Trump Campaign Approved Adviser’s Trip to Moscow

Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski approved foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s now-infamous trip to Moscow last summer on the condition that he would not be an official representative of the campaign, according to a former campaign adviser.

A few weeks before he traveled to Moscow to give a July 7 speech, Page asked J.D. Gordon, his supervisor on the campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee, for permission to make the trip, and Gordon strongly advised against it, Gordon, a retired naval officer, told POLITICO.

Page then emailed Lewandowski and spokeswoman Hope Hicks asking for formal approval, and was told by Lewandowski that he could make the trip, but not as an official representative of the campaign, the former campaign adviser said. The adviser spoke on the condition of anonymity because he has not been authorized to discuss internal campaign matters.

The trip is now a focus of congressional and FBI investigations into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.

Lewandowski told POLITICO he did not recall the email exchange with Page, but he did not deny that it occurred.

“Is it possible that he emailed me asking if he could go to Russia as a private citizen?” Lewandowski said Tuesday. “I don’t remember that, but I probably got 1,000 emails a day at that time, and I can’t remember every single one that I was sent. And I wouldn’t necessarily remember if I had a one-word response to him saying he could do something as a private citizen.”

Hicks declined to comment. But a former campaign official said campaign officials did not discuss Page’s planned trip before he left for Moscow.

“No one discussed the trip within the campaign and certainly not with candidate Trump directly,” said the former campaign official.

The official pointed to a July statement from Hicks that declared that Page was in Moscow in a private capacity and was not representing the campaign. That statement came in response to media reports from Moscow about Page’s presence there.

Both Lewandowski and the White House official cast Page as a minor character on the periphery of the campaign, who was a foreign policy adviser in name only.

“I’ve never met or spoken to Carter Page in my life,” Lewandowski said.

Gordon and Page had no comment on whether the Trump campaign officially sanctioned the trip, which has drawn the attention of investigators from the FBI and congressional committees investigating possible Trump campaign ties with Russian officials before the election.

And while Page has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in connection with his Moscow visit, it is now drawing increased scrutiny as a result of new disclosures about his contact two weeks later with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Just days after Kislyak talked to Page, Gordon and a third campaign official, WikiLeaks disseminated thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee’s servers — a hack that U.S. intelligence later attributed to the Russian government.

No connection between any of those three events has been alleged publicly or confirmed. But on Tuesday, Page confirmed that he is one of about a dozen individuals and organizations contacted by the Senate Intelligence Committee and asked to preserve relevant materials for its investigation into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

“I will do everything in my power to reasonably ensure that all information concerning my activities related to Russia last year is preserved,” Page said in a letter to committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.).

In his letter, Page again denied any wrongdoing and repeated his claims that former officials of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and other Democrats have been spreading false information about the trip and Page’s other connections to Russia.

Page’s trip to Moscow has been the subject of intense speculation for months, but many of the details remain cloudy.

A longtime oil and energy industry consultant, Page had already spent considerable time in Russia before making the trip, most recently as founder and managing partner of the Global Energy Capital investment and consulting firm, which specializes in Russian and Central Asian oil and gas business.

The firm’s website says Page has been involved in more than $25 billion of transactions in the energy and power sector and that he spent three years in Moscow, where he was an adviser on key transactions for Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom and other energy-related companies.

Page has insisted that he was in Moscow to give a commencement address at the New Economic School there based on his scholarly research, and that his visit was “outside of my informal, unpaid role” on the Trump campaign. He also said he had divested any stake in Gazprom and that he had “not met this year [2016] with any sanctioned official in Russia despite the fact that there are no restrictions on U.S. persons speaking with such individuals.”

But last September, top congressional lawmakers were briefed on suspected efforts by Russia to meddle in the election. Soon after, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada asked FBI Director James Comey to investigate meetings between a Trump official, later identified as Page, and “high ranking sanctioned individuals” in Moscow that he believed were evidence of “significant and disturbing ties” between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Trump campaign officials took steps to distance themselves from Page, who had been publicly identified as an adviser as recently as Aug. 24. He announced Sept. 26 that he was taking a leave of absence from the campaign, saying the accusations were untrue but causing too much of a “distraction.”

But even after Russia was linked to the hacking effort against Democrats, the Trump campaign did not seek to question Page about his trip, the campaign adviser said.

Asked what Page did while in Moscow, the adviser said, “I have no idea. I didn’t want to know.”

The adviser also said he was not aware of anyone else on the campaign who discussed the trip with Page, either to glean any foreign policy insight from him or to determine whether any damage control was needed based on his contacts.

“Nobody talked about it. It was such an ugly topic. Even when I saw him at the convention, I didn’t talk to him about it,” the adviser said, adding that some in the campaign had expressed concern that any public appearances in Moscow by Page would send a bad message.

The campaign fired Lewandowski on June 20, before Page took the trip. Paul Manafort, who replaced Lewandowski as manager and later became chairman, said he had no knowledge of any aspect of Page’s trip, including whether Lewandowski or anyone else approved it.

In recent days, Page’s contact with Russians resurfaced with news reports that he, Gordon and senior Trump campaign adviser Sen. Jeff Sessions all engaged in discussions with Kislyak at an event on the sidelines of the GOP convention.

Page has declined to comment on what they discussed, saying it was private, while Gordon characterized the conversations as harmless efforts to improve U.S.-Russia ties.

The former campaign adviser on Tuesday said Page and the ambassador had a lengthy discussion and that they were at times joined by Gordon and two other ambassadors from the region. The adviser did not know whether Page or Kislyak initiated the conversation.

(h/t Politico)

Trump Hits Obama Again, This Time With False Claims About Gitmo Detainees

President Trump early Tuesday incorrectly blamed the Obama administration for releasing 122 “vicious” prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

“122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!” Trump wrote.

Trump posted the tweet 31 minutes after Fox News tweeted about a U.S. airstrike that killed a former detainee in Yemen.

“Former Gitmo detainee killed by a U.S. airstrike in Yemen; at least 122 former Gitmo detainees have re-engaged in terrorism” the “Fox & Friends” account tweeted just after 6:30 a.m.

But according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 113 of the 122 former detainees who have re-engaged in terrorism were released before January 2009, when former President Barack Obama took office.

The former detainee recently killed in the U.S. airstrike, Muhammad Tahar, was transferred to Yemen in December 2009, according to Department of Defense files compiled by the The New York Times.

Trump during his presidential campaign said he would “load” the detention center “with some bad dudes.” Obama during his own presidential campaign had promised to close the facility.

(h/t The Hill)

Carson Doubles-Down: Slaves Were ‘Involuntary Immigrants’

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson doubled-down Monday on his description of slaves as immigrants, arguing that the label fits anyone who comes into a country from the outside – even “involuntary immigrants.”

Speaking to department employees in his first full day on the job, Carson stoked controversy when he said America is “a land of dreams and opportunities,” even for “immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships” and “worked even longer, even harder for less.”

The remarks provoked uproar on social media, where many on the left lambasted the HUD secretary for describing slaves as immigrants aspiring for a better life. Both Chelsea Clinton and Samuel L. Jackson also weighed in with disbelief.

On Monday evening, speaking on the Sirius XM radio show of his friend and business partner Armstrong Williams, Carson refused to back away from the remarks.

“I think people need to actually look up the word immigrant,” Carson said. “Whether you’re voluntary or involuntary, if you come from the outside to the inside, you’re an immigrant. Whether you’re legal or illegal, you come from the outside to inside, you’re an immigrant. Slaves came here as involuntary immigrants but they still had the strength to hold on.”

One woman who called into the show said she disagreed with Carson, arguing, “you can’t be an immigrant if you’re brought over here in chains.”

“Yes you can, you can be an involuntary immigrant,” Carson responded.

“We should be proud to have ancestors that had the mental strength to endure what so many others had not been able to endure,” he continued.

“They tried to enslave all kinds of people but they were not able to survive it and that requires a tremendous amount of toughness and will power and strength and hope and they had that. Don’t let someone turn that into something bad.”

Carson said the department employees he addressed earlier in the day understood his message, accusing the media of seizing on a non-existent controversy and overlooking the reception he received.

“Everyone in that auditorium was with me,” Carson said. “They knew exactly what I was saying. It’s only those people who are always trying to stir up controversy. Did they talk about the good things? Or the prolonged standing ovation? All the people standing in line to get pictures, the people who asked very good questions and got answers for them? The lady who stood up and said some of us were concerned but we’re not concerned about you anymore – no, they don’t cover that. They say, ‘ah, he said that slaves were immigrants and that’s a terrible thing to say and he’s out of contact with reality and he’s crazy.’ You know it’s really kind of sad what the media has degenerated into.”

“There were numerous people brought over here on slave ships and it was a horrible thing, I’m not saying that it wasn’t a horrible thing,” Carson continued. “But what I’m saying is that those people were strong, they were strong-willed. They didn’t just give up and die like many of the other people who they tried to enslave. And one of the reasons they didn’t just give up and die is because they used the brain god gave them and they figured a time would come when there would be freedom, a time would come when their children could achieve, so unless you have the ability to maintain that hope and that aspiration, you just give up and you die. Our ancestors did not do that.”

Carson then posted a statement on Facebook that walked back his claims.

(h/t The Hill)

Following Sessions’ Mar-a-Lago Appearance, New Ethics Questions Arise

At some point during the Obama era, conservatives convinced themselves that the Democratic president took an outrageous amount of time off, traveled constantly, and vastly preferred golfing to working. The criticisms were always quite silly – especially after George W. Bush broke every modern record for time off taken by a sitting president – but the right nevertheless embraced the nonsense with great enthusiasm.

Vox recently talked to a series of CPAC attendees, many of whom continued to complain bitterly about Obama’s travel costs and downtime. Told that Donald Trump is actually spending more on travel and enjoying more downtime, conservatives were incredulous. The facts “can’t possibly be right,” one said. “That absolutely can’t be right.”

Reality, however, is stubborn. Trump headlined a political fundraiser on Friday night, before heading to Mar-a-Lago, the for-profit club he still owns, for another relaxing weekend. Over the last five weekends, the president has visited his luxury resort four times – each trip costs American taxpayers about $3 million – and as of last night, Trump had spent 31% of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago.  He’s now played golf eight times since taking office six weeks ago.

In October 2014, Trump whined via Twitter, “We pay for Obama’s travel so he can fundraise millions so Democrats can run on lies. Then we pay for his golf.” A year later, as a presidential candidate, Trump declared that if he were in office, he’d dispense with breaks. “I’d want to stay in the White House and work my ass off,” he told voters.

Like so many of his claims, Trump apparently didn’t mean a word of it. (Last week, the White House even gave the press misleading information about one the president’s golf outings.)

But this latest trip was a little different – because as the Palm Beach Post noted, Trump this time brought along some powerful friends.

President Donald Trump mingled with guests outside a charity ball at his Mar-a-Lago Club on Saturday night. As attendees danced inside the ballroom where the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute held its gala, the president was spotted nearby, shaking hands and talking with club members and guests.

Earlier, Attorney General Jeff Sessions also took a few moments from high-level meetings to greet guests at the estate.

Oh good, we’ve reached the point at which the attorney general of the United States is a prop for members at the president’s for-profit club.

What’s more, Sessions wasn’t alone. Two other members of Trump’s cabinet – Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross – were also on hand in Florida over the weekend.

I appreciate the fact that there are a variety of very serious scandals surrounding this White House, but the conflicts surrounding Trump and Mar-a-Lago are tough to defend. I’m reminded anew of this recent New York Times piece, which noted that Team Trump has created “an arena for potential political influence rarely seen in American history: a kind of Washington steakhouse on steroids, situated in a sunny playground of the rich and powerful, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists.”

… Mr. Trump’s weekend White House appears to be unprecedented in American history, as it is the first one with customers paying a company owned by the president, several historians said.

“Mar-a-Lago represents a commercialization of the presidency that has few if any precedents in American history,” said Jon Meacham, a presidential historian and Andrew Jackson biographer. “Presidents have always spent time with the affluent,” he added. “But a club where people pay you as president to spend time in his company is new. It is kind of amazing.”

And it’s not just Trump. Those who pay the $200,000 membership fee also, evidently, get access to the U.S. attorney general and other powerful cabinet secretaries, and even get front-row seats to see officials respond in real time to national security challenges, conducted in full view of civilians.

The club’s managing director conceded to the Times that Trump’s presidency “enhances” club membership – which may help explain the increase in entrance fees – adding, “People are now even more interested in becoming members.”

If you voted Republican because you were worried about Hillary Clinton and pay-to-play controversies, I have some very bad news for you. Trump is profiting from the presidency in ways no one has been able to credibly defend.

As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, we’re looking at an ethical nightmare. A president who refuses to divest from his many business ventures still owns a for-profit enterprise, in which undisclosed people pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for exclusive access – and the facility itself openly acknowledges the financial benefits of exploiting Trump’s presidency.

How many lobbyists or agents of foreign governments are signing up to take advantage? We don’t know – because Mar-a-Lago doesn’t disclose its membership list.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent talked recently to Norm Eisen, the chief ethics czar under President Obama, who pointed to Trump’s dramatic use of his for-profit club as a serious problem.

Eisen argued to me … that you cannot divorce this latest story from Trump’s seemingly reflexive or deliberately thought out use of his position as president to promote his business interests or those of his family. After all, Eisen notes, the very act of inviting [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe to Mar-a-Lago itself must be evaluated as, potentially, an effort to promote his resort, given the pattern of behavior we’ve seen from this White House, which has included repeated efforts by Trump and his aides to punish Nordstrom for declining to carry Ivanka Trump’s clothing line or to drive customers to Ivanka.

“We’ve had a lot of presidents who hosted foreign leaders away from the White House,” Eisen said. “But we’ve never in history had one do it in a place where he’s selling memberships for hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop. Trump just could not resist the opportunity to make an infomercial for his property. He’s worked hard all his life to generate free media. Now he’s hit the mother lode, and he’s not going to stop.”

There’s no reason to go along with this as if it were somehow normal.

(h/t MSNBC)

White House Caught Copying From ExxonMobil Press Release

Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State, was the former head of fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil and close friend to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both of these factors were enough to cause massive concern amongst both Democrats and Republicans alike, but Tillerson squeezed through the vetting process and is now the top American diplomat in the land.

People worrying about conflicts of interest still have good reasons to be concerned. The Trump administration’s push for more coal and oil in America’s energy mix is made all the easier with the former Exxon CEO in the Cabinet, and it appears that the President himself has recently taken to openly praising the company on Twitter.

Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State, was the former head of fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil and close friend to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both of these factors were enough to cause massive concern amongst both Democrats and Republicans alike, but Tillerson squeezed through the vetting process and is now the top American diplomat in the land.

People worrying about conflicts of interest still have good reasons to be concerned. The Trump administration’s push for more coal and oil in America’s energy mix is made all the easier with the former Exxon CEO in the Cabinet, and it appears that the President himself has recently taken to openly praising the company on Twitter.

In a statement dated March 6, the White House noted that “President Donald J. Trump today congratulated Exxon Mobil Corporation on its ambitious $20 billion investment program that is creating more than 45,000 construction and manufacturing jobs in the United States Gulf Coast region.”

“This is a true American success story,” Trump said. Indeed, this was the initiative that he recently spoke about on Twitter.

However, there’s a problem with this – a good chunk of this press release was lifted ad verbatim from an official ExxonMobil press release. For some reason, the White House and ExxonMobil decided to release statements, focusing on precisely the same topic of discourse, at exactly the same time.

It is extremely likely, of course, that this is not a coincidence. The White House could have at least tried to rewrite the paragraph to make it their own a little, but they were too lazy even to do that. Or does ExxonMobil now tell the White House what to say?

We shouldn’t even be too happy with the investment either. There are plenty more jobs waiting to be taken in the booming renewable energy sector than there is in the fossil fuel industry, but instead, the focus is on occupations that will help change the climate for the worse.

And yes, new jobs are a good thing, but this ExxonMobil program has been running since 2013, so it’s got nothing to do with Trump at all.

Some might say that he’s highlighting it now to make it look like jobs are on the up under his watch – when in fact, the record streak of job creation America is currently experiencing is down to the hard work of his predecessor.

(h/t IFL Science)

 

Trump Praises Exxon Announcement on Old Investments

President Donald Trump heralded ExxonMobil’s announcement Monday that it’s investing in manufacturing jobs in the U.S. — even though at least some of the investment started years ago.

Exxon CEO Darren Woods said the company would invest $20 billion in manufacturing projects along the Gulf Coast. But at some of the spending started in 2013 and is expected to continue through at least 2022, Exxon said in a statement. Exxon said at least one of the projects — an aviation lubricants plant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana — had already been completed.

Those facts didn’t deter Trump, who used the occasion to shower praise on the giant oil and gas company that until recently was led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“45,000 construction & manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Gulf Coast region,” Trump tweeted Monday afternoon. “$20 billion investment. We are already winning again, America!”

In a statement from the White House, Trump said: “This is exactly the kind of investment, economic development and job creation that will help put Americans back to work.”

The White House statement quoted Woods praising Trump. “Private sector investment is enhanced by this Administration’s support for smart regulations that support growth while protecting the environment,” the CEO said.

Woods took over as Exxon’s CEO in January, following Tillerson’s departure. Tillerson, who had lunch with Trump on Monday, has appeared to be out of the loop on a number of key issues and has kept a low profile within the administration.

Under his agreement with the Office of Government Ethics, Tillerson is barred from any matter involving Exxon through the end of the year. And he has until May 2 to finish divesting his stock holdings in the company, which are estimated at about $55 million. That raises the possibility Tillerson still holds a stake in the company for now. The federal law against conflicts of interest exempts the president but does apply to the secretary of state.

Spokesmen for the White House and the State Department did not immediately answer questions about whether Trump and Tillerson discussed the investment at their lunch Monday and whether Tillerson has already liquidated his holdings in Exxon.

In his announcement, Woods said that Exxon’s goal is to create 35,000 construction jobs and 12,000 full-time jobs, Woods said. The company has not said how many of the 11 projects announced Monday were planned under Tillerson.

The strategy of CEOs re-announcing old investments in the Trump era is not new. Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son announced after a December meeting with Trump a tech fund that would invest $50 billion in the U.S. Trump publicized Son’s plan despite the fact that the investment had been part of a previously announced plan.

(h/t Politico)

 

Carson Refers to Slaves as ‘Immigrants’ in First Talk to HUD Employees

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson referred to slaves as “immigrants” dreaming of a better life in a talk with department employees, according to Monday reports.

“That’s what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity,” Carson said. “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less.”

He added: “But they, too, had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

Carson, longtime supporter of President Trump who was sworn in as HUD secretary last week, compared abortion to slavery during his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

“During slavery — and I know that’s one of those words you’re not supposed to say, but I’m saying it — during slavery, a lot of the slave owners thought that they had the right to do whatever they wanted to the slave,” Carson told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in October of 2015.

“What if the abolitionists had said, ‘I don’t believe in slavery, I think it’s wrong, but you guys do whatever you want to do?’ ” added the retired neurosurgeon, who opposes abortion even in the cases of rape and incest.

(h/t The Hill)

 

White House Rejects FBI’s Denial Of Trump’s Wiretapping Claims

President Donald Trump’s administration continues to insist that former President Barack Obama ordered Trump Tower to be wiretapped during the presidential campaign, rejecting FBI Director James Comey’s denial of such activity despite not providing evidence to back up its claims.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday whether Trump accepts Comey’s reported request for the Department of Justice to “publicly reject” the president’s unfounded statement.

“No, I don’t think he does,” she replied.

Although he didn’t provide any evidence, Trump claimed over the weekend that Obama ordered wiretapping of his communications last year during his presidential campaign. On Sunday, Sanders even called for an investigation into the matter.

Obama, as well as numerous U.S. intelligence officials, have denied the allegation. James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, said Sunday that “there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect, at the time, as a candidate or against his campaign.” He also denied that the FBI obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court warrant to investigate the Trump campaign’s alleged contact with Russian officials.

Later that day, The New York Times and other outlets confirmed that Comey told DOJ officials to “publicly reject” Trump’s claim, reportedly saying it was “false and must be corrected.”

The only evidence that the Trump administration has offered are reports from right-wing news sites, maintaining a pattern of spreading unfounded conspiracy theories.

Yet Trump’s team continued to dig into the claims on Monday, while still providing no definitive proof.

“This is a storyline that has been reported by quite a few outlets,” Sanders said Monday, citing mainstream outlets that have reported on the claims but have found no evidence to support them.

Stephanopoulos repeatedly pressed her for evidence, but she had none.
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, insisted on Fox News that Trump has “information and intelligence” to back up his claims.

“He’s the president of the United States,” she said. “He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not, and that’s the way it should be.”

(h/t Huffington Post)

Media

Donald Trump Was Seething With Rage Over Reception of Wiretapping Claims

A friend of Donald Trump‘s says the president was more angry this weekend than he had seen him “in a long time.”

Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of right-wing magazine and website Newsmax and a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, wrote that he spoke to Trump twice on Saturday. The conversations followed Trump’s explosive and unsubstantiated Saturday claim that President Barack Obama had Trump Tower’s “wires tapped” before the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has not given any evidence to back up the claim, while a spokesman for Obama has denied that he ordered wiretapping of Trump. Still, Trump believes his accusations will eventually be proven, Ruddy noted in a Newsmax post.

“I spoke with the president twice yesterday about the wiretap story. I haven’t seen him this p—– off in a long time. When I mentioned Obama ‘denials’ about the wiretaps, he shot back: ‘This will be investigated, it will all come out. I will be proven right,” Ruddy wrote.

Ruddy told CNN that Trump did not go into detail about his sources for the claim. The network previously reported that Trump got the accusations from right-wing media reports, not government sources.

Trump’s accusations followed the latest backlash about his top advisors’ contacts with Russia. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former senator who advised the Trump campaign, said last week he would recuse himself from all Trump campaign related investigations after he appeared to mislead senators during his January confirmation hearing about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

The president argued that Sessions should not distance himself from any Russia-related probes.

Ruddy, a Florida resident and longtime Mar-a-Lago member, also donated the maximum $2,700 to Trump’s campaign committee and $100,000 to a joint fundraising effort with the Republican Party.

(h/t CNBC)

Trump Wants Congressional Probe of Evidence-Free Claims About Obama

President Trump called Sunday for a congressional investigation of his claims that predecessor Barack Obama had him wiretapped during last year’s election  —  while critics accused Trump of trying to distract people from an investigation into his own relationship with Russia.

“Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said in a statement a day after Trump accused Obama — without evidence — of having Trump Tower in New York wiretapped in connection with an investigation of Russia.

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,” Spicer said.

While Trump repeatedly tweeted about Obama during the weekend, Spicer’s statement said “neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted.”

A spokesman for Obama said Trump’s claim is false, and noted that presidents do not have the legal authority to authorize wiretaps in any case.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Trump is making false claims against Obama in order to distract attention from investigations into possible contacts among Trump, his associates, and Russians involved in a plan to hack Democratic officials during last year’s election.

Again calling for an outside investigation into Trump and Russia, Pelosi told CNN’s State of the Union: “What do the Russians have on Donald Trump?”

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said it “will make inquiries into whether the government was conducting surveillance activities on any political party’s campaign officials or surrogates” as part of its overall probe into Russian intelligence activities. Nunes said, “we will continue to investigate this issue if the evidence warrants it.”

There is no evidence Trump or his aides were the subjects of surveillance during last year’s election,

Any kind of wiretap in connection with an investigation of Russia would have to be approved by a special court acting under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That law, passed in 1978 to reform the excesses of intelligence surveillance during the Richard Nixon administration and earlier presidencies, requires law enforcement to obtain an order from a special court of federal judges before they conduct telephone surveillance on people in the United States.

James Clapper, who was director of national intelligence last year, told NBC’s Meet The Press that to his knowledge there was no FISA court order regarding Trump Tower.

Clapper also said he saw no evidence of “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.

Hours before the White House call for a congressional investigation, Trump continued his extraordinary and unprecedented public attack on his predecessor, tweeting about Obama’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Who was it that secretly said to Russian President, “Tell Vladimir that after the election I’ll have more flexibility?” Trump said.

Obama, who denied authorizing wiretaps on anybody and would be prevented by law from doing so in any case, did make the “flexibility” comment during a discussion with then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev ahead of the 2012 election. It came in connection with talks over a proposed missile defense system.

The attacks on Obama come amid investigations of any contacts between Trump, his associates and Russians who may have been involved in efforts to influence last year’s presidential election.

In addition to the crack at Obama, Trump criticized the investigation into the hacking of Democratic National Committee officials involved in the 2016 election. “Is it true the DNC would not allow the FBI access to check server or other equipment after learning it was hacked?” Trump said. “Can that be possible?”

During his Saturday tweet storm, Trump said of the previous president: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

McCarthyism is a reference to the anti-communist crusades of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican who led a series of investigations about alleged communist influence in the U.S. government. He was eventually censured by the Senate in 1954 and died from alcoholism-related problems in 1957.

Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, speaking on ABC’s This Week, said the president believes an investigation of his predecessor’s actions is warranted. “All we’re saying is let’s take a closer look,” Sanders said. “Let’s look into this.”

Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said the last administration had a “cardinal rule” that “no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice.”

As a result, Lewis said, “neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”

Trump’s claims about wiretapping inspired more calls for a special prosecutor investigation of Russian involvement in last year’s election,  one that would include the president and campaign associates.

The FBI and various congressional committees are already looking into the Russians’ election role.

As investigations proceed and revelations mount, expect Trump to continue to make unfounded allegations about his opponents, some Democrats said. “As the Russia investigation gets closer and closer to Trump, he’s going to promote more conspiracy theories, not less,” said Democratic political strategist Jesse Ferguson.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, stung by disclosures he met with the Russian ambassador to the United States last year, announced last week he would recuse himself from any investigation involving the Trump campaign in which he worked.

Trump criticized Sessions’ decision, and said his critics are engaged in a “witch hunt” over Russia — a group in which he presumably includes Obama.

Certainly presidents have had disputes with each other throughout American history, from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to Lyndon Johnson and Nixon. But the public nature of Trump’s accusations against Obama may well be unprecedented.

Historian Joshua Zeitz said Trump appears to be engaged in a “somewhat calculated play” to keep his Republican base behind him, but that can be “a dangerous game.”

In previous presidential rivalries, Zeitz said, “the new president was wildly more popular than the former president” and that is “not the case today. In fact, quite the opposite.”

(h/t USA Today)

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