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The FBI and NSA directors agree: Trump’s wiretapping allegations are baseless

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Adm. Mike Rogers directs the National Security Agency, which is responsible for much of America’s surveillance operations. If anyone would be in a position to know the veracity of Donald Trump’s allegation that then-President Barack Obama tapped his communications, it would be Rogers. And on Monday, Rogers flatly said it didn’t happen.

“I have seen nothing on the NSA side that we have engaged in such activity, nor that anyone ever asked us to engage in such activity,” he said.

Rogers also denied an allegation, first leveled by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, that Obama had enlisted Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency to do the spying for him. That charge had infuriated the British government, with the GCHQ releasing an unusual statement calling it “nonsense.” Rogers, one of America’s top spies, was visibly angry when he backed up the British — and directly contradicted Trump.

“That would be expressly against the construct of the Five Eyes agreement that has been in place for decades,” he said, referring to an international agreement under which Washington and London (along with a trio of other close allies) agree not to spy on one another.

It was an unusually blunt, at times even angry-sounding, refutation to the president of the United States. It was a vivid reminder that Trump’s allegations have now been conclusively shot down by everyone in the position to know about them. And it raises still more questions about why Trump himself is stubbornly clinging on to what is now known to be a fabrication.

The FBI director’s answer was similarly devastating

The NSA is in charge of wiretapping operations internationally; wiretapping at home is typically handled by the FBI or local police. The NSA only gets involved in such investigations if there is reason to think that people, companies, or organizations inside the US are improperly communicating with foreign governments, companies, spies, or other individuals.

FBI Director James Comey was at the same hearing as Rogers. When Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, asked about the president’s tweets alleging that Obama spied on him, his answer was similarly unequivocal.

“We don’t have any information to support those tweets,” Comey said.

Schiff also asked Comey whether Obama could have unilaterally ordered a wiretap on Trump in violation of court orders, as Trump has suggested. Comey’s answer was an implicitly devastating rebuke to the president.

“No individual in the United States can direct electronic surveillance of anyone. It has to go through an application process, ask a judge, and the judge then makes the order,” Comey explained.

“So President Obama could not unilaterally order a wiretap of anyone?” Schiff asked in response.

“No president could,” Comey responded.

What happened here is the following. The heads of the two agencies responsible for electronic snooping, international and domestic, just said that there was no evidence for the president’s claim that his predecessor had snooped on him. The NSA director appeared angered by the allegation; the FBI director suggested that President Trump did not actually understand the process through which his government conducts surveillance.

It’s the clearest suggestion yet that the president and his team are not, as they’ve suggested, relying on classified information to make these allegations about Obama. Instead, it seems like they’re making things up as they go — and then, alarmingly, refusing to retract them no matter how often they’re shot down.

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