Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
Right-wing and fringe media are claiming yet again that President Donald Trump was correct when he accused former President Barack Obama of wiretapping in Trump Tower, now arguing that a legal wiretap targeted at former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is proof of Trump’s claim. However, said wiretap was pursuant to a warrant and targeted at Manafort, not Trump. This is at least the fifth time in six months right-wing media has attempted to validate Trump’s lie.
CNN: “US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election.” The Obama administration “wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders” initially as part of a 2014 investigation into “work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine’s former ruling party,” CNN reported on September 18. Though the surveillance was discontinued “at some point” in 2016, according to the report, the FBI restarted it “after obtaining a new FISA warrant” as part of its investigation into potential ties between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government:
US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe.
The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.
Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which is leading the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the election, has been provided details of these communications.
A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine’s former ruling party, the sources told CNN.
The surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources.
The FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.
Sources say the second warrant was part of the FBI’s efforts to investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives. Such warrants require the approval of top Justice Department and FBI officials, and the FBI must provide the court with information showing suspicion that the subject of the warrant may be acting as an agent of a foreign power. [CNN, 9/18/17]
Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Fox’s Tucker Carlson: Report suggests “he was wiretapped by the Obama people in Trump Tower may have been true all along. … That’s an actual subversion of democracy.” Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson reported on Tucker Carlson Tonight that the CNN report, “if accurate,” shows that Trump’s wiretap claim “may have been true all along” and Obama’s action represents “an actual subversion of democracy.” From the September 18 edition of the show:
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Got an unexpected Fox News alert tonight. There’s a new report that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was wiretapped by the Barack Obama administration both before and after the 2016 election. The wiretap required a warrant that needed approval from top Justice Department officials in the Obama administration. The report’s from CNN and, if it’s accurate, it suggests that the president’s claim that he was wiretapped by the Obama people in Trump Tower may have been true all along and may have been occurring for much of the 2016 election. If that’s true, that’s a huge and shocking story, and that’s an actual subversion of democracy. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 9/18/17]
Fox’s Ed Henry: Trump may have been “correct about his claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped and this was a witch hunt.” On Fox News’ The Five, chief national correspondent Ed Henry mentioned that Manafort, the wiretap subject, “also owned a home in, yes, Trump Tower” to suggest that Manafort being surveilled by the Obama administration may mean Trump was correct to complain about a “witch hunt” against him. From the September 18 edition of the show:
ED HENRY: So, tonight, the plot thickens, not just on whether Manafort and others in the Trump orbit will face indictment, but the plot thickens on whether the president was correct about his claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped and this was a witch hunt. The president’s critics laugh that off, but remember, we’ve been told Manafort also owned a home, yes, in Trump Tower, and CNN is reporting that Manafort was wiretapped during a time period where he was still in phone contact with President Trump. [Fox News, The Five, 9/18/17]
Breitbart: “Trump Vindicated: Report Says Obama Government Wiretapped Trump Campaign.”Breitbart.com reported on the Manafort wiretap with the exculpatory, even celebratory, headlines “Trump Vindicated: Report Says Obama Government Wiretapped Trump Campaign” and “CNN Admits Trump Campaign Was Wiretapped: Breitbart News and Mark Levin Right, Mainstream Media Wrong.” [Breitbart, 9/18/17, 9/18/17]
Mark Levin shares Breitbart piece, noting, “Shameless media.”
Shameless media https://t.co/c5gJzMLX0j
— Mark R. Levin (@marklevinshow) September 19, 2017
Frequent Fox guest Dan Bongino: “Was Trump right the entire time about the wiretaps?” Former Secret Service agent and regular Fox News guest Dan Bongino rhetorically asked in a Facebook post if the CNN report meant that “Trump [was] right the entire time about the wiretaps” accusation that he had leveled against former President Barack Obama.[Facebook, 9/18/17]
Discredited conservative author Dinesh D’Souza: “So Obama WAS wiretapping @realDonaldTrump after all–once again Trump is right & the media hyenas prove to be wrong.”
So Obama WAS wiretapping @realDonaldTrump after all–once again Trump is right & the media hyenas prove to be wrong
— Dinesh D’Souza (@DineshDSouza) September 19, 2017
Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton: “Obama gang stole 2012 election by abusing IRS.And tried to steal the 2016 elections by wiretapping @realDonaldTrump?”
— Tom Fitton (@TomFitton) September 18, 2017
Far-right troll Jack Posobiec: “The Night The Media Was Exposed – Trump Was Right About Wiretap.”
The Night The Media Was Exposed – Trump Was Right About Wiretap https://t.co/EgjxsoteTU
— Jack Posobiec (@JackPosobiec) September 19, 2017
Trump right again! https://t.co/PASKxmM5Oj
— Jack Posobiec (@JackPosobiec) September 19, 2017
Trump wiretap confirmed. The entire media has been exposed as a pack of hyperpartisan liars and conspiracy theorists led by CNN and greed
— Jack Posobiec (@JackPosobiec) September 19, 2017
Conspiracy theorist and internet troll Mike Cernovich: “Wait I thought it was fake news when @realDonaldTrump said he was wire tapped?”
— Mike Cernovich 🇺🇸 (@Cernovich) September 18, 2017
Far-right vlogger Stefan Molyneux: “Life comes at you fast!”
Life comes at you fast! pic.twitter.com/bv2mNUOkWZ
— Stefan Molyneux (@StefanMolyneux) September 18, 2017
Radio host Bill Mitchell: “TRUMP RIGHT…AGAIN! NEVER GETS OLD.”
TRUMP RIGHT…AGAIN! NEVER GETS OLD. Trump Vindicated: Shock Report Says Obama Government Wiretapped Trump Campaign https://t.co/Ln2R1xa4G2
— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) September 19, 2017
Fake news purveyor World Politicus: “Trump was right the whole time.” World Politicus, a fake news purveyor, wrote about the CNN report under the headline “Breaking: Obama Administration Wiretapped Trump Campaign.” The September 19 article declared that “Trump was right the whole time, and Obama won’t like the latest revelations” about “his little spy game”:
Obama’s administration wiretapped Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. President Donald Trump was right the whole time, and Obama won’t like the latest revelations.
President Donald Trump has long warned about the treatment he received during the presidential campaign. The ‘treatment’ involved wiretapping and stuff. So, Obama played his little spy game, and nobody ever said anything about that. [World Politicus, 9/19/17; PolitiFact, 7/11/17]
Fake news purveyor Freedom Daily: “Thank God the truth is coming out, and, as usual, Trump was right.” Fake news purveyor Freedom Daily similarly wrote on September 18 that the CNN report showed that, “as usual, Trump was right” in his accusation that “Obama had tapped his ‘wires’ during the election campaign.” The article added, “The deep state & leftwing media are out to destroy Trump & they will do anything to succeed”:
We all remember back when President Trump shocked the political world when he Tweeted out that former President Obama had tapped his “wires” during the election campaign. Democrats at the time were screaming at the top of their lungs that Trump won the election because he “colluded” with Russia and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
The world was stunned at the notion a sitting U.S. president would tap the phones of a candidate from the opposing party running for the top office of the land.
Almost immediately, leftwing media that had supported Hillary during the election fired up their smear machine and began saying that Trump was lying.[…]
Well now, CNN’s tune has changed after secret documents just released reveal that Obama’s FBI did, in fact, tap former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s communications. The FBI was listening in before the election, and after Trump had taken office when he was known to speak to Manafort via phone even though he wasn’t part of the administration.[…]
The deep state & leftwing media are out to destroy Trump & they will do anything to succeed. Thank God the truth is coming out, and, as usual, Trump was right. [Freedom Daily, 9/18/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]
Reddit’s “r/The_Donald”: “Oh you mean Trump was right again? Shocking.” Members of the pro-Trump subreddit “r/The_Donald” predictably reacted to the CNN report as proof that “Trump was right again.”
[Reddit, accessed 9/19/17]
The legally authorized warrant targeted Manafort, not Trump
Wash. Post: “Trump’s tweet again seems to claim more than CNN is reporting.” The Washington Postreported that Trump’s allegations of being wiretapped by the Obama administration remain unsubstantiated, even after CNN’s Manafort report. The Post reported that since Manafort had a residence in Trump Tower, it’s “possibly true” Trump Tower was wiretapped in that unit, for the purposes of legally surveilling Manafort. However, “there is still no indication that Trump himself was targeted by wiretapping,” and “Trump’s tweet again seems to claim more than CNN is reporting,” because nothing in the CNN article implicates Obama personally. From the September 19 article:
There are three elements here: 1) Trump’s “wires” were “tapped”, 2) It happened at Trump Tower, and 3) Obama did it.
The first part is still unproven. If the CNN report is correct, there is still no indication that Trump himself was targeted by wiretapping; the report leaves open the possibility that a conversation with Trump may have been swept up in the Manafort tap, but we have no indication that it was.
Even if it was, Trump wasn’t the named target of the wiretap. This would be what’s known as “incidental collection.” You may recall that phrase from the last time the White House claimed some measure of vindication for Trump’s wiretapping claim, when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) disclosed that members of Trump’s transition team were wrapped up in other legal surveillance that wasn’t targeted at them.
The second part — the Trump Tower part — is also possibly true based on what CNN reported, though again we just don’t know for sure. While Trump himself wasn’t the reported target of the wiretap, Manafort did have an apartment at Trump Tower, so it’s possible that location was, in fact, wiretapped.
As for the third part, on Obama, Trump’s tweet again seems to claim more than CNN is reporting. FISA warrants require sign-off from top Justice Department and FBI officials, but Trump was suggesting that Obama was personally involved. [The Washington Post, 9/19/17]
Justice Department and former FBI Director James Comey have said there is no proof of Trump’s wiretap claim. On September 2, Politico reported that the Department of Justice (DOJ) found “no evidence to support President Donald Trump’s claim” that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Former FBI Director James Comey had also said in his testimony to Congress that neither the FBI or the DOJ had any information that would support Trump’s claim, according to Politico:
There is no evidence to support President Donald Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Justice Department said in a new court filing.
The DOJ made the statement in a motion for summary judgment filed Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the watchdog group American Oversight.
“Both FBI and NSD confirm that they have no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets,” the government said, referring to the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
James Comey, who was FBI director at the time Trump made the statements, also said, in sworn testimony before Congress, that neither the FBI nor the Justice Department had information to support the tweets. Trump later fired Comey, a move that has come under increasing scrutiny amid federal investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. [Politico, 9/2/17]
Rep. Devin Nunes: Trump “is not right about” his claim that Obama personally had Trump Tower wiretapped. In a press conference on March 22, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) announced that Trump’s transition team, and possibly Trump himself, faced incidental surveillance after the 2016 election. Nunes also said, according to Politico, that he did not have any evidence to support Trump’s claim that Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower. The same day Nunes appeared on CNN and clarified to Jake Tapper that Trump’s original claim about an Obama wiretap was “not right.” From the March 22 edition of CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper:
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): Look, I think the bottom line here is that President Trump, to some degree, is right that he did end up in some intelligence reports and I don’t think he knew about it.
JAKE TAPPER (HOST): But how is he right if he said that he was — that President Obama wiretapped him in Trump Tower?
NUNES: No, he’s not right about that, Jake. But as you know, I’ve told you that, I think, many times that he wasn’t right about that.
TAPPER: Right, but you just said he was right. I’m just trying — what was he right about?
NUNES: In terms of — it does appear like his name and people and others ended up into intelligence reports. So, I mean, look, you can make what you want of it, but most people would say that is surveillance. [CNN, The Lead, 3/22/17; Politico, 3/22/17]
Right-wing media has made increasingly desperate attempts to validate Trump’s wiretap lie
Sean Hannity: “Trump has been proven right about wiretapping,” “The conspiracy theory media lies to you yet again.” During the September 19 edition of his Fox News show, host Sean Hannity claimed “Trump has been proven right about wiretapping,” and claimed “the all-knowing, holier-than-thou, destroy-Trump propaganda media has been caught in a massive lie and a major cover-up.” Hannity continued, claiming “the conspiracy theory media lies to you yet again”:
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): President Trump has been proven right about wiretapping, and guess what? The all-knowing, holier-than-thou, destroy-Trump propaganda media has been caught in a massive lie and a major cover-up. The mainstream media has been misleading all of you, the American people, for months and months about this story.
So tonight, we will once again do their job and set the record straight so you have the facts. Now, according to a new report, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was in fact wiretapped by the FBI under FISA court warrants, before and after the 2016 election. Now, according to reporting, the FBI was monitoring Manafort over concerns that he was communicating with, quote, “Russian operatives.” But what’s even more disturbing is this: Manafort was under surveillance earlier this year, when he was known to be communicating with President Trump.[…]
So, for all of you lazy, overpaid, ideological liberal mainstream media people out there, you have now been exposed for the frauds you are, yet again. And as we’ve been saying, the biased press, they’re not interested in reporting the truth. In fact, they only care about smearing and delegitimizing President Trump, and this is more evidence. And after President Trump tweeted back in March, March 4th that he was wiretapped by President Obama or people in the administration, the destroy-Trump-media lost it. They were viciously mocking and attacking him.[…]
The conspiracy theory media lies to you again. Now, this is not surprising considering the left-wing media — it’s like an echo chamber. They all find one topic to attack the president on, and they repeat and repeat the same talking points. This is beyond pathetic, predictable, frankly dangerous in a lot of ways. [Fox News, Hannity, 9/19/17]
Infowars’ Jerome Corsi and Alex Jones claimed an NSA leak proved Trump was wiretapped. Infowars’ Jerome Corsi and Alex Jones claimed in March that secret NSA documents showed Trump had been spied on for years. Right-wing media outlets regurgitated these claims by Corsi, a birther, and Jones, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, Sandy Hook truther, and friend of Trump’s. [Media Matters, 3/20/17, 5/3/17]
Right-wing media falsely claimed that the fact of Trump associates getting caught in “incidental surveillance” of other targets meant that Trump was personally targeted. After Nunes commented that some of then-President-elect Trump’s transition aides were caught in “incidental surveillance” of other targets, right-wing media proclaimed that Trump was “vindicate[d],” even though Nunes himself admitted it does not prove Trump’s false claim is correct. [Media Matters, 3/22/17]
Right-wing media echoed Trump’s misinterpretation and lies about an old NY Times article to claim he was wiretapped and that the Times tried to cover it up. In an interview, Trump claimed that a January New York Times article proved Trump was right about his wiretap claim and suggested that the newspaper later changed the article’s headline to remove the word “wiretap.” Both claims about the article come from fringe and right-wing media. In fact, the Times article does not prove Trump’s claim, and its headline was never altered. [Media Matters, 3/23/17]
Right-wing media used an Obama official’s old TV appearance about preserving intelligence to claim she outed Obama’s wiretap. In March, right-wing media figures and fringe outlets took a weeks-old interview with Evelyn Farkas, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia under Obama, out of context to claim she “admitted” that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower. However, in the interview Farkas did not mention the surveillance; instead, she discussed a New York Times article about preserving intelligence related to Trump and Russia. [Media Matters, 3/30/17]
Right-wing media bizarrely claimed that a FISA warrant on one Trump associate meant Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. After The Washington Post reported that the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to investigate Trump associate Carter Page during the summer of 2016, right-wing media claimed that the FBI investigation into Page was evidence that Obama had Trump wiretapped, even though the legally obtained warrant was only about Page. Nunes once again denied that the news supported Trump’s claim. [Media Matters, 4/12/17]