Since March 4, President Donald Trump and Fox News have been feeding each other evidence and defenses to back up Trump’s false claim that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, ordered a “wiretap” at Trump Tower. Fox figures, including Andrew Napolitano, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly, have been backing up Trump’s claim, and Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have in turn recycled their comments in their attempts to substantiate the original claim. On March 20, FBI Director James Comey debunked Trump’s original tweet accusing Obama of wiretapping, unequivocally stating, “I have no information that supports those tweets. … The Department [of Justice] has no information that supports those tweets.”
Trump Claims Obama “Wiretapped” Trump Tower
Trump: “Terrible! Just Found Out That Obama Had My 'Wires Tapped' In Trump Tower Just Before The Victory. Nothing Found. This Is McCarthyism!”
Various Fox Figures Defended Trump’s Wiretap Claim From The Outset
Fox’s Sean Hannity: “What Did OBAMA Know And When Did He Know It?” Fox host Sean Hannity retweeted Trump’s initial wiretap claim and added, “What did OBAMA know and when did he know it?” Hannity continued to attack former Obama administration officials on Twitter throughout the day to defend Trump’s claims. [Twitter, 3/4/17, 3/4/17, 3/4/17, 3/4/17]
Conservative Radio Host And Fox Guest Mark Levin: “The Evidence Is Overwhelming” That The Obama Administration Was “Spying” On Trump. Radio host Mark Levin appeared on Fox & Friends Sunday and claimed that “the evidence is overwhelming” that the Obama administration was “spying” on Trump and his associates. Levin claimed that “people are hung up with Trump’s word, ‘wiretapping,’” but asked, “Does it really matter if it was wiretapping, electronic surveillance, or whatever it was?” From the March 5 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends Sunday:
PETE HEGSETH (HOST): On your Thursday evening radio broadcast you laid out a devastating case about executive overreach of the Obama administration, which many believe metamorphosized (sic) itself to tweets that President Trump sent out on Saturday morning accusing potential wiretapping in Trump Tower. We want to give you a case here this morning to lay out what you know, what you know about it, and the evidence you have for the potential executive overreach of the Obama administration.
MARK LEVIN: Well, pleasure to be here. The evidence is overwhelming. This is not about President Trump’s tweeting. This is about the Obama administration’s spying, and the question isn’t whether it spied, we know they went to the FISA court twice. The question is, who they did spy on, the extent of the spying? That is, the Trump campaign, the Trump transition, Trump surrogates.
I know people are hung up with Trump’s word, “wiretapping.” Well, how’d they get access to this server information? Does it really matter if it was wiretapping, electronic surveillance, or whatever it was? [Fox News, Fox & Friends Sunday, 3/5/17]
Fox's Bill O’Reilly: Someone Tapped Mike Flynn's Calls, So “Who Tapped The Call?” Fox host Bill O’Reilly, while attempting to defend Trump's claim, asserted that “a portion of” former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States was “tapped by somebody,” and asked his audience, “So, who tapped the call?” O’Reilly added that Obama “allowed Attorney General Loretta Lynch to change the way U.S. intelligence agencies share unconfirmed data,” asking, “Why did President Obama change the intel standards?” O’Reilly answered that while “we don’t know,” Trump “believes that was to sabotage his incoming administration.” From the March 6 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor:
BILL O'REILLY (HOST): Let's look at the facts. Unfortunately, there are only two facts in this whole swamp of accusations. Only two. First, the calls between General Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador were tapped by somebody. And a portion of those conversations were given to The Washington Post. So, who tapped the call? We don't know. Second fact is that President Obama allowed Attorney General Loretta Lynch to change the way U.S. intelligence agencies share unconfirmed data. That happened in January, just a few days before President Obama left office. Used to be, the intelligence agencies would guard their secrets. Now, the NSA can give them to other agencies, even if the intelligence is not confirmed. The results, leaks sprouting all over the place. Leaks that are damaging to the Trump administration. So, why did President Obama change the intel standards? We don't know. But Donald Trump apparently believes that was to sabotage his incoming administration. [Fox News, The O’Reilly Factor, 3/6/17]
Fox’s Andrew Napolitano: “Obama Went Outside The Chain Of Command” By Having The British Spy On Trump. Fox senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano claimed on the March 13 edition of Fox News’ The First 100 Days that “if then-Mr. Donald Trump, the president-elect, was surveilled as he says he was, … it was done by a foreign intelligence entity,” specifically, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), at the request of Obama. The following morning, Napolitano again claimed on Fox that “three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command” and “used GCHQ” to spy on Trump, ensuring that “there is no American fingerprints on this” and no evidence of the alleged surveillance. [Fox News, The First 100 Days, 3/13/17; Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/14/17; Media Matters, 3/17/17]
Fox’s Tucker Carlson Repeatedly Attempted To Legitimize Trump’s Claim. Fox host Tucker Carlson has attempted to legitimize Trump’s claim, arguing that while it wasn't “literally accurate,” it's “plausible,” and there's “a lot of evidence” of the intelligence community “spying on the president or the presidential candidate or his staff during a campaign.” [Media Matters, 3/15/17]
The Trump Administration Has Leaned On Fox’s Reporting To Try To Substantiate Claim
Trump Pointed To Fox’s Napolitano For British Intelligence Claim. During a March 17 press conference, Trump defended the administration's use of Napolitano’s claim, saying that the British intelligence allegation came from “a certain very talented legal mind” on Fox News. From the March 17 press conference:
TRANSLATOR FOR REPORTER: And Mr. President, my question addressed to you, if I may --
REPORTER: -- rejected White House claims that the alleged wiretapping on you, on Trump Tower, on Trump Organization or members of your campaign was -- that British intelligence was either responsible for it or involved in it. After these claims are rejected, what is your take on that? Are there other suspects or do you think it was a mistake to blame British intelligence for this? And, by the way, my second question, are there from time to time tweets that you regret and inside --
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Very seldom.
REPORTER: Very seldom. So you never would have wished not to have --
TRUMP: Very seldom. Probably wouldn't be here right now, but it's very seldom. We have a tremendous group of people that listen and I can get around the media when the media doesn't tell the truth so I like that. As far as wiretapping, I guess by this past administration, at least we have something in common perhaps. And just to finish your question, we said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind [Fox News' Andrew Napolitano] who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn't make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox. And so you shouldn't be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox, OK? [White House Joint Press Conference, 3/17/17]
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer Cited Napolitano To Defend Trump’s Wiretap Claim. White House press secretary Sean Spicer on March 16 cited Napolitano and his British intelligence claim to defend Trump’s wiretap allegation, saying, “Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement, quote, 'Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn't use the NSA, he didn't use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI, and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ … the British intelligence spying agency.'" [Media Matters, 3/16/17]
Trump Cited Fox Anchor Bret Baier To Justify His Wiretapping Allegation. In an interview with Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Trump pointed to Fox host Bret Baier to defend his wiretap claim, saying “he was talking about certain, very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping.” Trump added, “If you watched the Bret Baier and what he was saying, and what he was talking about and how he mentioned the word wiretap, you would feel very confident that you could mention the name.” From the March 15 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight:
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): On March 4th, 6:45 in the morning, you’re down in Florida, and you tweet, “The former administration wiretapped me, surveilled me at Trump Tower during the last election.” How did you find out? You said “I just found out.” How did you learn that?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I had been reading about things. I read in -- I think it was January 20th, a New York Times article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier the day previous, where he was talking about certain, very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said, “Wait a minute, there's a lot of wiretapping being talked about.” I’d been seeing a lot of things -- now, for the most part, for the most part I'm not going to discuss it because we have it before the committee, and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon that hasn’t been submitted as of yet. But, it's potentially a very serious situation.
CARLSON: Why not wait to tweet about it until you can prove it? Don't you devalue your words when you can't provide evidence?
TRUMP: Because -- well, because The New York Times wrote about it. You know, not that I respect The New York Times, I call it the failing New York Times, but they did write on January 20th, using the word “wiretap.” Other people have come out with --
CARLSON: Right, but you’re the president. You have the ability to gather all the evidence you want.
TRUMP: I do, I do, but I think that frankly, we have a lot right now, and I think if you watch -- if you watched the Bret Baier and what he was saying, and what he was talking about and how he mentioned the word wiretap, you would feel very confident that you could mention the name.
He mentioned it, and other people mentioned it, but if you take a look at some of the things written about wiretapping and eavesdropping -- and don't forget, when I say “wiretap,” those words were in quotes. That really covers -- because wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff, but that really covers surveillance and many other things, and nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes, that's a very important thing. But wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you are going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 3/15/17]
Trump Reportedly “Begins And Ends Each Day By Tuning Into Cable News” And “Is Clearly Partial To Fox News”
Bloomberg: “The President Now Spends Hours Some Mornings Watching Fox News” And “Spend[s] Most Of His TV-Viewing Time Watching Fox News Shows Hosted By Bill O’Reilly Or Sean Hannity.” According to Bloomberg, Trump “spends hours some mornings watching Fox News,” and, “On the evenings when he doesn’t have a dinner or briefing, Trump will spend most of his TV-viewing time watching Fox News.” From the March 2 article:
[T]he president now spends hours some mornings watching Fox News, switching occasionally to CNBC for business headlines, along with a daily diet of newspapers and press clippings, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. On the evenings when he doesn’t have a dinner or briefing, Trump will spend most of his TV-viewing time watching Fox News shows hosted by Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, the aide said.
Trump has heartily endorsed Fox News on Twitter and in various public statements, and some of its programming has even influenced his communications with the public, mostly through tweets. Several examples have emerged of Trump apparently seeing something on Fox -- crime rates in Chicago, an incident in Sweden -- only to tweet about it moments later.
Trump’s loyalty gives stars like O’Reilly and Hannity greater influence. Trump has given three interviews to Fox News while president, more than any other network. And Fox, along with Bloomberg, was one of the outlets invited last week to attend a White House press briefing that excluded the New York Times, CNN and others. On Wednesday, “Fox and Friends” aired its recent tour of the Oval Office, hosted by the president. [Bloomberg, 3/2/17]
The Daily Beast: “The President Is Clearly Partial To Fox News.” The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove noted that “the president is clearly partial to Fox News,” and quoted political science professor Larry Sabato calling Trump’s cable news consumption “‘unprecedented,’” adding that Trump “‘has been trained to live and die by what is said about him on TV.’” From the January 27 article:
“Other presidents have probably watched TV coverage more than they admitted, but this is unprecedented,” said political science professor Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “This is how Trump has been trained. He has been trained to live and die by what is said about him on TV and what the press writes about him for most of his lifetime. This is simply the norm for him—what he has done since he became a public figure. Nothing’s changed.”
In the latest example of the president’s TV news-fixation—early Thursday morning, more than an hour before the sun came up—Trump was apparently monitoring Fox & Friends First in the White House residence when co-host Abby Huntsman did an item about Chelsea Manning, the dishonorably discharged soldier who passed secret military documents to WikiLeaks and was handed a 35-year sentence for violating the Espionage Act.
But the president is clearly partial to Fox News, hardly surprising given that the outlet’s coverage of the new administration, led by ardent Trump cheerleader Sean Hannity, has been largely sympathetic.
While Fox is the channel to which the president seems most loyal, he also has reacted to something he’s seen on CNN, a cable outlet he regularly insults, claims not to watch, and professes to despise. [The Daily Beast, 1/27/17]
There Is No Evidence To Support Trump’s Wiretap Claims
FBI Director James Comey: “I Have No Information That Supports Those Tweets. … The Department Has No Information That Supports Those Tweets.” FBI Director James Comey testified to the House Intelligence Committee that, “With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets.” From the March 20 House Intelligence Committee hearing:
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Director Comey, I want to begin by attempting to put to rest several claims made by the president about his predecessor, namely that President Obama wiretapped his phones. So that we can be precise, I want to refer you to exactly what the president said and ask you whether there is any truth to it. First, the president claimed, quote, “Terrible. Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism.” Unquote. Director Comey, was the president's statement that Obama had his wires tapped in Trump Tower a true statement?
JAMES COMEY: With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets. And we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets. [House Intelligence Committee hearing, 3/20/17]
House Intelligence Committee Chairman: No Evidence For Trump’s Wiretap Claim. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he didn’t have “any evidence” for Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, according to CNN. From the March 15 article:
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said he does not believe Trump's claim that Obama wiretapped him, but said it's possible Trump communications may have been gathered in “incidental” intelligence collection.
“I don't believe Trump Tower was tapped,” Nunes told reporters Wednesday.
“We don't have any evidence that that took place and in fact I don't believe -- just in the last week of time, the people we've talked to -- I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” Nunes said at a news conference, in reference to the baseless claim originally made by Trump several weeks ago.
Nunes and Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said they want to see any evidence of wiretapping by their March 20 hearing or they may issue a subpoena for the records. [CNN.com, 3/15/17]
Current And Former Government Officials Have Also Debunked Trump’s Claim. Former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper told NBC 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.” FBI Director James Comey “asked the Justice Department … to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion,” according to The New York Times. And a spokesman for Obama said that “neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen.” [Media Matters, 3/6/17]
British And American Officials Have Said The British Wiretap Claim Is False. Both British and American intelligence officials have said British officials did not wiretap Trump on behalf of Obama. GCHQ in a statement called the claim “utterly ridiculous" and said it “should be ignored.” A National Security Agency official also told BBC News that the allegation was “arrant nonsense.” [NBC News, 3/17/17; CNN.com, 3/18/17]