Congress wants Donald Trump to prove Obama wiretapped him. Here's why Trump won't respond.
A deadline is looming for President Donald Trump. The House Intelligence Committee gave the White House until Monday to produce evidence that then-President Barack Obama ordered the federal government to tap Trump's phones before the election. The committee's Republican chair and Democratic ranking member sent a letter asking for the evidence, the Associated Press reported over the weekend. On Sunday, Sen. John McCain called on Trump to retract his claim or produce proof. All this follows a similar letter last week sent by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
There is little reason to expect Trump will follow through. Press secretary Sean Spicer has repeatedly stated that Congress — not the White House — must investigate Trump's wiretapping claim. No one has produced or reported seeing evidence Obama did this, while FBI Director James Comey has demanded a Justice Department rejection of the claim. The House Intelligence Committee, running one of five congressional inquiries into the election, would also be less likely to receive sensitive intelligence information than its Senate counterpart. Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on that committee, even said he does not expect the president to produce the evidence. Trump ally Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said the same.
All this misses the point that Trump has moved on. As the political world has stewed over his wiretapping allegation, the president has been quiet on the subject for more than a week. Coming off Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recusal from inquiries into Russia before the election, accusing the last president of effectively hacking Trump's communication was the perfect reset for the president's supporters. It produced a blitz of media attention and a political firestorm, all of which slowly cooled in the following days. Not everyone from Team Trump got the memo, though: Kellyanne Conway said Monday that spying could have been done by "microwaves that turn into cameras," moving away from wiretapping as the exclusive method of unsubstantiated espionage — a suggestion she later disavowed by proclaiming, "I'm not Inspector Gadget."
Conway aside, we've now seen this play many times. The question in every one of these situations: If your eye is on inflammatory wiretapping claims, what are you not seeing?
This is Mic's daily read on Donald Trump's America. Welcome to the political newsletter that does not expect Trump to respond to this email with proof of wiretapping.
Will Trump respond?
• Today: Congress wants Trump to prove he was wiretapped. That assumes this president plays by Washington's rules.
• More: Whether he was fired or asked to resign, kicking Preet Bharara to the curb could make an enemy of an ambitious and well-respected federal prosecutor.
• Even more: What to watch for in the Congressional Budget Office's report on the American Health Care Act, and growing legal challenges to Trump's immigration executive order 2.0.
• A Mic exclusive: Here's a list of every U.S. senator that does — and doesn't — pay interns.
• A Mic must-read: The U.S. opioid crisis is real and deadly. Trumpcare could make it worse.
• Trump's agenda today: Signing an executive order "to see where money can be saved & services improved" in every part of the executive branch. Holding his first Cabinet meeting. Leading a "listening session" on health care. Having dinner with the secretary of state and national security adviser.
Why everyone is keeping an eye on Preet Bharara
Last week, there were 46 federal prosecutors who had not yet left their positions under the new administration. On Friday, they were asked to resign — and one of them made headlines for his response. Preet Bharara, one of the country's most well-respected law enforcement officials, had said in December that Trump asked him to remain on as the U.S. attorney for New York's Southern District. When Trump apparently changed his mind, Bharara announced he refused to resign and was fired.
While past presidents have dismissed U.S. attorneys after taking office, the transition typically occurs after replacements have been nominated and in some cases, confirmed by the Senate. Bharara's case attracted particular scrutiny: Not only did Trump reportedly tell Bharara he could keep his job, but the Indian-American attorney oversaw federal investigations in New York City. Whether Bharara was investigating Trump is unknown, but it would have been in his jurisdiction. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Elijah Cummings, both Democrats, thought the manner of Bharara's dismissal was fishy. This much is clear: Bharara was investigating Trump's allies over at Fox News.
Bharara was best known for his prosecution of two New York state lawmakers on charges of public corruption and for targeting financial fraud on Wall Street. That world of high finance Bharara was looking into has spawned several top Trump administration officials.
Whether Bharara makes any public statement about Trump or his investigations, he is known as an ambitious man who might harbor political aspirations. He immediately seemed to pick a fight with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, likening his dismissal to the governor's shuttering of the Moreland Commission, which was tasked with rooting out public corruption in New York. Cuomo was accused of interfering when the commission's inquiry came too close to his allies. Bharara investigated the commission's closure but did not bring charges. The Sunday tweet, then, was fraught with all kinds of symbolism, both about Trump's shutting down a potentially nettlesome federal prosecutor and about Bharara's sights on public office.
How the CBO will impact health care reform
After almost a week of Republican attacks, the nonpartisan fiscal watchdog Congressional Budget Office is set to determine how the American Health Care Act will affect health insurance costs and coverage. With a House vote on the bill expected this month, the CBO "scoring" — or cost estimate — of the AHCA is expected to give the law's opponents ammunition to argue the Republican proposal will lead to a loss in health coverage for millions of people. A CBO ruling that the bill will increase the federal deficit could also torpedo the AHCA's passage, with Republicans' hesitancy to pass a bill that doesn't save the federal government money.
The GOP has tried to neuter the coming assessment of their health care plan for days now. Spicer kicked off attacks on the CBO a week ago, and on Sunday, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said determining the bill's impact "probably isn't the best use of their time." (It is the CBO's job to do just that.) Also Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said "nobody will be worse off" under the Republican health plan. (A Vox analysis estimates current enrollees under the Affordable Care Act would spend $1,542 more per year, on average, with the new plan.)
Health care news that must scare Republicans: A new study shows the AHCA would most hurt poor, older Americans in rural areas — a constituency the GOP regularly wins across the country. (Wall Street Journal)
Meanwhile, another GOP senator is concerned about the bill. Nevada Sen. Dean Heller told constituents, in audio obtained by Politico, that "not everything in the Affordable Care Act is bad." What's worse: He wouldn't commit to supporting the House Republicans' AHCA plan. With Heller's criticism, there are now at least six senators displaying hesitance to support the House GOP's big healthcare plan. If they were to all vote against it, only two more GOP defectors would be needed to tank the AHCA in the upper chamber.
Legal challenges to Trump's latest "Muslim ban"
Maryland will join Oregon, Minnesota, Washington, Hawaii and New York in challenging Trump's second executive order limiting immigration and travel into the U.S. for citizens of six majority-Muslim countries, Reuters reported. The "Muslim ban 2.0" is set to take effect on Wednesday. Travel by citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to the United States will be suspended for 90 days, and refugees will not be accepted into the U.S. for 120 days.
Last month, Washington state led the way in striking down Trump's first travel ban. This week could see swift judicial decisions to determine whether the president's newest order will go into effect.
News and insight you cannot miss:
• White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is under "criminal" investigation in Florida for being registered to vote in two places. The case in unlikely to go anywhere. (Washington Post)
• Trump will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in early April. (Axios)
• Conflict of interest watch: Trump's eldest son, the co-leader of the Trump Organization, insisted he has "zero" contact with his father — but then went on to say he couldn't stay out of politics. (Mic)
• Iowa Rep. Steve King drew loads of flack this weekend for tweeting, "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies." On Monday morning, he doubled down on that comment on CNN. More on that from Mic.
• Mic's Jack Smith spoke with the ACLU's political director about the organization's new "People Power" initiative to convert grassroots energy nationwide into political change.
• The president's final budget is expected Thursday — with major cuts across federal agencies. (Washington Post)
A closing point: Over the weekend, Mic posted a video from my interview with Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking member on the Senate intelligence committee. Warner is co-leading the top congressional inquiry into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. One of my Facebook friends, referring to interference in an election, commented the following on the video: "How many elections has the U.S. done the same thing?"
Indeed, the U.S. government has a track record of interfering in foreign elections. According to a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, the U.S. kept communists from taking control of Italy in 1948, supported the overthrow of the Haitian government in the 1990s and, yes, supported a Russian premier in 1996. Disinformation and propaganda has been a tool in some of these efforts.
A question for all of you: Does past U.S. interference in foreign elections mean we should not investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 race?
A parting read: Reviewing how American media covered Russian hacking and what it produced. #emails