For normal folks, it is difficult to figure out why the president of the United States decided — out of the blue — suddenly to accuse his predecessor of wiretapping him during the campaign. As the press has pointed out repeatedly, former president Obama did not have the authority to do so. If he had done so anyway, as Trump claims, he would have committed a crime. And of course, there is not a shred of evidence that Obama did this. Nor has Trump or the White House offered any such evidence. Trump himself admitted that he relied solely on press reports. Press reports? No attempts to get to the truth?
BTW, the White House also made the outrageous suggestion that Obama may have used British intelligence services in order to evade the law. There is no evidence for this either, and it is highly insulting to the Brits. Ouch! The Brits are, after all, our closest ally. We have a so-called “special relationship” with them. Do we really need to drag them into this cesspool? Is this so important that we should endanger this relationship? Of course not. But here we are.
So what is going on? The most obvious answer is that this is further evidence of Trump’s limited grasp of reality. He wants this to be true, so it must be true. That is pretty scary. And there is a strong argument that Trump’s recklessness with the truth is enough to strip him of credibility as a leader. But there may be more to this story.
First, we might recall that Trump’s mendacity has always had a purpose. His endorsement of birtherism, for example, was less likely to be related to any real belief in Barrack Obama’s origins than his interest to inject himself into the national political dialogue. So it is likely that Trump has a purpose here too.
What is it? It may be that Trump wants to distract attention. He may be worried that the media focus on his Russia connections was damaging him. He wanted to play the role of victim rather than transgressor.
And there may be something more going on. While Obama most likely did not wiretap Trump Towers, there was a certain amount of eavesdropping going on — at least with respect to Mike Flynn. After all, we have the transcript of his telephone conversation with the Russian ambassador. How did that happen?
There are several possible explanations. US investigators may have procured a warrant to wiretap Flynn. That would mean that they presented evidence to a judge of potential criminal activity. Or they may have listened in without a warrant. Ooops! That would be a big embarrassment! US investigators are not allowed to do that! Or they may have received the transcript from another source. hmmm … who?
Which is true? We do not know. But we may soon. The House Intelligence Committee has asked that question to the FBI, CIA and NSA. Was there a warrant? And if so, was it just targeting Flynn alone?
Perhaps Trump is anticipating that the answer will be that yes, there was a warrant and yes, it was not just targeting Flynn.