Has Trump Lost It?

by Joe Peyronnin Associate journalism professor at Hofstra University and adjunct journalism professor at New York University. 09.03.2017

“The best defense is a strong offense” is a centuries old military tactic that can lead to a strategic advantage. But it is hard to understand how President Donald Trump benefits from tweeting as a fact Saturday that President Barack Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped shortly before the November election.   The tweet left surprised White House aides scrambling for details, put the Democrats on attack mode, and mobilized the head of the FBI to request the Justice Department publicly reject the Trump claim.

Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended her boss but did not provide any supporting evidence for his allegation on ABC’s This Week Sunday. “Look, I think he’s going off of information that he has seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential,” she said. “And if it is, this would be the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that I think we have ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself.” In a statement Sunday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.” He added that the president would not comment any further until such oversight is conducted.

A spokesperson for President Obama called Trump’s accusation false. He also noted that the president couldn’t order such a wiretap. President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, denied Sunday that Trump Tower was tapped. Speaking on NBC’s Meet The Press, Clapper said, “There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign.” Any such wiretap would have to have been authorized by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court Act (FISA) based upon some evidence. Clapper was asked if such a FISA order existed.  He responded, “I can deny it.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi attacked President Trump for using wild accusations to deflect attention away from the growing investigations into his administration’s ties to the Russians.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday on Meet The Press, “It’s beneath the dignity of the presidency.  It is something that really hurts people’s view of government.”

Meanwhile, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton said Sunday they had seen no evidence to support Trump’s claims. Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said Saturday, “If the former president of the United States was able to obtain a warrant lawfully to monitor Trump’s campaign for violating the law, that would be the biggest scandal since Watergate.”  Republican Senator Ben Sasse said Saturday, “The president should ask that this full (FISA) application regarding surveillance of foreign operatives or operations be made available, ideally to the full public, and a bare minimum to the U.S. Senate.”  And House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a Trump loyalist, said Sunday his committee will include Trump’s allegations in its current investigation into Russian meddling.

Late Sunday the New York Times reported that FBI Director James Comey asked the Justice Department to “publicly reject President Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that former President Barack Obama ordered his phones to be tapped.” This report was later confirmed by several news organizations, and is a remarkable action by an FBI chief. Comey reportedly thinks the Trump claim suggests the FBI broke the law. The Justice Department has so far not commented.

President Trump has been dealing with a growing scandal involving past and present members of his administration and Russia. U.S. intelligence agencies have already determined that Russia meddled in the U.S. elections to tilt the race toward Trump. Despite repeated denials from Trump and his spokespersons, members of Trump’s team had repeated contacts with Russian officials, even before the election.  In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. was quoted by a travel industry news website making comments about Russian investment in Trump businesses. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York.”  He concluded, “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” No wonder President Trump has never said anything bad about Russian President Vladimir Putin. No wonder Trump wants the whole Russia issue to go away. Da!

Of course, Americans could get a better understanding of Trump’s complex business ties with the Russians if he would release his tax returns.  During the campaign Trump said he could not release the returns because he is under audit, but promised he would do so when the audit was completed.  However, an audit does not preclude an individual from releasing his or her tax returns to the public. But Trump has also refused to release a copy of the IRS audit letter. The whole IRS audit claim may be a lie! However, after he was inaugurated, his campaign spokesperson says that Trump will never release his taxes because the American people don’t care.

The many investigations into Trump’s Russian ties appear to be making progress, which may explain why he is tweeting unsubstantiated and outrageous charges about President Obama.  The man who once said “I alone can fix it!” is in a real fix, and he is not going to be able to tweet his way out of it. Now It appears that Trump may have lost his senses.

There is presently an urgent need to get to the truth about President Trump’s latest allegations accusing a former U.S. president of illegal wiretapping.  And about the true nature of his ties to Russia. It is also time for all members of Congress to demand Trump publicly release his taxes so that all of his potential conflicts of interest are disclosed.  

This is about putting America first―not Donald J. Trump!

 

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