To what was Donald J. Trump referring?

FRIDAY, MARCH 17, 2017

Answering Kevin Drum's question:
Yesterday, Kevin Drum asked some largely sensible questions. He wanted to know what Donald J. Trump was talking about in his most recent comments about the wiretap charge, his comments to Tucker Carlson.

More specifically, here's what Drum asked. We're editing out Drum's account of a failed search at the New York Times web site:
DRUM (3/16/17): Last night I read Donald Trump's comment that he had read the word "wiretap" in the New York Times on January 20, so he figured that made it OK on March 4 to accuse President Obama of wiretapping him. I vaguely wondered what article he was talking about, but it was late and life is short, so I went to bed instead of searching for it.


Does anyone have a clue what he was talking about?

And how about the Bret Baier report "the day previous where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping"?
I can't find that either.

Do either of these things exist? Or is Trump just making stuff up to cover for the fact that he read about it in a Breitbart News summary of a Mark Levin radio rant?
As Drum notes, Trump referred to a January 20 report in the New York Times, and to a Bret Baier broadcast on March 3. For various reasons, we think the answers to Drum's questions are very much worth considering.

Obviously, there's no way of knowing if Donald J. Trump actually saw any reports in the New York Times. But this is the report most people think he was citing.

On January 20, it appeared on the hard-copy Times front page. Its original headline contained the term "Wiretapped Data." A Nexis search on "Trump AND wiretap!" instantly turns it up.

That said, uh-oh! That same day, the New York Times public editor posted this provocative report. The piece appeared in the hard-copy Times on Sunday, January 22.

Spayd's report was striking. As she started, she described a vein of reporting at the Times during the fall campaign:
SPAYD (1/20/17): Late September was a frantic period for New York Times reporters covering the country’s secretive national security apparatus. Working sources at the F.B.I., the C.I.A., Capitol Hill and various intelligence agencies, the team chased several bizarre but provocative leads that, if true, could upend the presidential race. The most serious question raised by the material was this: Did a covert connection exist between Donald Trump and Russian officials trying to influence an American election?

One vein of reporting centered on a possible channel of communication between a Trump organization computer server and a Russian bank with ties to Vladimir Putin. Another source was offering The Times salacious material describing an odd cross-continental dance between Trump and Moscow.
According to Spayd, the Times decided not to publish any reports on these topics. (She seems to think that this was a bad decision.) Along the way, she referred to reports by other news orgs, reports asserting that the FBI obtained FISA warrants as part of an investigation of TrumpOrg:
SPAYD: I have spoken privately with several journalists involved in the reporting last fall, and I believe a strong case can be made that The Times was too timid in its decisions not to publish the material it had.

I appreciate the majority view that there wasn’t enough proof of a link between Trump and the Kremlin to write a hard-hitting story. But The Times knew several critical facts: the F.B.I. had a sophisticated investigation underway on Trump’s organization, possibly including FISA warrants. (Some news outlets now report that the F.B.I. did indeed have such warrants, an indication of probable cause.) Investigators had identified a mysterious communication channel, partly through a lead from anti-Trump operatives.

At one point, the F.B.I. was so serious about its investigation into the server that it asked The Times to delay publication.
She seems to be referring to the report, by several serious news orgs, that the FBI obtained a FISA warrant for a computer or computer server in Trump Tower. (She links to a report by McClatchy, whose track record has always been strong.)

That's what Baier was asking Paul Ryan about on March 3. Basically, Ryan seemed to avoid Baier's repeated questions, in which Baier kept asking if any such warrants had actually been obtained:
BAIER (3/3/17): Are you concerned, on the flip side, that the Obama administration may have been surveilling members of the Trump campaign in pretty detailed investigation during the election?

RYAN: Well, I don't, I don't—I don't think that's the case. If you recall, President Obama asked the intelligence community committee, after the election, to canvas all the intelligence and give a report to Congress on what Russia did do in all their interactions. And in that report, nobody alleged that there was a person in America, like a Trump campaign official, involved with the Russians on this. So if they would've found that, you think they would've put that in the report that they gave us in early January.

BAIER: Right, but there is a report that, June 2016, there's a FISA request by the Obama administration, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to monitor communications involving Donald Trump and several other campaign officials. Then they re—

They get turned down. And then in October, they renew it, and they do start a wiretap at Trump Tower with some computer and Russian banks. And it doesn't show up anything, by reporting. Have you heard that?

RYAN: Well, again, and like I said, none of us in Congress or anybody I know in Congress has been presented with evidence to the contrary of what you just said.

BAIER: So you believe it to be true?

RYAN: Yes. We have seen no evidence that anybody in this campaign, or any other American, was in on it with the Russians to meddle in our elections. We know they meddled, Russia is an adversary, and that's something we have to work to counteract.

BAIER: I got it. But my point is, is that the Obama administration was pretty aggressive, a couple of FISA requests—

RYAN: No, I hear your point. I'm saying—but I have seen nothing of that. I've seen nothing come of that. That's my point.

BAIER: O.K. Let's turn to Obamacare...
To watch that exchange, click here.

To our ear, Ryan kept playing dumb all through that exchange. He kept responding to a question he hadn't been asked.

Basically, Baier kept asking if FISA warrants had actually been sought and obtained. Ryan kept saying that there's no evidence that Trump folk did anything wrong.

After three or four tries, Baier gave up and moved on. To our eye and ear, it seems like Ryan, for whatever reason, just kept avoiding his question.

That interview took place the night before Trump's tweets. It certainly could have triggered a search on his part. If so, he and/or his staff could have found serious orgs reporting that the FBI obtained FISA warrants against a computer/computer server in Trump Tower. Or they may have been responding to claims by less reliable orgs.

It's revealing that one of our smartest players didn't know any of this. Even worse is the horrible reporting found elsewhere in our increasingly bubble-like liberal world.

This recent report at TPM struck us as essentially clueless. On the brighter side, it was written by someone who's one year out of college. That's good for the bottom line!

Did the FBI obtain FISA warrants? We have no idea. But here you see an unfortunate pattern:

Bret Baier knew about the reporting concerning the FISA warrants. So did Liz Spayd at the New York Times.

Over here in the bubble of Our Own Liberal Tents, we seem to be riding along in the dark. Fox viewers had heard about this; so had Spayd's readers. Over Here, one of our brightest players said he didn't have a clue.

Increasingly, we liberals are adopting the comfortable role of the ditto-head. Rachel serves us our nightly stew. Dumbly, we gulp our stew down.

TPM? Same basic game! This way lies ruination.

Spread out over several decades, this is pretty much the way Donald J. Trump ended up where he is. Did you hear what Professor Wang said? There's no way Clinton can lose!

How do we manage to find this stuff: We pay for Nexis, out of our own pocket. Mother Jones does not.

We don't want to pay for Nexis. But it's a powerful tool.


  1. Trump brought up wiretapping for a reason. He wanted to frame any surveillance as a corrupt Obama administration seeking surveillance for a fishing expedition against political enemy.

    Trump successfully managed to draw attention to whether he was surveilled. Soon there will be definitive declarations from many sources that there is no evidence of Trump collusion with Russia, and following those, there will likely be evidence that surveillance of Trump or his campaign happened or was sought.

    This order of events prevents Trump's enemies from casting the seeking or committing of surveillance as evidence of collusion because he will leverage outcome bias to support that the suspicion would have been baseless and politically motivated.

    The denouement of the Russia narrative will be that Russia and Democrats used corrupt and illegal methods to try to influence an election and damage our democracy.

  2. Oh sure, Bob, turn to Fox for the straight story and one day I might become the full fledged nut case like the above poster.
    We should note: There has never been a former President openly disrespected by a sitting one in this fashion. I guess Bob would call it some kind of coincidence it just turned out to be our first one of African American descent. I guess Bob would not see any significance in this, if he tended to notice it at all.
    But in Bob's world, like Kelleyanne's, it's all about who won; end of story.

    1. Are you suggesting HRC is a former President?

    2. No Raven, but I am suggesting Trump is willing to disrespect people not of color bigly.

  3. Off topic for this post (but on topic for this blog)

    Stephen Colbert parodies Rachel Maddow

  4. Kevin Drum responds...

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  6. Holy jesus. Dems can't keep spam or hacks at bay ffs. Any ideas how to dismantle the Trump edifice from the cheap seats? Then perhaps you should encourage what Trumpettes understand...heckling the comedian.

  7. Bob, if you are going to conflate a server owned by the Trump organization and a server in the Trump Tower there's not much can be done for you. The physical location matters, because Trump's tweets specifically reference the tower.

    Can you tell us, definitively, where the server was/is located, Bob? 'Cause you are making word salad out the subject.

    1. I wish Bob Somerby actually read his comments sections, for comments like this... and to clean out spam like the "spellcaster" ads....

    2. TBH I generally enjoy Bob's rambling on the occasions I dip into it (though he's been riding the same hobby horses for coming on 2 decades) but he's as off in the weeds as the rest of the media on this one simple fact.

  8. Trump said Obama (not the FBI) wiretapped Trump's phones (not a computer). In his new role as Trump defender, Somerby swings and misses.

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