Fake news purveyors are invoking conspiracy theories and false claims to back up President Donald Trump’s lie that former President Barack Obama directly ordered a wiretap on him at Trump Tower during the 2016 election.
Trump Echoes Right-Wing Media, Makes Evidence-Free Claim That Obama Wiretapped Trump Tower
Trump Pushed Baseless Right-Wing Media Claim That Obama Administration Spied On Him During Election. President Donald Trump accused former President Barack Obama of improperly tapping Trump’s communications during the presidential campaign. In a series of tweets, Trump cited no evidence to support his allegation, which, according to BuzzFeed, “appears to have followed a path through the pro-Trump media” and may have been sparked by a right-wing radio host’s commentary that was featured in a Breitbart.com post. From BuzzFeed’s March 4 report:
Without offering a scintilla of evidence, President Donald Trump on Saturday accused former President Barack Obama of spying on him by ordering the wiretapping of phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 election campaign — a charge the former leader denied.
Like much of what Trump tweets, the Obama wiretap claim appears to have followed a path through the pro-Trump media. The president may have been referring to an article from alt-right media outlet Breitbart, which makes claims that Obama worked to undermine Trump during the election. The Breitbart story references a segment from conservative commentator Mark Levin’s Thursday night radio show in which he said Obama used surveillance techniques to gather information on Trump.
In a series of early morning tweets on Saturday, Trump shared the claims: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
“Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!”
In further tweets, Trump claimed a “good lawyer could make a great case” out of the alleged phone-tapping.
He also called Obama a “bad (or sick) guy,” comparing him to former President Richard Nixon and the infamous Watergate scandal. [BuzzFeed, 3/4/17]
CNN’s Jake Tapper: Trump “Got The Info About Wiretap From Media - Breitbart, Levin - Not From [Government] Sources." CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that Trump relied on Breitbart.com and conservative talk radio host Mark Levin as the sources for his claim:
Fake News Purveyors Are Defending Trump’s Lie By Pushing Conspiracy Theories And False Claims
CONSPIRACY THEORY: Obama Pushed DOJ For Warrants To Wiretap Trump And Associates
Angry Patriot: Obama Could Have “Press[ed] The Department Of Justice’s Lawyers To Request” A FISA Warrant. Fake news purveyor Angry Patriot suggested that Obama could have “press[ed] the Department of Justice’s lawyers to request a warrant via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).” From the article (emphasis original):
The denial itself appears to be more of a confession of guilt rather than a profession of innocence. While the Obama camp claims Obama never “directly” ordered the tap, the wording left the door wide open that wiretap was indeed ordered through secondary channels. In other words, being aware of and having the words come directly out of Obama’s mouth are two different things where Obama is concerned. (via Breitbart)
But here’s the thing… Obama was the president and all departments of our government fell under his watch so regardless of what Dems want everyone to believe, if it happened, Obama himself is guilty as charged!
The Democrats are relying on slippery language to defend Obama. While it is true that the president cannot “order” a wiretap, he can press the Department of Justice’s lawyers to request a warrant via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
To me, it sounds like Obama officials, or the man himself, pressured the court to give in. However, Dems still argue that Obama is guiltless, and that since the second wiretap was approved, this must be proof that Trump is guilty of a crime. Newsflash: you do not need proof that a crime was committed to get a warrant for surveillance. [Angry Patriot, accessed 3/5/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]
Mad World News: “Obama Had His Department Of Justice Lackey Loretta Lynch” Request A FISA Warrant. Fake news purveyor Mad World News claimed that “Obama had his Department of Justice lackey Loretta Lynch petition the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court” to wiretap Trump in June, but “when that initial application failed, Obama had the DOJ rewrite it with bogus allegations that Obama thought Trump had some nefarious dealings with Russian banks, making sure it would be granted in October.” From the March 5 article:
President Donald Trump is blasting Barack Obama as overwhelming evidence proves that the former president spied on Trump as far back as June 2016. Shocking details of Obama’s plot are now known, including wiretapping Trump Tower. Obama is running scared, trying to explain what he did while mounting evidence points to the former president and other leading Democrats all being guilty of treason.
The treasonous plot to overthrow Donald Trump started as far back as June 2016 when he became the GOP nominee. Barack Obama, no doubt with Hillary Clinton’s approval, hatched a plan to wiretap Trump Tower to listen in on all of the Republican nominee’s communications.
Obama had his Department of Justice lackey Loretta Lynch petition the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC, also called the FISA Court) in June for the wiretapping, but when that initial application failed, Obama had the DOJ rewrite it with bogus allegations that Obama thought Trump had some nefarious dealings with Russian banks, making sure it would be granted in October.
So, a month before the 2016 election, Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped. He listened in on everything going on at the opposition’s headquarters. This is exactly what police states do; they bug private citizens, and they interfere in free elections, making Obama as bad as any communist dictator. [Mad World News, 3/5/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]
FACT: Obama And Intelligence Officials Said There Was No Surveillance Order
Obama Spokesperson “Issued A Strong Denial” To Trump’s Claims. A spokesperson for Obama “issued a strong denial” of Trump’s claims, according to ABC News. In the statement, Obama spokesperson Kevin Lewis said that “neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen,” adding, “Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.” [ABC News, 3/4/17]
Former Intelligence Head James Clapper: “There Was No Such Wiretap Activity Mounted Against” Trump Or His Campaign. Former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper told NBC’s Chuck Todd that “for the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time or as a candidate or against his campaign.” From the March 5 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press:
CHUCK TODD (HOST): Let me start with the president's tweets yesterday, this idea that maybe President Obama ordered an illegal wiretap of his offices. If something like that happened, would this be something you would be aware of?
JAMES CLAPPER: I would certainly hope so. Obviously, I can't speak officially anymore, but I will say that for the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time or as a candidate or against his campaign. I can't speak for other Title III-authorized entities in the government or a state or local entity.
TODD: I was just going to say, if the FBI, for instance, had a FISA court order of some sort for surveillance, would that be information you would know or not know?
TODD: You would be told this?
CLAPPER: I would know that.
TODD: If there was a FISA court order?
TODD: On something like this.
CLAPPER: Something like this, absolutely.
TODD: And at this point you can't confirm or deny whether that exists?
CLAPPER: I can deny it.
TODD: There is no FISA court order?
CLAPPER: Not to my knowledge.
TODD: Of anything at Trump Tower?
TODD: Well that’s an important revelation at this point. [NBC, Meet the Press, 3/5/17]
NY Times: FBI Director Comey Asked Justice Department To Denounce Trump’s Claim As “False.” The New York Times reported that FBI Director James Comey “asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones.” According to the Times, Comey “argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected.” From the March 5 article:
The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement.
Mr. Comey, who made the request on Saturday after Mr. Trump leveled his allegation on Twitter, has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down the claim because it falsely insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law, the officials said. [The New York Times, 3/5/17]
FALSE CLAIM: A Former Attorney General Said Trump’s Claim Was Correct
TruthFeed: “BREAKING : Former Attorney General Believes Loretta Lynch Ordered Wiretapping.” Fake news purveyor TruthFeed claimed in a March 6 article, “Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey believes Trump is correct that wiretapping occurred and it was ordered by Loretta Lynch’s DOJ,” referring to an interview he gave to ABC’s This Week. [TruthFeed, 3/6/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]
FACT: Mukasey Actually Said Trump’s Claim Was False
Mukasey: Trump’s Obama Wiretap Claim Was “Not Correct.” In an interview with ABC’s This Week, Mukasey said that Trump “‘was not correct certainly in saying that President Obama ordered a tap on a server in Trump Tower.’” He said he did think “‘there was surveillance and that it was conducted at the behest of the attorney -- of the Justice Department through the FISA court,’” but he noted that such surveillance would mean “‘there were some basis to believe that somebody in Trump Tower may have been acting as an agent of the Russians.’” From the March 5 ABC News article:
Michael Mukasey, who served as attorney general to former President George W. Bush, told ABC News “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz, “This is the difference between being correct and being right. I think the president was not correct certainly in saying that President Obama ordered a tap on a server in Trump Tower.”
“However, I think he's right in that there was surveillance and that it was conducted at the behest of the attorney -- of the Justice Department through the FISA court,” Mukasey said, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court that decides on many surveillance requests by U.S. intelligence agencies.
On “This Week,” Raddatz noted that the FISA court would have approved a wiretap only if there was evidence for suspicion. “So, if there was a wiretap, does that mean there were suspicious things going on between the Trump administration and the Russians?” she asked.
“It means there were some basis to believe that somebody in Trump Tower may have been acting as an agent of the Russians, for whatever purpose, not necessarily the election, but for some purpose,” Mukasey said. [ABC News, 3/5/17]
FALSE SUGGESTION: The Radio Host Behind Trump’s Claim Had Proof To Back It Up
Eagle Rising: “Mark Levin Laid Out … A Timeline Of Events Pertaining To The Obama Administration’s Surveillance Of Trump.” Fake news purveyor Eagle Rising wrote in a March 4 article, “Radio host Mark Levin laid out on his show a timeline of events pertaining to the Obama administration’s surveillance of Trump.” [Eagle Rising, 3/4/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]
Right Wing News: Levin “Back[ed] Trump’s Claims Regarding Obama Illegally Wire Tapping.” Fake news purveyor Ring Wing News pointed to an interview with Levin on Fox News, asserting the radio host was “backing Trump’s claims regarding Obama illegally wire tapping.” From the March 5 article:
A radio talk show host is backing Trump’s claims regarding Obama illegally wire tapping Trump Tower during the campaign.
Mark Levin said that there is “overwhelming evidence” that Obama is guilty of spying on the then-Republican Presidential Candidate. He discussed his opinion while on “Fox & Friends” Sunday Morning.
Let’s hope that if this does turn out to be true, the repercussions are swift and severe. Infringement of our rights as Americans should NEVER be tolerated, for any reason. [Right Wing News, 3/5/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]
FACT: Levin Has No Evidence To Support His Claim
NY Times: Levin Offered “No Proof” To Back Up His Allegation. The New York Times noted that Levin had “no proof” to support his claim “that Mr. Obama and his aides had used ‘the instrumentalities of the federal government, intelligence activity, to surveil members of the Trump campaign and put that information out in the public.’” From the March 4 article:
If Mr. Trump was motivated to take to Twitter after reading the Breitbart article or listening to Mr. Levin, he was using a presidential megaphone to spread dark theories of a broad conspiracy aimed at undermining his presidential ambitions, and later his presidency.
Mr. Levin, a day earlier, railed about what he called a “much bigger scandal,” claiming — again with no proof — that Mr. Obama and his aides had used “the instrumentalities of the federal government, intelligence activity, to surveil members of the Trump campaign and put that information out in the public.” [The New York Times, 3/4/17]
Some Of These Fake News Purveyors Pull In Revenue From Google AdSense
Some Of The Above Fake News-Purveying Websites Use Google’s Advertising Network. A Media Matters analysis on March 6 found that TruthFeed, Angry Patriot, and Eagle Rising continue to use Google’s advertising service, Google AdSense, despite an announced ban from Google on websites that post “misrepresentative content.” [Media Matters, 12/14/16; TruthFeed, accessed 3/6/17; Angry Patriot, accessed 3/6/17; Eagle Rising, accessed 3/6/17]