It’s Time to Question One of the Fundamental Assumptions About Trump’s Wiretap Allegations.
[WordPress, 19 Mar 2017]
The man in the White House has once again managed to offend the nation’s common sense and intelligence by alleging, without a shred of evidence, that former President Obama ordered surveillance of Trump Tower during the election campaign. No part of this allegation has survived scrutiny, and as conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer has observed, there isn’t a single person in Washington who believes it. Yet astonishingly, Trump has refused to apologize or even walk back the incendiary allegation.
Critics have taken pains to point out that the kind of surveillance that Trump clearly and undeniably meant to expose and protest could not have happened. Wiretaps–or for that matter any other kind of surveillance with a U.S. citizen as a named target–cannot be ordered by the President. Any surveillance of this sort can only be conducted after the Department of Justice has had a draft application for a warrant approved by the Federal Intelligence Security Court. It is known with absolute certainty that there never was such an application for a warrant, much less one that was approved.
All the discussion over this huge dustup has missed one glaringly obvious and immensely worrying point. It isn’t that Trump doesn’t understand the difference between (1) wiretapping or other surveillance with a legal warrant and (2) incidental collection gathered as part of standard , every-day-normal national security intelligence investigations: it’s that he really doesn’t care. And this is truly ominous, because it implies that he believes that as the standard bearer of the Republican Party during the election, and then later as President-elect and POTUS, there is really no difference between being the target of a legal “wiretap” and being regarded by the country’s intelligence community as a possible suspect in Russia’s attempt to interfere with and affect the outcome of the presidential election.
That is the direction in which exchange between Scarborough and Mark Halperin was headed in the Morning Joe show on March 6:
“Have you heard the suggestions that perhaps there were some conversations intercepted when the FBI, the FISA court agreed to let them conduct surveillance on, let’s say, Russian agents that they believed were acting against the United States’ best interests?” Scarborough asked. In response, Halperin noted that “there was speculation about that even before the weekend.”… “And then, as you pointed to, Josh Earnest’s legalistic responses on a Sunday show raised the suspicion people have that that’s what’s going on here,” Halperin said. “And you could imagine if somehow the president, President Trump, knew about that, that he was responsive to not what he said on Twitter, but just the notion that conversations were intercepted. And that is a complicated situation.”
As I read Trump, it is not that he believes that he and his associates should be held to be out of bounds in on-going national security investigations that are part of everyday intelligence agency work. And it is not that, if his name or the name of any of his campaign staff or associates should ever show up in an “incidental collection,” that those names should be redacted and that the finding should be studiously ignored.
Even for Trump in his highly self-referential universe, that would be going too far. But it is not going too far, on my reading of Trump’s character, to believe that he is positioning himself now to survive the fallout if and when the IC reveals incriminating evidence that Trump and/or his associates knew that the Kremlin was interfering in the campaign to benefit him, and colluded and cooperated with it.
I believe Trump is preparing his voters and supporters–you know, the kind of people who would support him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight–for the day when he will have to tell them: “Well, yes, I did collaborate with Putin to swing the election, but that’s okay, because we won, and in any case I’m now I’m in a position to Make America Great Again, just like all those who truly love America want me to do.” And that is the real meaning, it seems to me, of his remarks in a recent interview with Tucker Carlson of Fox News, when he hinted darkly: “But wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks” (i.e., he knows the storm is going to break soon).
To continue with the scenario: “It’s all dirty work,” he will say. “The Russians hack and surveil everyone. We hack and surveil everyone. If I had been in Obama’s position and hacked him, I would have undoubtedly have discovered clear evidence that he was ineligible to be President because he was born in Kenya, as I maintained almost right up to election day. It’s a nasty world. Obama was no saint, he surveilled it, too. Do you think everybody’s a saint in this world? Under the Obama Administration, the US intelligence community was running a huge surveillance dragnet, and it is absurd for Obama and the Democrats to deny it. The only question at this point is: did the Obama Administration catch a good guy or a bad guy?”
Given Trump’s studied indifference about the distinction between lawful and unlawful surveillance, there is no reason to think that, if and when he is called out, Trump will simply decide: “Game’s over,” cleanly and decently retire from the game, and resign. There is, alarmingly, no reason at all to to think that he will go gracefully into that dark night at all.
Given his past behavior, it is pretty easy to predict what Trump would do in the face of an indictment by the DOJ or a threat of impeachment by Congress. He would use every means, fair or foul, to save himself and his presidency politically. For Trump, it is always and only about Trump–no one and nothing else. And for Trump, winning is everything. When he was asked by Leslie Stahl in the first post-election interview if he regretted anything that he had said during the campaign, he said: “No, because I won.” Doesn’t that tell us everything we need to know about how he would or will react to a real threat of impeachment? For Trump, it is all about winning–for himself–nothing else. The country and the Constitution–or a Constitutional crisis–be damned.
After he was briefed by Clapper, Brennan, and Comey on January 11, Trump said (at his first news conference after the election):
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. Hacking’s bad, and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking.”
To my mind, this is another indication of what Trump will say and do as the intelligence community and Congressional hearings disclose more and more about his culpability. “Yes,” I can hear him saying, “I did think/know that the Russians were interfering, and I certainly didn’t hinder X or Y or Z from facilitating that.” (Attempted mInimization will be an essential part of his M.O.) “It’s bad, but just look what has happened. The lies and crimes of Hillary have been exposed. The global elite that has given away our jobs and gutted the American heartland for years has been defeated at the polls. We are now in a position to make America great again. It would have been better if it had been done another way. But we might have failed at the finish line, given the power of the global elite and the complicity of the ‘fake news’ media. Their stranglehold on the real America was so strong that the assistance of a strong leader like Putin, whatever else his faults, was required to save the country from it.” Etc. etc. etc.
Do I think he will get away with it? No, but I do think that Trump will inflict even more and far greater damage before he is removed from office. He certainly has a significant base that is prepared to go to the mat for him. Forget Breitbart News or Steve Bannon or Robert Spencer or Matt Drudge or Alex Jones of Infowars. I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if mainstream media TV host Sean Hannity of Fox News will turn out to be one of them: he is already sounding like a mouthpiece for Russia Today, Moscow’s principal propaganda organ.
Brace yourself for what’s coming. It’s going to get really, really ugly.