In an apparent bid to deflect attention from the mounting controversy over whether his administration has ties to Russia, the commander-in-chief deployed his favorite weapon in the early hours of Saturday morning: dropping a Twitter bomb on the world that accuses President Obama of a conspiracy on the scale of Watergate.
The president, whose administration is facing mounting calls for a special prosecutor to investigate Russia's effect on the election and possible ties to Trump associates, fired off four tweets from 6:35 a.m. to 7:02 a.m. Saturday that accuses Obama of being a "bad (or sick) guy" and makes direct comparisons to "Nixon/Watergate." Several high-ranking members of the Obama administration, as well as the former president's spokesperson, have denied President Donald Trump's unsupported claims that Obama had his phones tapped during the presidential campaign.
"Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false," Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said in a statement. Former Obama policy adviser Ben Rhodes also used Twitter to remind Trump that "no President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you."
Trump's astonishing tweetstorm in full:
While of course Trump's assertions did not come with any evidence whatsoever, it's worth unpacking what it is that he's claiming about the previous presidential administration. If we take his claims seriously, there's either a secretive cabal involving two branches of government conspiring against Trump or a brute force, illegal entry was undertaken to establish surveillance on a presidential candidate.
As Rhodes tweeted, no president can simply order a wiretap on any individual. The Obama administration would have needed to obtain a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and federal agents would have had to serve the warrant and wiretap Trump's hotel. Alternately, if Trump really believes "Obama was tapping my phones," he must be alleging that the former president illegally employed individuals to surreptitiously place a tap within Trump Tower, with direct echoes to the Watergate break-in. But let's consider the alternative for a second: does Trump believe Obama donned a mask and gloves and slid inside Trump Tower himself? It would not be at all surprising if that's the next tweet.
It's unclear where Trump got the idea to accuse Obama of wiretapping, although the accusations follow a Friday Breitbart article detailing conservative radio host Mark Levin's attempts to prove Obama's "police state" tactics and "silent coup," ostensibly to hurt Trump's campaign and boost Hillary Clinton's.
But let's step back for a second. It wouldn't be the first time Trump has used his Twitter platform to respond to or promote ideas he's heard in the conservative media. But while many of Trump's statements are just petty and embarrassing, (as in Saturday's 'Apprentice' tweet: "Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show") the president has been eager to use his bullhorn to undermine American institutions and individuals: He's made bold and fantastical statements on non-existent voter fraud, has parroted debunked crime and immigration statistics, has personally criticized judges and courts and has tried to brand the media the "enemy of the people," to name just a few. Still, Saturday's tweetstorm establishes something of a new low for a below-the-belt president with little regard for truth. Obama has long been a punching bag for conservatives who accused him of overstepping the strictures of his office, but Trump's claims seek to engulf the still-popular former president in what would be one of the largest political scandals in American history.
And why? Trump enjoyed a day or two of somewhat positive headlines after his Tuesday address to Congress, only for those to be supplanted by headlines detailing Attorney General Jeff Sessions's decision to recuse himself from any investigations having to do with Russia and the election. The administration is once again on the defensive, and we know Trump greatly prefers to be on offense. The drip-drip-drip of reports cataloging the multiple Trump officials who've met with the Russian ambassador and repeated calls for a special prosecutor to investigate the Russian affair overshadow the man-of-action narrative Trump enjoys, and it threatens to prolong his rocky start to the presidency past the first 100 days. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called out the tactic Saturday, tweeting, “The Deflector-in-Chief is at it again. An investigation by an independent commission is the only answer."
The irony is that Trump could likely help his own cause by embracing calls for a special prosecutor, especially if he's right that there is absolutely nothing untoward about any of his associates' dealings with Russia. An independent investigation that doesn't turn up anything actionable would deflate the accusations, and allow him to move on with his agenda. It also could provide backing for his Twitter claims, if any such evidence does exist. It has been widely reported that the FBI has multiple open investigations into the Russians' attempts to influence the presidential election, which Obama spokesperson Lewis may have been referring to when he said it was "a cardinal rule of the Obama Administration...that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice."
If there actually had been wiretaps of any Trump-related phones, "that means a fed judge found probable cause of crime which means you are in deep shit," tweeted Congressman Ted Lieu of California. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean made the same point, saying that if there were any wiretaps in place, "This means a judge found probable cause that Trump was engaging in criminal activity and issued a warrant for a wire tap."
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