Let’s all agree that no other person ever elected President would have hurled a charge that his predecessor wiretapped him. Especially not in a tweet that referred to a former President this way: “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
But as his supporters like to say, Donald Trump is no ordinary politician and, thus it was he who debased the presidency with wild accusations that Barack Obama organized a criminal conspiracy to wiretap him.
Inevitably, the most powerful man in the world found himself repudiated by the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who told a committee of Congress and a world watching on TV that his agency had found no evidence to support Trump’s charge. And, of course, Trump chose to ignore the obvious lesson in this self-inflicted humiliation and, instead, continued to indulge his inner troll.
Trump’s new abuse of the presidency, and the American public, actually began hours before a House committee would question director Comey and other security leaders on the controversy. By 6:35 a.m. Monday, Trump was up and at it on Twitter, spraying distractions in short bursts.
“(Former director of national intelligence) James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!”
“The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!”
“What about all of the contact with the Clinton campaign and the Russians? Also, is it true that the DNC would not let the FBI in to look?”
The Russian attempt to meddle in the election and contacts between Russians and Trump associates were on the House committee’s agenda. But much of the news the world awaited would come when witnesses were questioned on Trump’s allegations about Obama.
Like everyone else who has paid attention to this controversy, an over-anxious Trump knew that Comey was going to shoot down his charges. His early morning tweets represented the ravings of a man who woke up with a bad feeling in his stomach about how the day would go.
Trump’s pre-emptive tweets substituted media manipulation for sober leadership at a time of crisis. Only a truly inexperienced politician would fail to anticipate the damage this would do to himself, the presidency, his party, and the nation. Combine Trump’s inexperience with a lifelong tendency to indulge in self-destructive behavior (see his many business bankruptcies) and you start to understand how the tweet storm began. Trump cannot resist attempting to shape reality through the media, and he has a level of self-confidence bordering on the delusional.
One can easily imagine the barrage continued as Trump hunkered before the TV like Nixon (minus the glass of whiskey) to watch the hearings and offer his instant responses. Surrounded by a staff mostly chosen for loyalty rather than competence, Trump commented with the skill of a practiced expert in the art of fake news, ignoring the big story — Comey and the Justice Department debunked his charges against Obama — and highlighting cherry-picked bits of testimony.
“NSA Director Rogers tells Congress unmasking individuals endangers national security,” the @POTUS account tweeted. “FBI Director Comey refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia.”
These two points and others offered by the President’s staff were of the “dog-bites-man” variety. No controversy attends the issue of briefings given to Obama regarding Flynn, whose deceptions forced his resignation as national security advisor, and no responsible official advocates revealing the identities of people whose names are supposed to be held secret.
The real, not-fake news coming out of the hearing revolves around Comey’s statement that “I have no information that supports those (Trump) tweets. We have looked carefully inside the FBI.”
“The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components,” Comey added, “the department has no information that supports those tweets.”
In the face of Comey’s testimony, Trump’s reporting via Twitter is of the sort that would cause TV viewers to change the channel and newspaper readers to cancel their subscriptions. Trump’s pre-hearing tweets about his election victory made him look defensive and weak. His responses during the event insulted the intelligence of the American public.
To use one of the President’s favorite Twitter terms, it’s “sad” to see that he still seems incapable of rising to the demands of the office he now holds. Tweets that accused his predecessor of serious crimes and function as propaganda, damage him and the nation in innumerable ways. They help explain the most recent Gallup poll, which found only 37% of Americans approve of how he’s doing his job. No new President has gone so low, so fast, which is something we could say about the man himself.
Where is all of this heading? Trump and his allies got into this mess in large measure by talking out of turn. The President continued to do so by trolling Congress before and during the hearing. Given the power the legislative branch retains to investigate and compel officials to testify, this was probably a seriously bad idea.