President Trump’s stunning tweets saying he’d just learned Barack Obama wiretapped his Trump Tower office before the election went out on Saturday. The Trump administration has had a lot of explaining to do since then.
“How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” Trump tweeted from his Florida Mar-a-Lago property at 4:02 a.m. About five hours later, he began a round of golf; by the time he finished, the New York Times reported, “he appeared to realize he had gone too far, although he still believed Mr. Obama had wiretapped him.”
Five days later, it’s still unclear why Trump believed this. The White House has so far declined to provide evidence; Obama, through a spokesperson, denied the allegation. One theory holds that Trump read it in an article published Friday on Breitbart News, the so-called alt-right outlet formerly led by Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
No matter why Trump believed it, by publicly asserting that he had been the subject of a federal wiretap, he painted himself into something of a corner. Either he was mistaken — or lying — about something he said in no uncertain terms had happened, or he was in fact the subject of an investigation by a federal law enforcement agency that convinced a court there was enough cause to believe Trump or his campaign had committed a crime that a wiretap should be approved.
Here’s a timeline of how the Trump administration has been dealing with the fallout of the president’s pre-golf wiretap allegations.
Saturday: The Tweets
Trump writes four tweets about Obama’s alleged wiretap. They’re retweeted more than 100,000 times and news outlets pick up the story, but no one in the Trump administration comments publicly on them.
Trump’s next tweet concerns Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “pathetic” ratings on “The Apprentice.”
Sunday: “Very troubling reports”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says in a statement that despite Trump’s characterization of the wiretapping as a fact, the White House wants the “reports” of wiretapping investigated to determine whether or not it actually happened.
“Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling,” Spicer says. “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.”
Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of onetime Trump opponent Mike Huckabee, is the first to go on the talk show circuit to defend Trump. Though she says the wiretaps could potentially be the “greatest abuse of power” in the history of the United States, she admits she hasn’t actually seen proof they occurred.
“[Trump] is going off of information that he’s seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential,” Sanders says in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” “And if it is, this is the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that I think we have ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself. And the American people have a right to know if this took place.”
Monday: Trump’s personal intelligence
Senior adviser Kellyanne Conway indicates that Trump had top-secret evidence to justify his allegation.
“He is the president of the United States,” Conway says in an interview on “Fox & Friends.” “He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not. That’s the way it should be for presidents.”
Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly echoes Conway, though he does not go so far as to confirm the president actually had evidence of wiretapping.
“If the president of the United States said that, he’s got his reasons to say it,” Kelly says.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions declines to comment on the matter.
Tuesday: Looking for credibility
Spicer asserts that the president wants Congress to separately look into the wiretapping allegation to “add credibility” to Trump’s assertion.
“That’s probably a level above my pay grade,” Spicer says in a televised press briefing when asked by a reporter if he has seen any proof. “But as I’ve mentioned, I think the president believes that the appropriate place for this to be adjudicated is for the House and Senate intelligence committees who have the clearances, the staff, the processes, to go through this, look at it and report back.”
Spicer adds that the president had not approached FBI Director James Comey to verify if he’d been wiretapped, and reiterates that it is on Congress to confirm or deny Trump’s assertions. The New York Times reports that Comey has asked the Justice Department to refute Trump’s allegations but is declining to publicly speak out.
Wednesday: No investigation
Spicer seems unclear whether the White House believed Trump was the target of a counterintelligence investigation, which would support Trump’s claims that he was wiretapped under a FISA warrant. The existence of an investigation would have the curious effect of simultaneously bolstering the president’s narrative while also confirming that a federal law enforcement agency believed he may have committed a crime.
“I think that’s what we need to find out. There’s obviously a lot of concern,” Spicer says in a press briefing. But at the end of the briefing he changes course again, reading a statement that is handed to him.
“There is no reason to believe there is any type of investigation with respect to the Department of Justice,” Spicer says, adding there was no reason “that we have to think that the president is the target of any investigation whatsoever.”
Thursday: “We’re not aware of anything”
The Justice Department declines to confirm or deny Spicer’s assertion that there is no investigation.
During his daily press briefing, Spicer is asked about a New York Times report indicating the Justice Department had not assured the White House Trump was not under investigation.
“I’m not aware of it,” Spicer says. “But that’s my point, is that we’re not aware of anything.”