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When President Donald Trump tweeted on March 4 that former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap on his phones during the election, he didn’t turn to the federal intelligence agencies for proof.
Instead, he says he got it straight from the "failing" New York Times.
In a March 15 interview, Fox News host Tucker Carlson asked Trump why he didn’t ask the agencies about any possible surveillance on him or his campaign before tweeting about it, given that the White House appears to have no evidence to backup his claims.
"Well, because the New York Times wrote about it," Trump replied. "Not that I respect the New York Times. I call it the ‘failing’ New York Times. But they did write on Jan. 20, using the word ‘wiretap.’ "
The New York Times report does use the word "wiretap;" the print headline was "Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides." It doesn’t appear that Trump read the article closely, however, because it does not say Obama personally ordered a tap on his phones during the election, as Trump claimed in his tweet.
The New York Times article is about intercepted communications used by the FBI amid its investigation into some of Trump’s current and former aides — including Roger Stone, Carter Page and Paul Manafort — and their ties to Russia. It does not say whether the surveillance targeted Russians or Americans.
Nor does it say Trump and his campaign were under investigation or surveillance. In fact, the author stipulates: "It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself."
The difference between the substance of the New York Times article and what Trump claimed in his tweet is significant, because Trump’s tweet alleges Obama possibly acted outside the law to harm a political opponent, whereas the New York Times described aspects of an FBI investigation.
A president cannot unilaterally order surveillance on an American citizen. The FBI would have to obtain a warrant from a judge first, and to do that, investigators would need to have a suspicion based in evidence that Trump might have committed a crime.
As president, Trump could find out whether a court ever issued such a warrant. Congress has asked FBI Director James Comey for any evidence that a warrant was requested, issued or denied.
In his interview with Carlson, Trump also mentioned a Fox News segment with host Bret Baier as a source. However, that segment — and a few more news articles the White House has provided as evidence — discusses unproven allegations that the FBI requested warrants to surveil Trump associates. It does not back up Trump’s accusation that Obama personally ordered a wiretap on Trump for political sabotage.
Trump said "the New York Times wrote about" Obama wiretapping him during the election.
The New York Times article Trump references says the FBI has used intercepted communications in its investigation of several Trump associates and their ties to Russia. It does not say Obama ordered this surveillance, nor does it say Trump’s own phones were tapped or that he was under surveillance in any way.
Trump took an article about legitimate intelligence investigations and completely distorted it. We rate his claim False.'
PolitiFact, "Did Donald Trump invent claim that Barack Obama tapped his phone?" March 6, 2017
PolitiFact, "Why the White House defense of Trump wiretap accusation is misleading," March 5, 2017
New York Times, "Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates," Jan. 19, 2017
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