It’s a wild ride, readers. Since the advent of Donald Trump on the political scene over two years ago I have been having more fun than the law allows. That’s also more fun than the law of gravity allows. Since the inauguration of what is without dispute a Snowflake-in-Chief, I told people I would be having fun fun fun (till daddy takes the T-Bird away). It’s not fun anymore.
The President’s assertion that President Obama ordered wire tapping of Trump’s phones in Trump Tower (New York City) has from the outset run smack into a wall of refutation. People from the previous administration (including Barack Obama), the FBI, everybody in the Justice Department, the Democrats in Congress, the Republicans in Congress, everybody, is saying what is really true. Everybody, that is, except Donald Trump. And Sean Spicer apparently. It never happened. Nothing like it ever happened.
Still, the President of the United States persists. And it is painful to watch, even for an unabashed Trump trasher like me. I have seen it bad before, but nothing like this. Woodward and Bernstein’s book All the President’s Men recounts a familiar, sorry, period in American politics:
While they walked, Ron Ziegler was beginning his regular daily press briefing in the Executive Mansion. It began at 11: 48 A.M. After 10 minutes or so of discussion and announcements about the President’s campaign and speech schedule, a reporter asked: “Ron, has the FBI talked to Bob Haldeman about his part in allegedly managing a secret slush fund for political sabotage?” That began 30 minutes of denunciation of the Post.
ZIEGLER: “The answer to your question is no, they have not. . . . I personally feel that this is shabby journalism by the Washington Post. . . . I think this effort on the part of the Post is getting to the point, really, of absurdity. . . .
“The story and headline [“ Testimony Ties Top Nixon Aide to Secret Fund”] refers to a secret fund, a term developed exclusively, virtually exclusively, by the Washington Post, based again on hearsay and based again on information obtained from an individual that they again refuse to identify, anonymous sources. I am told [by John W. Dean III] that there is no such secret fund. . . . this story was denied, and yet they ran it as their lead story this morning, with a distorted headline that was based totally on hearsay and innuendo. . . .
“. . . it is a blatant effort at character assassination that I do not think has been witnessed in the political process in some time. . . .
“. . . I am not attacking the press at all. I have never done that in this position, but I am making some very direct observations about the Washington Post and suggesting that this is a political— and saying that this is a political effort by the Washington Post, well conceived and coordinated, to discredit this Administration and individuals in it.
“. . . Now, we have had a long run of these types of stories presented by this particular newspaper, a newspaper once referred to as a great newspaper, but I would, as I said before, suggest that the journalistic tactic being used here is shoddy and shabby and is a vicious abuse of the journalistic process.
“. . . I do not intend to in any way respond to these types of stories other than the way I have responded up to this point, and that is an unequivocal denial of the allegations put forth. . . .”
Woodward, Bob; Bernstein, Carl. All the President’s Men (Kindle Locations 3048-3067). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
It took Richard Nixon a complete first term and a year into a second term to arrive at this point. Remarkably, Donald Trump has achieved this mark less than two months in. In the interest of piling on, here’s more of the story. It comes from Thursday’s ABC World News Tonight with David Muir, but the word is the same all over.
Despite Trump’s repeated assertions to the contrary, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has reported “… we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government, either before or after Election day 2016.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan echoed these findings. “No such wire tapping existed… We cleared that up. We’ve seen no evidence of that.”
David Muir: “But the White House is not backing down.”
Muir again: “White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer then went on offense. Talking for nearly eight minutes straight—reading from various media reports and conservative commentary, citing unconfirmed and anonymous sources on possible surveillance of Trump Tower or Trump associates.”
Spicer reminded those posing harsh questions that Congress was speaking without having contact with the Justice Department. This position is countered by the facts. Senator Mark Warner stated what is apparent to everybody else in Washington, the Senate Intelligence Committee “…would not have made the statement they made without having been fully briefed by the appropriate authorities.”
Twenty-four hours prior to Spicer’s news briefing, Donald Trump was explaining why his accusations may have been misinterpreted. “Don’t forget, when I said ‘wire tapping,’ those words were in quotes.” [Holds up his fingers to make quote marks in the air.] “That really covers… Because wire tapping is really old fashion stuff. But that really covers surveillance and many other things.” And “I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”
Two very interesting items are already apparent.
- When Donald Trump is talking, we need to watch his hands. If he is forming quote marks with his fingers, he is lying. If he is holding up any number of fingers, he is lying. If we can see his hands, he is lying. If we can’t see his hands, he is lying.
- We are going to watch closely for two more weeks as nothing unfolds. And it is going to be very interesting, but maybe not fun, to watch.
Donald Trump has elaborated further. He explains where he gets evidence to make his accusations. “I’ve been reading about things. I read, I think it was in January 20th, a New York Times article where they were talking about wire tapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term.”
Unfortunately for Trump, unfortunately for the rest of us, his version of the story is completely unfounded.
The article from 20 January did not concern Mr. Trump and certainly did not include Trump Tower:
WASHINGTON — American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.
The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts.
It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself. It is also unclear whether the inquiry has anything to do with an investigation into the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and other attempts to disrupt the elections in November. The American government has concluded that the Russian government was responsible for a broad computer hacking campaign, including the operation against the D.N.C.
The American public is now confronted with the amazing properties of quote marks, especially those made in the air with fingers. The possibilities are without bound:
- “General Mattis, I want you to order a strike force by F/A-18 fighters from the USS George Washington against the palace of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. I want him killed. I want his wife Asma killed, I want his three children killed. I want the place leveled. I want it nuked so nobody can go near the place for a thousand years. I want it done by noon tomorrow.”
- “Secretary Kelly [Homeland Security], by noon tomorrow I want 10,000 Muslims in this country to be rounded up and shot. I want men shot, I want old men shot, I want women shot, I want children shot, I want babies drowned. I want video broadcast to all the rest of the world. I want the world to know we mean business with respect to Islamic terrorism.”
- “The British Parliament has insulted the United States by refusing to allow me to address Parliament. Secretary Tillerson, I want you to inform the British Ambassador that their embassies and consulates in the United States are to be closed down immediately, and I want all British diplomats out of the country within 48 hours. I want all British nationals expelled from the country immediately. General Mattis, I want an immediate blockade of British ports. No goods are to be allowed into the British Isles until I receive a full apology from the Parliament and the Queen kisses my butt.”
Fortunately, all those rash proclamations are set off in quotes. Aren’t we thankful for quote marks? In the absence of what?