sparked a firestorm with a tweet over the weekend, accusing his predecessor -- without offering evidence -- of wiretapping Trump Tower ahead of the election and asking Congress to investigate. John Yang speaks with Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, and former Department of Homeland Security official Stewart Baker.
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JOHN YANG: Now to President Trump’s shocking series of tweets on Saturday and what’s behind the unsupported allegations.

On today’s morning shows, administration officials Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders pressed President Trump’s case.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, Senior Trump Adviser: Look, the president firmly believes that the Obama administration may have tapped into the phones at Trump Tower.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, Senior Trump Adviser: Let’s get to the bottom of it. That is the president’s entire point.

JOHN YANG: Like the president, they offered no evidence, but Conway said Mr. Trump may have information and intelligence the rest of us do not.

In the Senate today, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the claim added to the need for an independent probe of alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: The events of this weekend, which included another troubling, baseless tweet from the president, highlight and in fact strengthen the argument for a special prosecutor to conduct the investigation.

JOHN YANG: The president sparked the firestorm with a weekend tweet: “Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory.”

A spokesman for former President Obama swiftly denied it, as did his former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

JAMES CLAPPER, Former National Intelligence Director: There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time or, as a candidate or against his campaign.

JOHN YANG: Mr. Trump asked Congress to investigate, and Press Secretary Sean Spicer said there would be no further comment.

Today, Spicer briefed reporters off-camera.

SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: There’s no question that something happened. The question is, is it surveillance, is it a wiretap or whatever? But there’s been enough reporting that strongly suggests that something occurred.

JOHN YANG: It appears to trace back to Thursday evening and conservative radio host Mark Levin.

MARK LEVIN, Conservative Radio Host: Barack Obama and his surrogates, who were supporting Hillary Clinton and their party, the Democrat Party, who were using the instrumentalities of the federal government, intelligence activities, to surveil members of the Trump campaign!

JOHN YANG: That was picked up Friday morning by Breitbart News, formerly run by Trump adviser Steve Bannon. President Trump’s tweet came about 24 hours later.

FBI Director James Comey reportedly asked the Justice Department to refute the claim.

We dig in to the president’s claims now with Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and Stewart Baker, who was assistant homeland security secretary for policy under President George W. Bush. He also was general counsel at the National Security Agency from 1992 to 1994.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with us. Welcome to you both.

Mr. Schiff, my first question is for you. What’s your response to the president’s request that the Intelligence Committee take this question, whether or not there was any potentially politically motivated investigation, investigative branch powers were abused, whether that happened, into your investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign? And have you spoken to Chairman Nunes about this yet?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, D-Calif.: I have not had a chance to discuss it with the chairman.

But, look, I think this whole allegation the president has made is reckless, and, given that it comes without any substantiation whatsoever, breathtakingly reckless.

We already know from Director Clapper that, under the agencies that he was overseeing in the intelligence community, there was no FISA warrant directed at Mr. Trump or his campaign.

And, yes, we can bring him in before our committee and have him repeat in closed session the same thing he said privately. And if the reports are correct that Director Comey has said the same thing and asked the Department of Justice to push back on this, then it’s clear there was no criminal wiretap.

And that is a simple matter to resolve as well. But I think the call for this to be investigated is much like the president’s call to investigate his claim that millions of undocumented immigrants voted. It’s patently absurd and it’s designed, I think, to give some patina of respectability to a claim that really has none at all.

JOHN YANG: Mr. Baker, breathtakingly reckless, patently absurd? What do you say?

STEWART BAKER, Former Department of Homeland Security Official: No, I don’t understand that.

We know from multiple reports, including The New York Times, that there were intercepts and there were FISA orders in connection with Russian efforts to influence the campaign. And we know from Mike Flynn’s resignation that those intercepts covered conversations that members of the campaign had.

And I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say, let’s investigate that. What we have heard from former Obama administration officials are very limited non-denial denials. That is to say, the president says, I didn’t order anything. Well, of course, he doesn’t.

But the Justice Department and the FISA court could have. We have Jim Clapper saying, we didn’t target the campaign or Mr. Trump.

There’s a lot of other people that could have been targeted that would look pretty political if it was done in bad faith. I think it’s fair to ask the question, what are the facts?

And that’s what your committee is for.

JOHN YANG: Mr. Schiff, you say that there was no surveillance whatsoever that might have captured some communications between people close to Mr. Trump?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: No, that’s not what I have said.

And I think what Mr. Baker has addressed is really not what the president tweeted, which was that the president had wiretapped his campaign.

It’s entirely possible — and I can’t comment on what we have been hearing in the committee — that, as part of our foreign intelligence gathering directed at foreign spies, that we may have intercepted communications between Russian or between Russians and Americans.

But, frankly, if that’s the case, then the president has a big problem, because why would Trump campaign people be talking to the Russians, if that was the context in which communications were gathered? So I’m not saying that’s the case, but if what Mr. Baker is referring to is our efforts to target Russian targets, that’s something very different than what the president alleged.

And I think for a president of the United States to make this kind of an allegation about his predecessor, I think, in the eyes of the rest of the world and our own citizens, really brings discredit on himself and on our very democracy.

JOHN YANG: Mr. Baker, is there anything nefarious about that, if they were targeting Russians and they captured communications with people close to Trump in that process?

STEWART BAKER: In my view, we had to do that. If the Russians are messing with our elections, we cannot tolerate that. We need to know and we need to take action against it.

At the same time, opening this investigation of one campaign, and in the middle of an election, has enormous political consequences. And it’s fair to ask the question, were those political consequences part of the determination to pursue this?

And that is something that ought to be looked at, along with the Russian attempt to influence the election.

JOHN YANG: Mr. Schiff, is that a legitimate question for the committee to be looking into?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, I think, if you look at the facts here, actually, much of the criticism, frankly, that I have leveled and others is that the Obama administration did too little during the course of the Russian interference in our election, not too much, that the Obama administration, in fact, was so wary about being perceived as trying to put its hand on the scales or interfere in the election, that they were reluctant to even call out Russia on what was so plain to the intelligence agencies.

Indeed, Senator Feinstein and I had to take the step of doing that ourselves before the intelligence community was ready or willing to do that. So, I think, quite the contrary, if the Obama administration erred here — and I think they did — it was in not calling this out earlier, not seeking sanctions along with our allies earlier.

STEWART BAKER: I think you can believe that the president, President Obama, wasn’t sufficiently tough with the Russians and still believe that he was determined to be aggressive with the Trump campaign.

He does take domestic politics very personally. And, you know, the FISA system is set up to provide protection for our civil liberties by ensuring that the decision to use FISA is at the highest levels of government, which it turns out, of course, are all political appointees.

And in the context of an election investigation, that’s just not comforting. I don’t think that the president is going to be satisfied to hear, oh, no, President Obama didn’t wiretap you, Sally Yates did.

JOHN YANG: I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave it there.

Stewart Baker, Representative Adam Schiff, thank you very much for joining us. I’m sure we will be returning to this topic again.

STEWART BAKER: It was a pleasure.

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