Analysis: Was Trump Right About Wiretapping? Maybe! Kinda! Probably Not!

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Early in the morning on March 4, newly elected President Donald Trump made an astounding allegation via Twitter:

"Terrible! Just found out that [former President Barack] Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!"

He followed that tweet up with another, from about a half hour later:

"How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"

Trump offered no evidence for his allegation, despite being pressed by lawmakers, and two weeks later then-FBI Director James Comey flatly denied it on behalf of both the FBI and the Department of Justice -- the two organizations that would normally be in charge of approving and conducting that kind of thing.

"With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI," Comey told lawmakers on March 20. "The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets."

(There was another version of Trump's claim in which a British spy service tapped Trump's phones for Obama, which the Brits said was "utterly ridiculous.")

For most, the issue faded into the background after Comey's testimony, save for the filing of court documents by the Department of Justice earlier this month that backed up Comey's story.

But then, Monday afternoon, CNN reported that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's phones were tapped "under secret court orders before and after the election." According to CNN's unnamed sources, Manafort was originally under surveillance as early as 2014 -- months before Trump announced his presidential bid and way before Manafort was involved -- due to Manafort's connections to Ukrainian officials.

That first bout of surveillance was discontinued in 2016 for lack of evidence but then was restarted as part of the Russia investigation, CNN reported.

Here's the thing: CNN reported Manafort has a residence in Trump Tower in addition to his home in Virginia, and right now it's unclear where the surveillance took place. (Manafort's Virginia home was reportedly raided by the FBI in late July.)

So, if the CNN report is accurate, and if it was the Trump Tower residence, and if Trump was referring to every phone in Trump Tower as "my wires" -- his name is on the building after all -- then maybe there's some room for Trump to claim some vindication here. It also may be enough for the president if he was recorded in a call with Manafort on Manafort's tapped line.

None of this, however, shows that Obama was personally involved in any way -- which his former chief of staff denied -- or that Trump himself was the target of any surveillance or that any of the alleged surveillance was politically motivated, as Trump's tweets implied.

And even if Trump turns out to be kind of right about Trump Tower, as conservative commentator Ben Shapiro noted on Twitter, "How is this story a win for Trump?"

"Even if Trump was right in his tweet, Manafort might go to jail and Trump might have been on tape," Shapiro wrote. (Note that Manafort has not been charged with, much less convicted of, any crime.)

So there are a lot of questions left about how accurate, if at all, Trump's tweets were -- perhaps most importantly, this particular claim: "Nothing found."

At this point the public doesn't know if that's true, but Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the man leading the Russia probe, likely does.

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