As John discussed last night, the Washington Post is reporting that the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to monitor former Trump adviser Carter Page. If the report is true, and I assume it is, this means that the Obama administration obtained a FISA order to spy on at least one campaign associate of Donald Trump.
John contends that the surveillance of Page means Trump’s famous tweets about Obama tapping his wires “were, in substance, true.” He adds that those of us who criticized these tweets owe President Trump an apology.
I respectfully disagree. The main Trump tweet in question said:
Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found.
In my opinion, the tapping of Carter Page’s wires does not constitute the tapping of Donald Trump’s wires. The substance of Trump’s claim — that the Obama administration engaged in surveillance directed at him — remains unsubstantiated.
It’s possible that, in listening to Page’s phone calls, the FBI heard communications in which Trump participated. To me, however, this is differs from tapping Trump’s “wires.”
It’s also far from clear that Page ever called Trump during the period covered by the FISA warrant. As John said, Page was not a major player in Trump’s campaign. He was named to a five-member Trump foreign policy team in March 2016, a time when virtually no one in the foreign policy establishment wanted anything to do with Trump.
By the time of the FISA order, Trump had access to a broader range of foreign policy experts, and it appears that, at this stage, Page’s role in the campaign was insubstantial. The Post offers this account of that role:
A former Trump campaign adviser said Page submitted policy memos to the campaign and several times asked to be given a meeting with Trump, though his request was never granted. “He was one of the more active ones, in terms of being in touch [with the campaign]” the adviser said.
The campaign adviser said Page participated in three dinners held for the campaign’s volunteer foreign policy advisers in the spring and summer of 2016, coming from New York to Washington to meet with the group. Although Trump did not attend, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a top Trump confidant who became his attorney general, attended one meeting of the group with Page in late summer, the campaign adviser said.
So it’s questionable whether Page called Trump during the relevant period and very doubtful that Trump called Page. In any case, I don’t view surveillance of Page’s conversations as the tapping of the wires of the person he talked with.
Finally, when I criticized Trump’s tweet, I found it objectionable in large part because Trump appeared to have no evidence to back it up. Even if supporting evidence eventually surfaced, I thought the tweet would still be problematic unless Trump had evidence at the time of the tweet. In my view, it simply won’t do for the U.S. president to accuse people of wrongdoing based only on suspicion (or a desire to change the conversation).
John says it’s unclear how much Trump knew about the surveillance of Page when he issued his controversial tweet. John is right.
However, it seems unlikely that Trump’s tweet was based on knowledge of the FBI’s surveillance of Page. Trump referred to his wires being tapped “just before the victory.” Unless he talked by phone with Page just before the election, Trump probably had some other surveillance in mind — assuming he had anything concrete in mind.
I agree with John that there may well be a scandal associated with the Obama administration’s actions towards Donald Trump and his campaign last Fall, as well as its actions after Trump prevailed. However, I don’t think any evidence has been found to support Trump’s contentious tweet, and I believe criticism of that tweet remains fair.