As Washington continues to reel from President Trump’s evidence-free assertion that his phones were wiretapped by former President Barack Obama before the election, former Central Intelligence Agency director Michael Hayden says it seems Trump forgot something during his weekend Twitter flurry.
“It looks as if the president just for a moment forgot that he was president,” Hayden said on Fox News on Monday. “Why didn’t he simply use the powers of the presidency to ask the acting director of national intelligence, the head of the FBI, to confirm or deny the story he apparently read from Breitbart the evening before?”
Hayden, a critic of Trump during the campaign, has served in national security roles in both Democratic and Republican administrations. In addition to the top job at the CIA, he has served as director of the National Security Agency and as principal deputy director of national intelligence.
On Saturday morning, Trump unleashed a series of tweets claiming Obama had wiretapped the phones at Trump Tower prior to the 2016 election. Trump provided no citations to back up the claim, and a spokesman for the former president branded the accusation “simply false.”
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” he declared from his Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, Fla., where Trump once again spent the weekend.
“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!” he added.
It wasn’t clear what, exactly, Trump was referring to as he raged against his predecessor, whom he labeled a “bad (or sick) guy!” And the White House did not clarify from whom Trump had “just learned” this new information.
But a report published Friday by Breitbart News quoted conservative radio host Mark Levin, who outlined the alleged steps the Obama took “in its last months to undermine Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and, later, his new administration.” The Washington Post reported that the Breitbart article had been passed around in the White House ahead of Trump’s tweets.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist in the White House, is a former chief executive of Breitbart.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer issued a subsequent statement on Sunday saying that “reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling,” and that Trump is asking Congress to investigate.
“President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016,” the statement read. “Neither the White House nor the president will comment further until such oversight is conducted.”
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper categorically denied any suggestion that communications at Trump Tower were wiretapped before the election.
“There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time, as a candidate, or against his campaign,” Clapper said.
When asked by host Chuck Todd whether he could confirm or deny if a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Act order (or FISA) for such wiretapping existed, Clapper declared, “I can deny it.”
And according to the New York Times, FBI Director James Comey asked the Justice Department to publicly reject Trump’s assertion.
“Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected,” the paper said Sunday, citing “senior American officials” as its source.
Hayden said it’s absurd to think Obama would have been involved in ordering surveillance on Trump Tower.
“After the mid 1970s the authority was taken away from the president,” he said. “The only way you get there, if you get there at all, is [through] a judge. He has to have probable cause.”
The judge, Hayden explained, could then issue a warrant to the FBI under FISA.
Hayden also said it would be “unprecedented” for such an order to be released to the public, but then again, stranger things have already happened under President Trump.
“We’re off the map here,” Hayden said. “We are in unprecedented territory as well. So perhaps at some point in order to set the record straight we may do something unusual.”
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the former spy chief said he believes Trump’s tweeted wiretapping claim was strategic.
“He’s trying to detract attention from what was a very, very bad news cycle,” Hayden said. “The president of the United States put his reputation, the reputation of his predecessor, and the reputation of this nation at risk to get at least a ‘draw’ out of the next 24 hours.”