Fake news! Fake news!
After witnessing events of the past week, it would seem that the claim of fake news is true.
Case in point: The media reported that the nation’s most entertaining circus performed its last show in New York City, as the Ringling Brothers production packed up for good.
While a shame that the Big Top is shutting down, that show pales in comparison to the nation’s biggest circus: The Trump administration, led by the grand ringmaster himself – the president of the United States.
The unfortunate pattern of Donald Trump, as both candidate and president, has become predictable — blurt out cringe-worthy things that the base loves but which induce eye-rolls from the majority of Americans; rail against those who dare criticize; double down on your statements; and then, when credibility seems to be irreversibly in the tank, make a magnificent speech to bring yourself back from the precipice. Repeat.
Mr. Trump’s ability to appear eminently presidential is maddening, as it leads many to lament: "If only he could control himself, just a little bit, he would be so much more effective … he could be great."
Mr. Trump went from accolades for his speech to Congress to the butt of late-night jokes after tweeting that his Trump Tower office had been bugged by President Obama during the campaign. Par for the course, he provided zero substantiation.
The self-induced firestorm resulted in a totally forgotten speech, and loss of much-needed political capital as the new refugee ban and GOP health care plan are rolled out.
Here’s a look at the recent brouhaha that has sucked the air from the room:
Most are assuming that the bugging – if it occurred at all – centers around Trump campaign officials possibly colluding with the Russians during the election. Is there merit to such a claim?
Don’t know, but Trump’s advisers sure haven’t helped their cause. In fact, they’ve done everything to sow seeds of doubt about their truthfulness regarding the Reds.
First, we had General Michael Flynn, the president’s original national security adviser, who denied speaking with the Russian ambassador between the election and inauguration, when in fact he did. After lying to Vice President Pence about his conversations, he resigned. When will these guys learn that it’s not the "crime," but the cover-up, that always proves most perilous?
Then we have Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from all things Russian because of unfathomable political ineptness during his confirmation hearing. Despite the "Russia question" being front and center for months, Sessions failed to see the importance of proactively disclosing that he met with the Russian ambassador during the campaign. Had he stated that he had done so in his capacity as a U.S. senator – not a Trump campaign adviser – there likely would not have been an issue (though interestingly they did meet in Cleveland during the Republican convention).
After the meetings came to light, Sessions incomprehensibly couldn’t recollect what was discussed. Somehow it didn’t dawn on him that such a statement was the worst possible answer, as it made him appear cagey and evasive, further fueling the Russia issue. Perhaps most baffling was Sessions recusing himself without informing the president, causing Mr. Trump to erupt in fury.
Compounding matters is the list of Trump campaign officials who had discussions with the Russians before the election – including high-ranking campaign adviser Carter Page, who, after repeated denials, finally admitted meeting with the Russian ambassador during the Republican National Convention.
Which brings us to the alleged wiretapping incident, for which there are several plausible scenarios:
1)The Trump offices were never actually bugged. There are reports that a Breitbart article referencing the possibility of wiretapping had infuriated the president – and may have led to his unprecedented accusation. If true, it is by far the most troubling, since the most powerful man in the world must exhibit better self-discipline. Appearing paranoid and unstable is a guaranteed path to political ruin.
2) The offices were tapped illegally. If so, the perpetrators must be apprehended and prosecuted. Whom the culprit could be is anyone’s guess: Rogue U.S. government agents, Clinton campaign officials, the Russians, or even Trump’s business competitors. The United States has the best investigators on the planet; if a crime occurred, they need to solve it. Quickly.
3) The offices were legitimately tapped by a non-federal government entity, such as a state’s attorney general. Why? Who knows? But clearly, one doesn’t get to the level of Donald Trump without associating in some capacity with unsavory individuals — the mob, Middle Eastern sheiks, corrupt union bosses, foreign officials, and other businessmen. From Trump University to investigations into his non-profit to a host of other business deals, any one of them could have precipitated an investigation.
4) Communications in Trump Tower could have been tapped because an ongoing investigation into a foreign power – say, the Russians hacking the DNC’s computers. If foreign targets under surveillance were also in contact with individuals in Trump Tower, then the case for legitimate bugging could well be made. That doesn’t mean that an American citizen was the primary target, but that an investigation that started elsewhere somehow led to Trump Tower, warranting increased surveillance. It is always dicey investigating a presidential candidate, or those close to him, but that doesn’t mean investigations must cease – as we saw with the FBI’s very public investigation of Hillary Clinton in October.
Complicating matters is that many government officials, from FBI Director James Comey to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, have steadfastly denied that Mr. Trump or his campaign were primarily targeted for surveillance. But those are parsed answers. It is entirely possible that a judge in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court deemed there to be enough evidence to wiretap Trump Tower because some of its occupants came into focus during an ongoing investigation. Therefore, an investigation may well have been, or continues to be, legitimate.
Politically motivated or not, there’s an easy way to get to the bottom of this: The president can declassify all documents related to his claim. Yet he hasn’t done so. Why not?
Why, if Mr. Trump claims a former president tapped his phones for political reasons, has he not disclosed the evidence? Why is he asking Congress to investigate if the facts are on his side – and literally at his fingertips?
The president’s erratic actions make no sense, and have created yet another pitfall for his agenda. Rather than handling the matter internally, and keeping his powder dry until all the facts were known, Mr. Trump’s impulsive tweeting and unsubstantiated claims have left him walking atop the narrowest of tightropes, with no safety net.
Mr. President, once and for all, please stop clowning around and return to solid ground. It’s time to run the country – not a circus.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]