The Justice Department Says Obama "Wiretapping" Didn't Happen

by Jon Hecht

It's been nearly six months, but we now have official confirmation that one of the most outlandish claims that President Trump has made since taking office, that President Obama had tapped his phone lines during the 2016 presidential election, was false. On Saturday, the Justice Department stated they had no evidence of Obama wiretapping Trump.

The statement was a court filing in response to a Freedom of Information Act request for any information related to the supposed wiretapping of Trump Tower, coming from 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 Justice Department stated in its court motion.

Back in March, former FBI Director James Comey asserted in a Senate hearing that Trump's claims were false. "With regards to the presidents tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration," then FBI Director Comey testified, "I have no information that supports those tweets." At that same hearing, Comey confirmed that there was an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into whether the Trump campaign had been involved in Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, which only set up an even crazier turn of events over the past few months after President Trump fired Comey.

At the time, the president's claims of wiretapping by his predecessor, which could not be substantiated, caused a minor scandal for the still new administration. Sean Spicer, then the White House Press Secretary, asserted that wiretapping had been enacted by GCHQ, an intelligence service of the UK government, which forced the administration to issue an apology to its British allies.

The president repeated his unsubstantiated claims of wiretapping by the Obama administration during a joint press conference with German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, getting a stunned reaction from Merkel when he tied it into an incident of alleged wiretapping of the German leader by Obama administration intelligence officials.

According to reports at the time, Trump got his claim that Obama had wiretapped him not from an intelligence assessment but from an article on Breitbart by conservative radio host Mark Levin, claiming that the investigation into the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russian espionage was nothing but a facade to surveil Obama's political opponents. Even Levin's article, however, did not include claims of wiretapping.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), then the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, briefly allowed Trump to feel vindicated by highlighting what he believed was improper unmasking of US individuals by intelligence officials, including former National Security Advisor Susan Rice. However, the supposed scandal appeared to be overblown — both Democratic and Republican sources said that the unmasking appeared to be proper. Devin Nunes was removed from his post as chair of HPSCI amid an ethical inquiry related to his claims, and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) later said that "the unmasking thing was all created by Devin Nunes."

The president has never backed down from his claims of having been wiretapped, despite the repeated debunkings of his assertions.