The president’s critics regard his accusation against his predecessor as an indictment against himself.
“How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process?” Trump queried his Twitter followers. “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
Rep. Adam Schiff called the president’s claims “outlandish.” Trump’s charges may come without much substantiation. But the notion that the feds take no interest in prominent, politically involved Americans, particularly ones hostile to the party in power, itself seems “outlandish.”
As diverse a list as Muhammad Ali, Joseph McCarthy, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, and Charles Lindbergh find a common denominator beyond fame: government spooks spied on them. Any speculation that the federal government ordered mail covers, black-bag jobs, or wiretaps on any of the aforementioned individuals undoubtedly came across in real time as emanating from tinfoil-hat territory. People who deny it years after the fact strike as the types who still believe in the Easter Bunny.
Skepticism and naivety, ostensibly opposites, really share something in common, namely, a desire to believe certain things because, well, just because. Skeptics often appear naïve about reality and naifs often appear skeptical of reality. They are the same, only different.
Obama denied Trump’s charges. He should deny the denial, which helped Trump’s cause more than his own.
“A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” President Obama’s spokesman said in a statement. “As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen.”
The first part of the statement obliquely charges the Trump administration with meddling with a federal investigation of Russian shenanigans regarding the presidential election. The second part of the statement leaves open the possibility that an investigation that, ostensibly or otherwise, targeted foreigners ensnared a very prominent citizen residing until very recently in Trump Tower. In other words, we didn’t target Trump and it’s wrong for Trump to inquire into our targeting Trump.
Shadowy federal investigative bodies rarely prove as eager to publicize information about their activities as they are to collect information on their subjects. This lets both Trump and his adversaries off the hook. If the feds bugged that big building overlooking Central Park, they won’t provide the president proof. If they did not, the president can say they obfuscated any investigation into the investigators. Either way, the Trump and anti-Trump constituencies get to believe what they want to believe without egg-coated mugs.
But if the monitoring came as part of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) petition submitted to a court by the Obama administration, as several outlets report, President Trump could resolve the matter. As National Review sensibly editorializes, “The president should demand the relevant FISA applications, if any, that the Obama Justice Department submitted. The president can declassify any documents at will.”
The more interesting question remains not whether the feds snooped on Trump but why they felt it necessary. Whereas most politicians clamor for a right to privacy, Trump demands that the press respect his God-given right to publicity.
The president speaks without a governor. Do you really need to wiretap a man constitutionally unable to censor his tongue from uttering the stray thoughts that enter his head? Surely government surveillance on one who tweets random ideas before sunrise and leaked news of his divorce to the New York Post ranks as a waste of government resources.
Honesty, the president’s best quality, also works as his undoing on occasion. His unguarded intellect periodically flubs facts, such as when he boasted last month of achieving the greatest Electoral College triumph since Ronald Reagan. Critics regard such gaffes as proof of his mendacity. They actually highlight his honesty. Unlike numerous predecessors of note, he errs not through calculation but because he speaks, and tweets, off the cuff. He says what’s on his mind without a filter. Compare the too-carefully worded statement on this controversy from Team Obama, on the one hand, to Trump’s hasty early-morning tweets on the other, to begin to grasp the enormous difference between the two men. Even when Trump blows hot air, Americans receive it as a breath of fresh air. He talks unlike other politicians.
Wiretaps of the past president surely would reveal much. Bugs of Trump likely just show Trump as we know Trump.
Exhibitionists don’t require taxpayer-funded voyeurs.