The failing NY Times circles back to Towergate. I trust neither Trump nor the Opposition Party, but Trump is not tweeting on this right now (or is he?!?) so we poke at whatever is in front of us:
WASHINGTON — President Trump has no regrets. His staff has no defense.
After weeks of assailing reporters and critics in diligent defense of their boss, Mr. Trump’s team has been uncharacteristically muted this week when pressed about his explosive — and so far proof-free — Twitter posts on Saturday accusing President Barack Obama of tapping phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.
The accusation — and the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the former national intelligence director, James R. Clapper Jr., emphatically deny that any such wiretap was requested or issued — constitutes one of the most consequential accusations made by one president against another in American history.
I'd be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. Statement just said that neither he nor the WH ordered it.
The Clapper denial is somewhat undermined by Clapper's track record on this sort of thing.
As to Comey, his 'emphatic denial' has been made to reporters or their sources, not the public, and seems to include a critical caveat. This is from earlier NY Times reporting:
WASHINGTON — The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement.
Mr. Comey, who made the request on Saturday after Mr. Trump leveled his allegation on Twitter, has been working to get the Justice Department to knock down the claim because it falsely insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law, the officials said.
Trump's claim insinuates that the FBI broke the law? Taken absolutely literally, I suppose so - Obama can't legally order such a wiretap since it requires a court-issued warrant. But can Obama pound the table and demand his underlings apply for such a warrant, even on thin (dare we say 'Trumped-up?) evidence? Of course he can.
But why would he? Suppose it wasn't Obama himself but an Obama loyalist such as AG Lynch giving the orders. Maybe in addition to slow-walking the Hillary email 'investigation' Ms. Lynch made a bold effort to spin NSA intel about stray Russian chatter into political gold. If one day we learn that she ordered her team to apply for warrants against Trump and/or his associates, does that exonerate Obama? If we learn that the DoJ applied for warrants against Trump's associates but not Trump himself does that mean Trump's accusation was wrong, even though Trump would inevitably be captured as an "incidental collection" on the tapped lines of the people he regularly spoke with?
The original Times piece presents other puzzles:
It is not clear why Mr. Comey did not issue a statement himself. He is the most senior law enforcement official who was kept on the job as the Obama administration gave way to the Trump administration. And while the Justice Department applies for intelligence-gathering warrants, the F.B.I. keeps its own records and is in a position to know whether Mr. Trump’s claims are true. While intelligence officials do not normally discuss the existence or nonexistence of surveillance warrants, no law prevents Mr. Comey from issuing the statement.
Well, the FBI certainly ought to know what warrants they requested and what taps they implemented. But could the DoJ team on its own initiative apply for a warrant (criminal or FISA) without a request from the FBI? I have no idea and the Times sheds no light here. All that is clear is that Comey could deny this himself, but hasn't.
All that said, today's Times piece certainly captures Team Trump backpedaling from Trump's Saturday Tweetstorm. But as to concluding that neither Trump nor his associates were targeted by a lawful (although possibly an over-reaching) lawful warrant, well, I don't know why people would be sure that we know it didn't happen. Or did.
As to whether Trump should resolve this by asking the DoJ for a review of their warrant requests - OMG, wouldn't that potentially be interference with an ongoing investigation?
Trump's deplorable impulse control notwithstanding, kicking this over to Congress is a good idea. Or a special counsel, despite the ongoing lack of any there there.
ERRATA: Mr. York includes this metaphor:
"There's a lot of smoke, but there hasn't been that smoking gun yet," Todd said. "At what point should the public start to wonder this is all just smoke?"
Which segues irresistibly to the old Russian proverb and Bob Hope's take on it.