Everyone knows by now, last week–in reaction to a story on Breitbart, in an attempt to divert attention, in a random fit of rage, or any combination of the above–President Trump declared, without evidence, former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. This is an utterly preposterous accusation for many reasons.
First, a president cannot order a wiretap. This is specifically disallowed to keep people like Mr. Trump from wiretapping anyone they want. The fact the president does not know this and is taking to Twitter, apparently seeking legal advice, is of grave concern to anyone using their brain. Mr. Trump would do well to avail himself of the instant access he now has to the Department of Justice and seek counsel prior to going on an illegitimate tweetstorm.
Second, if wiretapping occurred, a big if right there, it could have been on an inbound line. But, think about that for a second. If–again, substantial if–lines at Trump Tower were recorded because someone calling in was being wiretapped by the U.S. government, that would also be of grave concern. In order to be wiretapped under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, the government must demonstrate to the FISA Court, the FISC, probable cause that the target of the surveillance request is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. That means that someone who meets those qualifications was calling Trump Tower. Why? A rhetorical question to which I doubt we’ll ever see an answer.
The final option, and possibly the most terrifying, is that the U.S. government determined those qualities mentioned above applied to Mr. Trump or his organization and he was directly being tapped to ensure national security. In other words, the FISC found reasonable cause that Mr. Trump or someone within his organization was an agent of a foreign power. This is not something to take lightly. If Mr. Trump’s self-destructive claim is true, every citizen of this country should have serious concerns about the allegiance of the president himself to the United States.
Which option is the best? Or, put differently: which option is the least worst? All of these options show a total and absolute ignorance for the law and for government in general. These are not traits one seeks in a leader.
Has Mr. Trump provided any evidence to support this ridiculous accusation? Of course not. We’re just supposed to believe him, after all. According to Politico, the House Intelligence Committee investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election has asked for and has not received “any evidence whatsoever” to substantiate Mr. Trump’s absurd claim.
Assuming Mr. Trump’s claim is true, which, if he took even a fraction of a second to think about would show how self-damning it actually is, wouldn’t he be the first to provide evidence? Maybe now that he’s had some time to think it over, he realizes that producing any evidence would open the door to show why his office was being tapped in the first place. I’m sure he would refute and his supporters would stand behind him, blindly, but objective observers would see the evidence and realize there was a substantial reason for administering such a wiretap.
However, assuming the in-touch-with-reality choice that the claim was simply made up, there is actual evidence to support this option. From a New York Times article the day Mr. Trump composed his crazy accusation:
Two people close to Mr. Trump said they believed he was referring to a Breitbart News article, which aides said had been passed around among his advisers. Mark Levin, a conservative radio host, had also embraced the theory recently in a push against what right-leaning commentators have been calling the “deep state.”
The Breitbart article, published on Friday, claimed that there was a series of “known steps taken by President Barack Obama’s administration in its last months to undermine Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and, later, his new administration.” Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, once led Breitbart News.
If Mr. Trump was motivated to take to Twitter after reading the Breitbart article or listening to Mr. Levin, he was using a presidential megaphone to spread dark theories of a broad conspiracy aimed at undermining his presidential ambitions, and later his presidency.
Is our president really a conspiracy theorist? Or does he concoct these seemingly outrageous accusations because he’s thinking people are doing to him what he does to others? Remember, Trump campaign staffers feared their offices were bugged by Mr. Trump himself, probably to ensure loyalty even when he was not present. Narcissistic? Absolutely. Legitimate reason for him to think others are doing the same to him? You bet.
Ignorance is not a legitimate defense to a criminal act. Nor is ignorance a defense to asinine tweets. In sending this accusatory and unsubstantiated tweet, Mr. Trump might have implicated himself in serious crimes. But since he refuses to provide any evidence, it seems like this is just another fat thumbed rant by a stodgy, old, racist man. Maybe Mr. Trump should try a bit of thinking before he tweets. It just might keep us all a bit safer and maybe even sane.