Trump under fire after alleging Obama hacking

Speaking out: Trump and family at Mar-a-Lago, his resort in Palm Beach, Florida. © PA

This weekend a furious President Trump said Barack Obama had secretly taped his conversations and claimed it was a new Watergate scandal. Just baseless bad temper or is there more to it?

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

On Saturday morning, Donald Trump sent this tweet. He made an extraordinary allegation: the previous president, he said, had ordered government agencies to tap his phone during last year’s election campaign.

This soon became a tirade. He called Obama a “bad (or sick) guy” whose behaviour had reached “a new low”. He implied that the tapping was politically motivated. He compared it to Watergate — the biggest scandal in US political history.

An hour later, the US president had turned his attention to a different subject — Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “pathetic” ratings on TV show The Apprentice.

Yesterday Trump asked Congress to investigate the allegations against Obama. But lawmakers in both major parties attacked him for making them without evidence. James Clapper, who was US director of intelligence at the time, denied them.

Trump has previously endorsed several conspiracy theories, and perhaps this is merely another one. His tweets reflected reports from Breitbart, a fringe website highly supportive of him, and a right-wing radio host. Prominent Trump fans have made a series of claims that the “deep state”, including the intelligence agencies, is using dirty tricks to delegitimise him.

But why would Trump be under surveillance?

There is ongoing suspicion around his ties to the Russian government. His national security adviser has already resigned. Last week it emerged his attorney general had failed to disclose two meetings with Russia’s US ambassador. Reports suggest the FBI was given a warrant to investigate links between his team and two Russian banks in October.

So the president may now have brought further suspicion upon himself. This impression was reinforced when Obama’s spokesman said Trump’s claims were “simply false” — but did not deny that an investigation into the Trump campaign took place.

Watch this space

The whole story is absurd, say some. Trump’s baseless allegation is from a disreputable source. It only gained attention because he endorsed it. He has invented an enemy because he thrives when he has one, and he is lashing out in a fit of anger. And suggestions that his team is tied to Russia are only based on conjecture.

Parts of it are credible, others respond. It is possible the FBI have monitored Trump’s allies. His relationship with Vladimir Putin’s repressive government raises serious questions. And any monitoring of a presidential candidate would be very sensitive, so we should not be surprised that we know so little. Trump is employing deflection tactics — showing he is scared of the truth.

You Decide

  1. Do you find anything in this story believable?
  2. Were Donald Trump’s tweets part of a deliberate strategy?

Activities

  1. Summarise this story in your own words, in five sentences.
  2. Work in pairs. Research, write and act out a two-minute role play explaining why the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia is controversial.

Some People Say...

“Scandals are never as big in reality as they are in our heads.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I find this ridiculous. Why does it matter?
It may seem like little more than one powerful man angrily accusing another of something, with no evidence. But it appears very possible that the most powerful person in the world is deliberately and brazenly lying. This may be a sign of how hard — and important — it will be to distinguish truth from fiction in future.
But why should we care about Russia?
The USA and Russia are two of the most powerful countries in the world. Their relationship is very important. They have traditionally had very different visions of the world. Americans favour individualism and liberty; Russia’s government is more insular and authoritarian. If Trump’s team is too close to Russia, the Russians may get stronger — perhaps affecting people and causes you care about.

Word Watch

McCarthyism
Joe McCarthy was a senator who investigated alleged communists in the 1950s. His work placed many innocent people under suspicion or prevented them from working in influential roles.
Watergate
A break-in at the Democratic Party’s headquarters in 1972 was linked to President Nixon’s aides and led to exposure of abuses of power by his team. Nixon resigned after being caught trying to cover up his involvement.
Lawmakers
Nancy Pelosi, leading Democrat in the House of Representatives, called Trump “the deflector-in-chief”. Ben Sasse, a Republican senator, said: “We are in the midst of a civilisation-warping crisis of public trust.”
Theories
He said Obama was born in Kenya, and global warming is a “hoax”; he advocated disproved claims that vaccinations cause autism.
Resigned
Mike Flynn discussed sanctions with the ambassador before taking office, misleading Mike Pence, the vice-president, about it.
Attorney general
Jeff Sessions took himself off an investigation into Russian hacking of the US election on Thursday. Reports suggest Trump “went ballistic” at that decision.

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