Last weekend, with no evidence whatsoever to prove his claim, President Donald Trump accused former President Barack Obama of secretive “wire tapping” prior to the 2016 elections. According to critics, accusing Obama of Watergate-style tactics is an attempt by Trump to distract attention from his potential relations with Russia.
This week brought another slew of revelations about Trump’s associates and their possible contacts with Russia: the most damaging revealed two secret meetings between the attorney general, Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, and the Russian ambassador, which he lied about during his confirmation hearings.
Earlier in the year, US intelligence officials suggested that Russia may have interfered in the November presidential elections in order to assist Trump (who suspiciously refuses to criticize Vladimir Putin) in winning.
In response to Trump’s host of accusatory tweets, Ben Rhodes, former national security adviser to Obama, tweeted,
“No president can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you.”
Later, Kevin Lewis, a spokesperson for Obama, issued a statement denying any presidential involvement in wiretapping:
“Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen”.
Although his statement clearly denied the possibility of Obama’s involvement, it did not deny the existence of a wiretap altogether.
Prior to November’s presidential election, Louise Mensch, former British MP, stated that the FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court had approved a warrant enabling the FBI to perform surveillance surrounding potential relations between Russia and Trump’s team.
In January, the Guardian reported that the warrant had been denied until the FBI could further specify their inquiry.
The issue returned to the rightwing news this week, outlets that Trump and Steve Bannon – former head of Breibart News, a far-right outlet, and Trump’s chief strategist – follow closely.
Mark Levin, a popular conservative radio host, joined Trump in claiming that the Obama administration attempted to undermine the 2016 elections. He argued that this attempt to interfere with the elections should be the subject of investigation, not Trump’s possible ties to Russia.
Trump continued to attack Democratic members of Congress by attempting to link Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to Moscow.
Seth Moulton, a Democratic congress member, pointed out that the tweets came “right out of Donald Trump’s reality TV playbook”. He continued,
“He’s trying to distract attention from the real story here… the American people need to know how high this conspiracy goes.”
Moulton added that routine monitoring of “contacts with Russian intelligence officials” is a crucial component of protecting the nation’s security.
To continue, Moultan added that if the Obama administration was “monitoring contacts with Russian officials… and then Trump campaign officials got ensnared in that net, then it’s a total mischaracterisation to say President Obama was wiretapping Trump.”
In the past, Trump has been no stranger to encouraging conspiracy theories, most notably when he accused Obama of being born outside of the United States.
Although the two were cordial during the presidential transition, the mood has recently gone downhill. Complaining to Fox News, Trump attacked his predecessor, blaming him for the leaks and protests.
During his weekend at his estate in Florida, Trump also attempted to defend his contact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak tweeting, “The first meeting Jeff Sessions had with the Russian [ambassador] was set up by the Obama Administration under education program for 100 [ambassadors].”
Trump continued by stating that “the same Russian ambassador that met Jeff Sessions visited the Obama White House 22 times, and 4 times last year alone.”
Shortly after his Twitter tirade against Obama, Trump returned to his regular focus on insignificant matters such as his show, The Apprentice.
Turning his fury away from Obama, Trump focused on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s exit from the Apprentice stating, “he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show.”