By Charlie Savage
President Trump’s claim on Twitter early Saturday that he had “just found out” that “President Obama was tapping my phones in October,” an accusation for which he offered no evidence, has set off another spasm surrounding his young administration. On Sunday, Mr. Trump’s spokesman said the administration was asking Congress to investigate the president’s allegation.
There is ample reason for caution because Mr. Trump has a history of making attention-grabbing and politically explosive claims that have no basis in fact. As things stand, a plausible explanation is that Mr. Trump was merely riffing off a March 3 article on the alt-right website Breitbart.com. It laid out a theory circulating in some conservative circles that President Barack Obama sought to sabotage Mr. Trump through surveillance.
The episode has heightened interest in several related surveillance issues.
Can a president order the wiretapping of an American?
Not legally. There are two lawful ways that allow government officials to target people in the United States for surveillance and to collect the contents of their phone calls and emails: criminal wiretaps, called “Title III” warrants, and national security wiretaps, called Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, orders. Both types of wiretapping are ordered by federal judges, after applications from the Justice Department.
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