Earlier this month, Donald Trump, in a blatant attempt to divert attention from a news cycle that saw his associates getting hammered over their connections to Russia, tweeted that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential campaign. Reaction from both sides in Washington was swift, with Obama officials and Republican members of Congress saying there was no evidence to back up Trump's claim. And of course, the one man who could obtain proof to offer to Congress or the public --Donald Trump -- didn't produce anything to support his case. Instead, he dropped it in the lap of the congressional intelligence committees.
Those committees gave Trump until March 13 to offer evidence to back what he said. As that date approached Trumpsters went into full spin cycle to explain how the whole thing took place. Kellyanne Conway spoke of "microwaves that can turn into cameras" during an interview with a New Jersey newspaper. Sean Spicer told the daily press briefing on Monday that when Trump tweeted he had been "wire tapped," he didn't actually mean he had been "wire tapped."
On Tuesday morning Fox News "expert" Judge Andrew Napolitano weighed in on the matter. But Napolitano took a different direction than Conway and Spicer. Instead of suggesting, as they did, that there is no evidence of wiretapping because other methods of surveillance were used, Napolitano made the even more outlandish claim that President Obama had enlisted the aid of a British intelligence service, GCHQ, to do his dirty work.
Napolitano told Fox And Friends' Brian Kilmeade that there is no evidence of any surveillance because Obama "went outside the chain of command."
"Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn't use the NSA, he didn't use the CIA, he didn't use the FBI, and he didn't use the Department of Justice.
"There's no American fingerprints on this," Napolitano said. "What happened to the guy who ordered this? Resigned three days after Donald Trump was inaugurated."
Another perfect right-wing conspiracy. We say this happened, we believe this happened, we can't prove this happened, so we'll just invent ways that it could have happened without leaving any evidence behind. And for good measure we'll even throw in a guy who was supposedly behind it, even though we can't prove anything we're saying is true.
Napolitano must have had his tinfoil hat surgically implanted so as to not mess up his ridiculously perfect hair. Of course what he claims is absolutely absurd, but instead of dismissing it out of hand, let's punch some holes in what he is saying.
First, it is hysterically funny that the judge relies on "three intelligence sources" that aren't named. What did God-Emperor Trump say not too long ago about anonymous sources? And Fox's own Howard Kurtz sided with him, writing in a February 27 article,
Unnamed sources are way overused, especially by major news outlets. People are allowed to take cheap shots without their names attached. They are empowered to engage in political sniping from behind a curtain of anonymity.
Hmmmm, if there were indeed any "intelligence sources" for the judge's information, they wouldn't have been providing it to Fox in order to "engage in political sniping" against the former president, would they?
But that's a sideshow issue. The real question here is this: would an intelligence service from a major ally agree to provide information to the president on a political opponent? The short answer is almost certainly "no."
If you visit the GCHQ website, you can learn a good deal about what that agency does. In short, like our own NSA, they are responsible for communication monitoring and cyber security. And yes, they have a working agreement with U.S. intelligence. But it is highly unlikely they would have agreed to a request for information on Trump, if indeed they had any, for a couple of reasons.
First, it's not likely that they would interfere with a U.S. election. If the Obama administration had put out feelers about gathering intelligence on Trump, the question would have probably been asked as to why they didn't pursue sources inside the American intelligence community.
If Obama couldn't get an order from a FISA court, it is doubtful that GCHQ would have been willing to cooperate either. It's not exactly like Obama would have been running to an intelligence service run by some tinhorn dictator that would do his bidding. The UK is a nation of laws, just like the U.S. is.
That brings us to the next point. Oversight. Would mid-level functionaries of a British intelligence service provide information illegally to the president, even with the "special relationship" between the UK and the United States? GCHQ makes it clear on their site that they operate within the bounds of UK law. They also say that day-to-day oversight of the agency is controlled by the Foreign Secretary. It is hard to imagine something along these lines being authorized by anyone lower down in the hierarchy.
No matter what concerns anyone in Her Majesty's government may have had about Trump, it would have been a big risk getting involved in something like what Napolitano is suggesting, on the off chance that Trump did indeed get elected. The blowback from the Trump administration would likely have not been pleasant.
We can discuss bizarre theories involving microwaves with cameras, little known British intelligence services, etc, for days. But here is what Andrew Napolitano and his buddies at Fox need to come to grips with: sometimes when you are faced with a charge and no evidence to back it up, you have to accept it is because the charge is probably false. That's how things work for rational minds. But we know from ample experience that "rational" isn't a word you typically use when discussing the things that get talked about by the "experts" on Fox News.