Trump tweet about wiretapping is worth investigating

Saturday , March 18, 2017 - 5:00 AM1 comment


When President Donald Trump claimed on Twitter that his predecessor had tapped his phones, he created something of a metaphysical crisis. No one — not the Justice Department, not Congress and least of all the president himself — seemed able to ascertain the truth about the accusation. Now that they've had some time to look into it, what do they say?

"We don't have any evidence," says the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. "No evidence," says his Democratic counterpart. "I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks," muses the president, citing no evidence.

Trump's press secretary now asserts that while the president's tweets were inaccurate, they nonetheless conveyed a deeper truth about "surveillance and other activities." The official position of the White House seems to be that Trump's claim, like Schroedinger's cat, lies in superposition, simultaneously true and not true.

It would probably be best to just leave it at that. Except that, in his uncanny way, Trump has stumbled onto a few important questions. For starters: Are federal investigators still probing the Trump campaign's relationship with the Russian government? If so, were Trump or his associates ever under any kind of surveillance? If so, did it yield any evidence of wrongdoing?

If intelligence or law-enforcement agencies were lawfully eavesdropping on Trump's associates, either they had a court order to do so or those associates were in contact with foreign agents who were already under surveillance. Either possibility, to put it mildly, would require some explaining.

That has not been a strong suit of Trump's White House — or, for that matter, the rest of the executive branch. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Federal Bureau of Investigation, says it's being stonewalled by the Justice Department. The House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia's meddling in the election, says the same of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The result of this generalized chaos is that the public has no idea what to think. When Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, said that the president has created a "civilization-warping crisis of public trust," he was exaggerating — but not by much.

The only thing that can restore that trust is transparency. The Justice Department must be far more forthcoming with the public about this episode. The White House needs to stop dissembling about it. And Congress should establish an independent commission to publicly investigate it.

"The regular order is not working," says Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina. He might have been referring to the political universe as once understood.

(c) 2017, Bloomberg View

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