How powerful is the FBI

Trump's bugging allegation against Obama continues to cause waves. Now apparently none other than FBI Director James Comey has labeled the President's allegations against his predecessor as false.

President Trump's allegation on Saturday that his predecessor Barack Obama ordered tapping of his phone was manly baffled. There is no evidence of this, not even to be taken seriously, and Obama dutifully denied it. According to the New York Times, however, the director of the American Federal Police (FBI), James Comey, has asked the Justice Department to deny the President's statements. The Justice Department, led by Jeff Sessions, is unlikely to comply. Sessions himself has been in the crossfire since it became known that he had not shown the expected willingness to provide information about talks with the Russian ambassador Kisljak - although he was under oath.

Institutional barriers

A president can't just call the police and order someone to tap into someone's phone. Even less so when it comes to a famous personality, as in the case of the then Republican presidential candidate Trump. In order to obtain an interception permit from a judge, there must be serious incriminating evidence that someone is violating the law, intending to violate the law, or that the person is otherwise a danger.

None of this was true of Trump. Former director of the National Intelligence Service (DNI), James Clapper, publicly called Trump's allegations false on Sunday. The DNI has a coordinating and monitoring role over all American intelligence agencies, of which there are more than a dozen. In principle, it is questionable that Clapper makes this statement, since officials like him hardly ever give information about ongoing investigations - or their non-existence. The same applies to Comey, who, however, did not go public with his request to the Justice Department as handed down by the “New York Times”.

The fact that Clapper is so exposed can hardly be understood otherwise than that there is nothing in the story. One can also read from his advance that the secret services attach importance to not being portrayed as compliant instruments of the White House. Trump supporters will interject that Clapper himself had been caught lying under oath before.

At best a short circuit

President Trump has repeatedly accused the various secret services of illegally leaking information or spreading “fake news”. From Trump's point of view, this applies above all to the suspected, alleged or actual contacts between those around Trump and Russia. In certain cases, the American secret services have indeed overheard what Trump's first security advisor, Mike Flynn, experienced firsthand. Transcripts of his calls are available. Trump may have jumped from such surveillance to the short circuit, Obama personally had him wiretapped.

The affair will trigger a new dispute in Congress about who should clarify what exactly and how thoroughly. In any case, it distracts from the president's big plans - such as reforming the health and tax systems and the plan to modernize the infrastructure on a large scale. Such prospects have given the stock markets a powerful boost. The statesmanlike speech by the president a few days ago seemed to dictate a more precise course for the ship, which has been lurching since taking office. But again it seems that the president has turned his gaze away from the horizon and is messing around with individual waves.

So the boss of the White House took time on the weekend to ridicule his successor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the TV show "Apprentice" - not for the first time. What is unique, however, is that an FBI director asks the attorney general to dissuade the president from spreading “fake news”. At least that is evidently the state of affairs as long as the information in the "New York Times" is not refuted.