Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Column: 3 explanations for Trump's Twitter tirade about wiretapping, all of them bad

President Obama denied that he or his staff had authorized any such surveillance. (March 6, 2017)

Eric Zorn Eric ZornContact Reporter
Change of Subject

Sad to say, President Donald Trump doesn't drink.

And thus out the window goes the most plausible excuse for his sloppy, intemperate tweets, four of which set all forms of media on fire early Saturday.

Here, absent the availability of demon rum to take the fall, Saturday's Twitter tirade leaves us with only three possible conclusions, none of them good:

1. Trump has correctly accused his predecessor of conducting illegal surveillance on Trump's campaign headquarters prior to the 2016 presidential election.

Trump's accusation is that Obama orchestrated this political espionage after being "turned down by court," suggesting a rogue operation akin to the Republican attempt to install listening devices in Democratic National Committee headquarters at Washington's Watergate complex in 1972.

We've seen no evidence of this, but if it's true, Obama would belong in prison.

2. Trump has misunderstood and misrepresented legally authorized surveillance conducted at his campaign headquarters.

There were and are significant questions about how Russians tried to influence our presidential election and the extent, if any, to which members of the Trump campaign were colluding with them.

Presidents can't order the installation of wiretaps on U.S. citizens, and spokesmen for Obama have categorically denied that he ever tried to do so. Neither can law enforcement officials. But they can go before a judge and present evidence to try to establish probable cause for the installation of wiretaps.

If that happened here — and we've seen no evidence of this, either — then there would be a warrant that was submitted to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court judge outlining why investigators believed Team Trump was in cahoots with the Russians to influence our "very sacred election process."

3. Trump has irresponsibly asserted the feverish and baseless speculation of partisan pundits.

His reference to "the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October" is definitive and, if false, orders of magnitude more scurrilous and defamatory than the lies about Obama's place of birth upon which Trump built his political career.

All signs we've seen so far point to this third conclusion, a rhetorical offense so corrosive to our nation that it ought to give even the most ardent supporters of his agenda serious qualms about his fitness to make sound decisions at the moments of actual crisis sure to come.

Those of us on the left can rage and fret all we want about Trump's scary resemblance to a loudmouth drunk at the end of the bar even though he never touches a drop. But it will only be when those on the right sober up and recognize the urgency of the moment that the danger will pass.

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