Let’s face it, Donald Trump likes to tweet outrageous things to distract from damaging news stories. One explanation for Trump’s recent accusations about illegal wiretaps is that he was trying to change the subject from the Russia investigation.
It was only two weeks ago that the biggest story in the nation’s capital was how President Donald Trump’s aides were pressuring the FBI and allies in Congress to shoot down the stories whirling around about his associates’ ties to Russia.
That was before the president’s Saturday-morning tweet storm. Trump accused his predecessor of illegally wiretapping Trump Tower during the election. The freakout over this unproven allegation is going into its sixth day.
Trump’s tweets prompted Obama’s last director of national intelligence, James Clapper, and others to publicly refute the stories about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Well what do you know? That’s exactly what Trump wanted the FBI to do last month.
Both Clapper and FBI Director James Comey denied the allegations. Comey even released a statement asking the Justice Department to publicly reject Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones.
To add more distraction, Congress is now getting involved. This week, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence announced that it would examine Trump’s allegations. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Lindsey Graham, the ranking Democratic member and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s panel on crime and terrorism, have written Comey and the acting deputy attorney general, Dana Boente, to find out whether any wiretaps were authorized, too.
This is significant. On the day before Trump’s inauguration, the New York Times broke an explosive story headlined, “Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates.” The actual piece does not say whether the intercepts examined by the FBI and the intelligence community were generated through a FISA warrant against Trump and his associates. “It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself,” it said. It’s possible that the intercepts were targeted at Russian officials and that conversations with Trump associates were picked up incidentally on the wiretaps — as happened to Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Even still, the allegation that at least three Trump associates —Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Carter Page— were the focus of government investigation has been circulating in the media since the Times broke the story.
Those allegations appear to now be put to rest. Not because of Trump’s pressure on Comey and other officials, but because Democrats, as well as Comey and Clapper had to go public to correct the record and state that there were no wiretaps, because Trump had distorted the record. Somehow, improbably, this all worked out swimmingly for the president.
But before Trump gets too comfortable, he should know that counter-intelligence probes can change as new evidence comes to light. He also damaged his own standing as president by tweeting such a serious charge with no supporting evidence.
This is also not the first time. He has claimed 3 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election. He said the U.S. murder rate was at its highest level in 47 years. He accused the media of not reporting terrorist attacks in the U.S. and Europe. The list of Trump’s falsehoods is long.
And yet, so far, Trump has not paid much of a political price for his blatant lies. It’s working out well for him. This time his wild accusation inadvertently prompted an Obama senior intelligence official to puncture a narrative that was consuming his presidency. Economists call this kind of thing a moral hazard. In politics we call it dumb luck.
But your luck will be running out soon, Mr. Trump. The American people are finally seeing through your bullsh*t, and when the Mid-Term elections come, Republicans will be swept out of Congress, leaving no one to save you from yourself.