Skeptics Mull Trump Wiretapping Allegation

Mar 9, 2017
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Pennsylvania Avenue here connects the Capitol and the White House. And if you drive along that street, you pass by two headquarters - the FBI and the Justice Department, two agencies facing the demanding possibility of investigating their boss. Now, to be clear, we do not know how closely, if at all, the agency may be looking at people around the president, but the FBI has taken part in examining Russian interference in the presidential election. And there was plenty more discussion after President Trump claimed without evidence last week that he was wiretapped.

Michael Mukasey knows what kinds of pressures the Justice Department may be under because he once ran it. He was attorney general under President George W. Bush. He's been supportive of President Trump. He's on the line. Mr. Mukasey, welcome to the program.

MICHAEL MUKASEY: Good to be here.

INSKEEP: What have you thought about as the White House has offered no evidence in the last couple of days that the president was wiretapped?

MUKASEY: Well, I think they've offered no evidence for the - for President Obama having been involved in any intercept. But I think there is some evidence for there having been some kind of intercept, whether it was of voice or of data, at the Trump - among people surrounding Trump. And then the question is, what was done with the take from that?

INSKEEP: And let's be clear on what the law is here. We've had a lot of discussion on the program of foreign intelligence surveillance warrants. You would need that to listen to the phone conversations or read the emails of someone who is a U.S. citizen, right?

MUKASEY: Yes. I mean, well, you really wouldn't be able to - you would certainly need a very focused order in order to read anything about a U.S. citizen. But you can get a - you can get a wiretap, obviously, in a conventional criminal investigation. But under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, if you can show that somebody is acting as the agent of a foreign power then you can get authorization to intercept the communications of that person or those people. And - whether it's - whether it's data or voice.

INSKEEP: Does that mean that President Obama would have done that?

MUKASEY: No. It means that somebody within the Justice Department, probably within the FBI, possibly within one of the other intelligence agencies, would have gone to the Justice Department, asked the National Security Division to draw up an application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which sits to review those applications. And the court would have directed it. The president would have had nothing to do with it.

INSKEEP: Now, Mr. Mukasey, I want to mention that presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway has been listening to - you made similar statements on ABC over the weekend that there could be some kind of wiretap, but not that President Obama would approve it. And, of course, President Trump claimed that President Obama had done this. And Kellyanne Conway then said this on "Fox & Friends." Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX AND FRIENDS")

KELLYANNE CONWAY: I saw what former Attorney General Mukasey said yesterday on a different network, that he thinks it's probably right or correct.

INSKEEP: Did you really mean that, that President Trump is probably right or correct?

MUKASEY: Well, what I know - actually, what I said was that he was not correct but that he may be right. And the distinction here is between the claim that the president himself, President Obama, directed any intercept and the claim that there was an intercept and perhaps that the fruits of it were, in fact, transmitted to the White House. And there have been reports of that. So the question is which you think is the essential point of that statement.

INSKEEP: So he's not correct, unless laws were massively violated, that President Obama did anything. But there could be something going on, to use a President Trump phrase.

MUKASEY: Correct. And he could be right that the take from whatever intercept there was was sent to the White House. That was explicitly reported in The New York Times months ago.

INSKEEP: Can the FBI really investigate independently whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia in some manner?

MUKASEY: Well, the FBI can investigate any potential crime. The FBI can also conduct in behalf of the intelligence agencies intelligence investigations which do not necessarily involve a crime. So the short answer to your question is yes.

INSKEEP: Special prosecutor needed here?

MUKASEY: No. There's nothing to prosecute. The only crime that I know that was - that we have firm evidence of is the Russian hacking. And we know who did that. The Russians did it. There - you don't have a special prosecutor to simply roam around and sniff about things that are on people's minds.

INSKEEP: So much concern about this administration and Russia. And there are reports not yet independently confirmed by NPR that Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, may be the choice for ambassador to Russia. In a few seconds, is that reassuring to you at all?

MUKASEY: Well, it's reassuring in the sense that Jon Huntsman is a very knowledgeable - is very knowledgeable of foreign policy and is a very experienced diplomat. I don't see what would make anybody anxious about that choice.

INSKEEP: OK. Michael Mukasey, former attorney general of the United States under President George W. Bush. Thanks very much.

MUKASEY: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tags: