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The Hill: Trump was right after all about the Obama administration wiretaps

The Hill: Trump was right after all about the Obama administration wiretaps

Jonathan Tirley | The Hill -- 

On the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Shining, Stephen King must be wondering if Washington is working on its own sequel. For the last couple months, Washington has been on edge, like we are all trapped in Overlook Hotel with every day bringing a new “jump scare,” often preceded by a telltale tweet. Indeed, a Twitter whistle has replaced suspenseful music to put the entire city on the edge of their seats.In this Shining sequel, however, people are sharply divided on who is the deranged ax-wielding villain in this lodge, the president or the press. Ironically, with the recent disclosure that some of the Trump campaign may indeed have been subject to surveillance, the president is looking more like Danny Torrence, a character dismissed for constantly muttering “redrum, redrum” until someone finally looked in a mirror at the reverse image to see the true message.

The curious thing about President Trump is that his method and language in communications often mask legitimate issues or concerns. This may be such a case with the disclosure that indeed some Trump officials may have been subject to surveillance under the Obama administration.

Trump triggered this particular jump scare with the tweet on March 4 that he “just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” He followed with such tirades as “How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

The media pounced and rightfully demanded proof to support such a charge. When it was clear that no evidence would be produced, the media (again rightfully) pummeled the White House for failing to support one of the most alarming claims ever made by a president against a former president.

However, that is when the media seemed to switch roles and fell into a loop of repeating the same accusation over and over again like Jack Torrence endlessly typing "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The media seemed so delighted by the quagmire created by Trump’s tweet that it refused to acknowledge reasonable interpretations of the tweet or the possibility that there might have been surveillance.

One of the most telling examples of media mania was the insistence that Trump was referring only to wiretapping and no other form of surveillance. From the earliest days of the scandal, I balked at that narrow reading. As someone who has written and litigated in the surveillance field for over three decades, the narrow reading is absurd.

“Wiretap” has often been used as a generality for surveillance, particularly among those of Trump’s generation. It is the same colloquial meaning as when the Supreme Court commonly used “eavesdropping” to refer to surveillance.It was not limiting decisions like Katz v. United States to circumstances where people hid in the eaves of homes and listened to conversations within.

There is no reason to assume that Trump meant solely the act of an actual wiretap when he put wiretap in quotationsas opposed to surveillance. Yet, when this obvious point was made by White House spokesman Sean Spicer, the media lit up over the White House was changing its allegation.

Likewise, referring to President Obama as tapping phones can reasonably be understood as the Obama administration, not specifically President Obama, venturing to Trump Tower in some disguise as a repairman to tap a phone. Yet, the media has continued to express alarm that the “facts are changing” when the White House made that obvious point about these tweets.

Now, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (who previously said he knew of no evidence to support the allegation) has disclosed that he has seen evidence that Trump presidential transition officials had their communications monitored during the Obama administration (hough Nunes later suggested that he might not have actually seen the evidence of the surveillance).

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